It’s probably something to do with my age, but a couple of months ago I got an idea to collect together all my favourite images and put them on one big canvas. The result was something I didn’t quite expect and, although I really like the finished thing, the process of doing it was the best bit. I suppose I just wanted to see what it would all look like together, but what started out as a collection of my most inspirational images, I think it turned out more like a collection of the people who have inspired me most throughout my life as a creative person.
It helped me rediscover things I thought I’d forgot and come to a realisation that, for the most part, artists and film makers have much more of an influence on me than other designers. This might explain why I no longer wait with eager anticipation for the D&AD Annual to come out (I’m ashamed to say I haven’t even looked at this year’s, dog-eared as it already is).
The finished thing is just over 3 metres long by about 1.5 metres high and it sits on the studio wall at the moment. The thing is, I love it, but it’s done now. And although it’s great to get all the contents of your head on one big images, it’s made me think ‘what now?’ It’s inspired to look around a lot more at what’s going on visually right now. I can recommend the process to anyone who’s got a head full of images. I’ve lifted out a few highlights to explain why they matter to me. By the way, I edited these down from about four times this number by decided that the picture had to feel fresh and relevant to me NOW, and not just evocative of a time in the past.
One of the great things about the process of gathering my favourite images was that I rediscovered this guy. Leigh Bowery was a massive influence on loads of people. There’s not much about the 80s I like to shout about but Leigh Bowery and Bill Hicks I can’t get enough of. Bowery’s work still looks incredibly confrontational now and he reminds us that, as creative people, we have a duty to challenge.
City of God
Who wasn’t flabbergasted by this film? Danny Boyle said ‘City of God’ made him feel like packing it all in. It’s absolutely choc-a-bloc with iconic images and the vitality of this film from plot, to characters, to visual power set a new bar. Take a look at ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and imagine what it would have been like if this film had never happened.
‘A Matter of Life and Death’ Powell and Pressburger
This is what the end really looks like - none of your Ingmar Bergman nonsense. Camp, urbane, charming and fickle, Marius Goring delivers death with a smile in Powell and Pressberger’s masterpiece among many ‘A Matter of Life and Death’. Michael Powell fascinated me when I was young and the aesthetic of his movies has always been something I’d like to get into my work. I’ve failed so far, but then I’m a branding guy.
Sam Taylor-Wood is a sophisticated gem who seems to receive less recognition than the current crop of British artists. She deals in big ideas and understands the iconography of celebrity more than any other artist or photographer working today. And, for all you photographers and designers who’ve had a go at invisibly floating people, she did it first - and best.
It’s hard to know what to say about Francis Bacon. I’d be lying if I said he was an influence on my work ‘cos when am I ever gonna get the chance to do this. I just like his paintings - and him too to tell you the truth. Odd, difficult and boozy but utterly poetic and visceral at the same time. I regularly steal his colours.
Christo and Jeanne Claude
Christo and Jeanne Claude seem to have been in my visual consciousness forever. I think I discovered them after an infatuation with Pop Art as a teenager, via Claes Oldenburg. The scale and ambition is obvious, but the beauty of what they achieve under such extreme circumstances is where the power lies. Everyone who photographs big letters or graphic objects in the outside world owes a debt to them.
His subject matter often consigns him to being a bit of a chocolate box painter, but Edgar Degas is a modernist before his time. His composition alone caused uproar when it was first exhibited, though it’s hard to believe now. I just think his work is absolutely beautiful and totally full of admiration and respect for women. I always see a really subversive edge in his work but I think I might be in a minority.
Sophie Calle produces really thought-provoking stuff and exquisite monographs of her work. I love the look and feel of books, like all graphic designers, but I feel exactly the same about the content. I’ve seen too many beautiful books that are just objects with little substance in the content. This book is called ‘Exquisite Pain’ and I bore people about it quite a lot.
Nothing earned a place on my wall through pure nostalgia and I don’t always like old objects just because they’re from the past. I make an exception for cars though. They used to be weird, idiosyncratic and full of personality. Sophie Calle They had to, the engineering was shit, they rusted like lightning and they were death traps. They didn’t half look great though. This is a BMW - what the hell’s happened to them?
Dada and Surrealism features really heavily on my wall and, I don’t care what they say, I love it. Every ad I saw as a kid seemed to be influenced by surrealism and I loved the way it meant that nothing had to make sense. David Lynch did the business for me later on when I saw Eraserhead and he still gets it absolutely right most times where Guinness ad after Guinness ad gets it so, so wrong.
Military design is a recurring theme amongst the images. I like how different cultures interpret what is essentially a pragmatic exercise - killing and staying alive. The Germans made sure everything was big, scary-looking and impenetrable. For the Americans everything was slick and always rock ‘n roll. The Brits, however produced small, brilliantly engineered, accurate, stealthy and unnecessarily nice-looking things.
I was a bit surprised by how few graphic designers made the cut - probably familiarity more than anything. It basically came down to Matt Pike and this guy, Kim Hiorthoy who really made me sit up when I discovered his work for Rune Grammofon about 9 years ago. Not much to say except that a return to the hand-done, if it didn’t start with him, certainly found its best exponent.
The full feature can be found in The Drum.