Frilly Lizards’ Thoughts


Inspiration & Feedback on Art & Design. Please participate, share your views on any works of art or design; the artists and designers work you admire that give you inspiration in which ever form or discipline. Thanks you for taking time to read this. I’m interested to hear everyone’s opinion please share yours.

An Introduction to Vaughan Oliver

Vaughan Oliver (born 1957) is a graphic designer based in Wandsworth, South West London.

Oliver is most noted for his work with graphic design studios 23 Envelope and v23. Both studios maintained a close relationship with record label 4AD between 1982 and 1998 and were to give distinct visual identities for the 4AD releases by many bands, including: Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil, Pale Saints, Pixies, Throwing Muses, etc …

23 Envelope consisted of Vaughan Oliver (graphic design and typography) and Nigel Grierson (photography). Together, they created the artwork for almost all 4AD releases until 1987. Nigel Grierson left 23 Envelope in 1988. At that time Vaughan Oliver continued to work for 4AD under the studio name v23, collaborating with Chris Bigg, Paul McMenamin, Simon Larbalestier and others. Most admired for his collaborative energy and imagination, Oliver had thus set the stage for the graphic revolution of the 1980s and -90s. His impact on the post-punk music industry is still celebrated, as is his influence on a generation of designers exploring the possibilities of type and print.

In 1994, many of those that had collaborated with Vaughan Oliver over the previous decade, contributed to a lavishly illustrated catalogue for the seminal retrospective exhibition of his work held at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, This Rimy River. Recollections of the v23 design experience were provided by individuals such as v23 collaborator Chris Bigg, the influential design pundit Rick Poynor (who was singularly responsible for putting Oliver’s work centre-stage throughout the early-1990s), and art critic Ian McKay who, in numerous art publications, had been keen to frame Oliver’s work in a fine art context. Like so many publications produced by v23, the catalogue quickly became a collectors item.

V23 web site offers the opportunity to see various selections of Vaughan’s work:

How could any one talk about graphic design of the last 20 years without mentioning something about Vaughan Oliver (born September 12, 1957 in Sedgefield, England)? Oliver’s works focuses on sobriety and weirdness, but its weirdness has a uniqueness that is just plain beautiful. Without doubt, he is one of the most important graphic designers to come out of Britain in the last 20 years and his influence can be seen far and wide.

With the photographer, Nigel Grierson, Oliver set up the design company, 23 envelope in the early 80s; rechristened v23) in 1988 after Grierson’s departure. Within its own structure, he deeply influenced the sleeve design area during the 80′. Mostly working for the label 4AD, designing sleeves for Ultra Vivid Scene, Clan of Xymox, Frank Black, Pixies, Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil (see their Filigree & Shadow cover), Robert Fripp and many others, Vaughan Oliver has even a wider palette than Brody or Emigre’s people: he is not just a graphist; he is a real art director, either skilled for graphic design or typography than for photography. Working with talented photographers, he masters the whole process, from conceiving pictures to the final lay-out.

David Sylvian Secrets of the Beehive CD
His & v23’s work with the legenday ambient guru, David Sylvian is now mythical and the closest that pop and art have ever been. It is a collaboration that continues to this day. See the Sylvian album covers such as Secrets of the Beehive and the accompanying poster, to Approaching Silence and books such as Trophies I & Trophies II and Oliver’s design is an intregal and obvious part of the experience…to such an extent that the work of both artists becomes one completely.

This Mortal Coil Filigree & Shadow CDIn his 2001 book, Visceral Pleasures, Oliver explores the different phases of his career. At their most expressive and inventive, his graphic images embody his intense responses as a listener, plunging the viewer into a world of visceral sensation and pleasure.

I first discovered the work of Vaughan Oliver during an installation art event undertaken at St. Georges Hall, Liverpool. The event ‘Silent Sound’ performed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard on the 14th September 2006. Vaughan Oliver in collaboration with Chris Bigg designed a a web site and brochure for the event.

An extract from the booklet is shown below to perhaps give an understanding for the graphics used.

In 1865, Victorian spiritualists, The Davenport Brothers performed a séance on stage in a small concert hall of the St. Georges Hall. From inside a ‘spirit cabinet’ the brothers, securely tied, would evoke spirits from their ethereal resting place – to create a cacophony of noise with a selection of musical instruments – so as to amaze the congregation audience with the possibility of communicating with the dead.

Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollards’ Silent Sound was an re-enactment not of the Davenports’ séance, but the potential of belief inherent within the human mind. By making the audiences’ senses perform from within an experiment in subliminal messaging. The artists attempted to dissect what it means to feel, experience and potentially believe, during moments highly charged by the promise of possibility.

It was paramount that the artwork for the ‘Silent Sound’ installation reflected the eeriness and history of the re-enactments roots. I personally felt that this was achieved and was extremely successful.

The booklet distributed in the foyer, which I wish to discuss, had a natural manila coloured cover with a recycled feel. The cover was about 250gsm board, off-set printed black with all the artwork images, text and sponsors logos inverted allowing the natural colour and feel of the board to show. The black ink background and the choice of material is designed to wear, but this process only adds to the feel of the design and gives the impression of age to the already 1930s’ feel design.

The front cover contains one simple image which gives the impression of an old fashioned lens, the image is allowed to bleed off the page and is wrapped around the booklet encroaching onto the back right hand corner of the cover, the sponsors’ details are positioned on the bottom left hand corner of the design and do not interfere with the design. The cover is printed single sided and folded back on it’s self to create a substantially stronger cover for the chosen material. This detail within the design allows for a compact disk of the evenings’ live music to be inserted via a cut placed in the inside back cover. The insert has been pressed to create a snug, secure fit, resulting in a piece of art on which to reflect and contemplate the evenings’ event.

The insert textual pages of the booklet are monochrome printed on what appears to be a 120gsm unbleached recycled paper. The printing process and typefaces used within the booklet all contribute to the appearance. I believe the booklet is printed on an offset printer as opposed to digitally which would have given a slightly different finish. Within each page of the booklet a background image appears behind the text, the opacity of the image is slightly higher than that of a watermark, creating a visual element of the text on the page. On each double page spread an additional stronger black and white image is shown. Each image shown is specifically related to the event or a location in the text.

It was difficult identifying the typefaces used throughout this booklet, but I believe the two main typefaces in the main body of the insert to be Caslon 540 italic and Times New Roman for the headings.

The booklet is bound using saddle stitching. It is bound almost as if the desired outcome was a perfect book bind but due to a compromise the booklet has been saddle stitched twice. The first bind appears to have been stitched to allow for trimming of the insert and subsequently rebound to the cover after the folding and finishing process of the cover, yet presented to look like a book bind.

Overall I thought the design concept encapsulated the feel and mood of the art installation perfectly. It reflected the atmosphere of the art without detracting from the performance but it created the scene and level of intrigue and anticipation required.

My personal interpretation of the graphic design vision used to create the booklet and the manor in which the literature was utilized within the performance fitted the role and gave an excellent example of how clever design can build a solid foundation for an event or performance.

Scans of the booklet are shown below, but I don’t feel they do the the finished design justice, as the design was compliment perfectly by the materials used (this is my reasoning for the detailed explanation of the design).

Anyway this particular piece was in introduction to two designers who’s work I have explored in slightly more detail and have found some really interesting and inspirational designs, some of these designs are shown below:


Filed under: Vaughan Oliver

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