Illustration

Eleven: David Driver

I learned more about collaboration and commissioning in the three years that I worked for David Driver than at any other point in my career. It was about finding talented people and letting them bring their gifts to whatever project you were working on. It was about enjoying your work. It was about honing your skills.

in 2014 Simon Esterson and I went to David’s house to talk to him about his career, with some vague thoughts about the fact that he had never really been profiled. There was an excellent two-part post on Mike Dempsey’s wonderful Graphic Journey blog, and some pen pictures in various books about the Radio Times, but not much of significance. That was odd, as he had given many well-known designers and illustrators important breaks in their careers. I had talked to David when profiling his long-time colleague Peter Brookes for Eye, and Simon was certain that it would be valuable to at least start a conversation with David.

We had a riotously enjoyable meeting that lasted four hours and left with hilariously unrepeatable stories about working for the BBC, The Times and the radical press of the Sixties. It would take four years before it made it into print, bolstered by two more equally enjoyable meetings. The profile finally found a home in the second of two issues of Eye devoted to Magazines, which came out in November 2018.

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I talked to various designers and writers about David, and parts of what they emailed me were used in the profile. The great English designer Robert Priest, who has mostly worked and lived in New York wrote a very thoughtful and punchy piece about David’s influence, which I’ll run in full here. Priest worked with David Driver at Welcome Aboard and Radio Times.

“The role of the editorial art director in Britain changed in the 1970s. It was influenced by the work of Tom Wolsey at Town in the 60s but was more fully realized a decade later with the emergence of a new breed of art director who was not just a visual journalist but a bona fide journalist in all senses of the word. They were well educated and savvy and wanted more of an influence on their magazine’s content. Leading the charge were Michael Rand and David King at The Sunday Times Magazine, David Hillman at Nova and David Driver at Radio Times, the journal of the BBC. 

“As a young designer at the time I was tremendously excited by their work, and that of their American counterpart, George Lois at Esquire. I was fortunate enough to become a magazine art director (back when it was the top title in the art department) at the age of 23 at Conde Nast’s Wine & Food and did my best to learn on the job until I met David Driver a year or two later. David had created an in-flight magazine for BOAC for Cornmarket Press and was doing things I’d never seen before. He combined a big picture vision with an attention to detail that was incredible.

“I went to see him on Conduit Street and found him be a larger-than-life character. Tall, with long curly hair and extremely funny, he welcomed me into his world. David always kept a small coterie of lieutenants around him. People he trusted. Just as he did with artists and photographers, always a limited roster of contributors who understood his vision. I wanted to work for him, despite being a number one already, because I wanted to observe his process and to find out how he came up with such great ideas, but there were no jobs available at the time. Soon after, however, David joined Radio Times and recommended that I follow him as art Director of Welcome Aboard. He didn’t interfere from afar but I always felt his support and influence. 

“In 1975 I had my own design consultancy and David asked me to redesign the TV and radio listings in Radio Times. One thing led to another and I went to work for him at last. I became one of his lieutenants.

“David worked very closely with the editor, Geoffrey Cannon to fashion the content of the publication. It was a double act and they were a formidable couple. They demanded that stories be conceived both editorially and visually from day one. David would expect complete information from the other editors at the magazine when we started working on a feature. If it wasn’t delivered precisely David would crush the editor with frightening efficiency. In more than a few instances they were unable to respond at all, having not thought the idea through, and were forced to skulk out of David’s office, often in tears. Not pretty but extremely effective. 

“In 1977 David was offered the job of Art Director of Weekend Magazine in Toronto. After much thought, he decided to turn it down, but a mutual friend recommended me for the job and I was pleased to accept. I would try to put what I’d learned under David into practice. I’ve been trying ever since.”

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Design etc

Interlude: Living in the Present

Twenty Over Eighty: Conversations on
a Lifetime in Architecture and Design
By Aileen Kwun and Bryn Smith

Princeton Architectural Press, £21.99 (paperback, 224pp)
Designed by Paul Wagner
Written for Eye Magazine, 2017

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You want inspiration? Buy this book! It’s as simple as that. This entire review could be taken up with vivid and quotable insights from any one of the interviews that Aileen Kwun and Bryn Smith have put together here, cleverly visiting a demographic often sidelined – asking twenty giants in the fields of design and architecture for their wisdom as they look back from the perspective of spending eight decades on the planet.

These are people who have been, in different ways, totally devoted to their work – it’s inseparable from their lives. From textiles to furniture, graphics and illustration to architecture, their age unshackles them from being polite or politic. Starting with the ninety-one-year-old writer and educator, Ralph Caplin, who came to design via a humour magazine, it finishes with eighty-eight-year-old architectural planner and all-round mover and shaker Beverly Willis, who wrote and directed her first film, about women architects, in 2009 at the age of eighty.

The authors set out this elegantly-designed book as a series of conversations, some in person, some via email exchanges. As young design writers, they worried that it would be impossible to “capture the essence of twenty legends… for a conversation worth their time, and yours.” However, with astute questioning and careful editing, they turn the varied responses into a satisfyingly fluent and coherent read.

And – not to put too fine a point on it – the project is timely. Here’s a chance to catch up with people who were influential at one time, but who have somewhat fallen off the radar – the late architect Michael Graves, left partially paralysed by illness, tries to “redesign the healthcare experience… from the unique viewpoint of a patient” which leaves him splenetic about firms who do a lot of work in that field, as they’ve “never been in a wheelchair – what they’re doing is making interiors, like a hotel. Interiors.”

Or the riveting story of Charles Harrison, from post-war US Army cartographer to the first African American executive at Sears, designing thousands of user-friendly products, including the moulded plastic garbage bin that probably sits outside your house – essentially identical to that invented by Harrison in 1966.

Milton Glaser is, as always, outrageously quotable… “Nobody tells you you’re an artist. ‘I’m an artist.’ There it is, and nobody can take it away from you. Isn’t it remarkable? You couldn’t do that if you were a brain surgeon.” “I believe that art and design are like sex and love. They are fine independently… and every once in a while you get both at once. But not often.” “My essential mantra in professional life is: do no harm. Which is very complicated…”

And there’s much about the centrality of good teaching, whether in the classroom or studio. Here’s Bob Gill: “These people in my class haven’t originated anything, they’ve been told what to do. So the first thing I tell them is, I will hate everything you do, but I love you, so that’ll make it easier. And I really do like them, and I really do hate everything they ever do.” The brilliant Denise Scott Brown, one of the authors of Learning from Las Vegas, insists that what designers and architects “really badly need is a School for Clients!”

Phyllis Lambert, who lobbied her father in 1954 to hire Mies van der Rohe to design the Seagram building – writing him an eight-page, single-spaced screed – is asked, “When did you first become curious about art and architecture?” and replies, “As a child. Children are pretty smart; they don’t go around with nothing in their heads.”

Michael Carabetta, who commissioned the book, feels that all of the interviewees “prove Newton’s Law – a body in motion tends to stay in motion. There’s little that surprises them. They’ve seen it all, or enough to know what makes the world tick. That’s knowledge. And once they have that knowledge, they learn there is always more to learn.” Indeed, a common thread running through the book is of looking forward to “the next job,” and there’s a shared sense of not looking back or resting on their laurels.

Ricardo Scofidio (81), whose recent projects include the overhaul of Lincoln Centre in New York in 2013 and the creation of that city’s High Line, says that, for him, “the most difficult thing has been to live in the present, and to resist thinking about what the future will look like.”

Much of their work still seems, if not futuristic, relatively untouched by time. Kettles, lights, buildings, logos, posters, theories and more – if you want to know what twenty lifetimes of excellent work in the visual/spatial field looks like, and what those lifetimes have taught the practitioners, this book is for you.

There’s a nice Vimeo flick through the book here. If you’re interested in the longevity of creativity, I’d recommend this book as an essential purchase.

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Illustration, Interludes

Interlude: Concrete Canvas

Outdoor Gallery – New York City
By Yoav Litvin
Designed by Steven Mosier
Gingko Press, $39.95, £34.50

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Written for Eye Magazine, Summer 2015

When a Banksy original turns up (usually prised off a wall) and sells for £300,000, and when today’s newspaper reports on a London opening for the work of the Mexican street-art collective Lapiztola, we know that graffiti has come in from the cold. In October 2013 Banksy even had a month-long ‘residency’ in New York, saying that he was there ‘for the spirit and audacity’.

It is that vibrant culture, an integral part of a city in a league of its own in terms of urban canvas material, that the photographer and writer Yoav Litvin aims to capture in Outdoor Gallery – New York City (Gingko Press, $39.95, £34.50, designed by Steven Mosier).

Litvin succeeds, not only because of the breadth of styles his photographs show but also because of the richness of the stories behind the paint and stencils. These artists include teachers, parents, loners and fashion designers. They are not all young and alienated. A surprising number are women. Some are older than you may imagine, having been stencilling and spraying for more than 30 years.

Their eloquence is impressive, their influences wide-ranging; Rauschenberg and Basquiat may well be expected, Norman Rockwell and the German Expressionist Käthe Kollwitz less so.

The Yok traces the movement back to cave art. Some are inspired by other street artists: the abstract work of Hellbent, for example – powerful geometric shapes which cover industrial walls (top) – is influenced by the Brazilian street artist Zezão.

The book dispenses some useful bits of information along the way: Brooklyn is safer to operate in than Manhattan; the police are often ignorant of the laws regarding public painting, and some large works have increased the value of the property on which they are painted.

There is much striking work here, work that plays with scale or makes pointed social comment. Asked about the materials she uses, Jilly Ballistic, who creates site-specific work using historical photographs in the NYC subway, offers a list that includes: Wit. Humour. Honesty. Ink. X-Acto knife. Hands. Adhesive. History. Consumerism. New York itself.

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An online gallery of the work featured in the book can be seen at yoavlitvin.com.

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Illustration

Ten: Peter Brookes

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I was thrilled to see a profile that I wrote for John L Walters and Simon Esterson at eye magazine in print this week. Last year I visited Peter in his office at The Times and spent a fascinating couple of hours talking to him about his career in illustration and cartooning, below a wall covered in stunning examples of his art and craft. I was lucky enough to have met Peter as I started out in magazine design, at my first proper job, in the art department of Radio Times. By then, he had worked with its brilliant Art Director, David Driver, for a decade, and his approach to problems and his enjoyment of finding creative solutions rubbed off on the whole team. “Happy days!”, said Peter as we talked about that part of his career, and they were. As I left, I noticed a stack of previous cartoons, topped off with his brilliant Michael Gove/Boris Johnson “Et tu, Brute” from a few weeks before, memorably summing up Gove’s disastrous entry into the Tory leadership battle.

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Illustration, Interludes

Interlude: Ali Fitzgerald

From Varoom! Winter 2016

Let me introduce you to your new favourite cartoonist: her name is Ali Fitzgerald and she moved to Europe after grad school in Austin, Texas and is now perched high above the Berlin wall in a bungalow, where she draws her regular cartoon column for McSweeney’s, “Hungover Bear and Friends.” It came as a result of winning their annual Column Contest, and is about, well, a hungover bear and his friends (Entitled Fox, Catty Curator et al) confronting the strangeness and quirk of the modern world. As the website puts it, “he’s not an anti-hero, he’s just a bear in a sweater trying to make it all work.”

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Moving from the home of outlaw country musicians and the South By Southwest festival to the art cauldron of Berlin was not carefully thought through. In fact, as she says, “I basically left Texas with the complete absence of a plan or any German skills.” She also moved from large-scale wall paintings and dioramas to a much smaller canvas: “I was burnt out and disillusioned with the “high art” world and wanted to engage in a more direct way of telling stories. I had to really teach myself how to work on a small-scale – working in a large, gestural way comes much more naturally. But when I moved to Berlin I knew I wanted to learn how to work smaller, and how to communicate ideas visually. So I made a lot of weird/dark comics and drawings that I will probably never show anyone except my therapist.”

For Ali, Berlin actually isn’t so alien. “I think I’m more ‘European’ in temperament (reserved, kind of dark, fatalistic), so Berlin has always felt less foreign in some ways – and despite its rocketing hipness, it’s still essentially a city of outcasts.” Which is, of course, part of the stock-in-trade of cartoonist – an outsider’s eye on the absurd way the human race works. There’s something of Charles Burns in her style, and of Roz Chast in her language, but “Hungover Bear” has a tone and timbre all of its own.

You can see the series so far on Timothy McSweeney’s Internet Tendancy (mcsweeneys.net/articles/the-twisting-road) and laugh/wince in recognition, at the caustic Ant Rand – “Never forget that the finest nectar comes from egoism, industry and the invisible hand of the Free Market” or be told that “Self-Righteous Hawk thinks that you don’t fully understand the situation in Gaza.”

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Photography

Nine: Jane Bown

U2 1Seeing the lovely documentary on Jane – Looking for Light – I was reminded of working with her. I was at the Observer Magazine and we were planning to do a piece on U2. To their credit, they asked if Jane could go to Dublin and photograph them. We were only too happy to send her, armed with her usual equipment: a camera in an old shopping bag. I had worked with Jane a fair bit at that time and I think I was the first person to ask her to try shooting in colour, for a series on estimable women in The Listener (in the interests of full disclosure it wasn’t my idea, but Russell Twisk’s, my editor). Anyway, when Jane returned to the Obs office, she gave us a choice of shots. I much preferred the individual portraits – taken in the pub at the end of the shoot – to the rather flat “Group on the Dock” ones. Jane, however, didn’t, and it took some time to be forgiven…

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Illustration

Interlude: David Hughes

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David Hughes
The Pillbox

Jonathan Cape
Written for Varoom! The Illustration Report, Autumn 2015

The biography on David Hughes’ website has this to say: “My father was a plumber, a painter and a decorator for fifty five years. Turner was a painter. My mother used to ask… ‘Why can’t you draw something nice? Why don’t you get a proper job?’ During the 2nd World War she stitched goggles in Turner’s house…”

Not drawing something nice is at the heart of Hughes’ new book, The Pillbox, as is the Second World War. It presents a chilly version of an English seaside holiday, wrapped around a depraved murder mystery from 1945, involving American troops stationed nearby.

It begins with a typical scene: a boy and his dog on a beach on England’s East Coast, before veering away into more uncharted waters. A wooly mammoth appears to the boy, before it suddenly turns tail, saying “I forgot… this is not a children’s picture book.” And with that, we know we are on a journey that will a) get somewhat darker, and b) probably not end well.

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Jack’s excited retelling of his extraordinary vision meets only parental indifference. The next year, at the same spot, he finds a Second World War pillbox, a concrete gun emplacement for shooting at enemy invaders. But the invaders in this story are two of the American soldiers, one good, one bad. Jack’s meeting with Bill – a boy who seems to come from another time – sets in train a story of terrible fascination that reaches back to Bill’s childhood in the 1940’s.

In pages filled with raw, uneven drawings, Hughes works within the framework of a graphic novel while ignoring its niceties – there’s no smoothing-out or polishing here. Hughes makes in-jokes about his technical limitations, but it just adds to the feeling that it’s a deliberate decision not to overwork the drawings and lose spontaneity. The characters’ features are inconsistent, but the one-take feeling gives it enormous energy. In fact, there’s something musical in the way that Hughes works, using rhythmic building blocks of repeated panels, interspersed with spreads of wild improvisation, where one image leaps out to accentuate the meaning of a scene.-Blogpillbox.jpgHis ability to freeze moments in time gives the images an uncomfortable power, reminiscent of Ralph Steadman or Roland Topor, but The Pillbox ends up being a thing unto itself, a unique and disturbing tale, brilliantly realized. Just listen to his (mammoth) warning that it’s not a children’s book.

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