The all-round genius of Barney Bubbles

Feted for his brilliant record sleeve and poster design, a new show hopes to highlight the other aspects of Barney Bubbles’ practice, revealing him to have been a multitalented designer

Some of Barney Bubbles’ work managed to merge Constructivist aesthetics and baby pink paint splatters (Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick); others deliberately featured glaring errors (printing The Damned’s Damned Damned Damned with an image of the wrong band); and much was created under pseudonyms, but whatever he turned his hand to, the designer’s work was always wildly original and hugely influential. And while most of us are familiar with his sleeve design work for the likes of Hawkwind or the Stiff Records artists (Dury, Elvis Costello, etc.); fewer are aware of his work across product design and moving image.

A new London exhibition at the Rob Tufnell gallery is hoping to change that, presenting a retrospective of furniture, posters, records, videos, badges and ephemera designed or directed by Bubbles, who was born Colin Fulcher in Middlesex in 1942. Among the pieces on show are his 1983 Formica and lacquer AC/DC Desk, based on a British Standard three-pin plug and socket, as well as other home products created with furniture-maker Marius Cain. 

The Ian Dury Cocktail Cabinet, Editions Riviera, 1981. Photo: Paul Gorman
Rug, panel design from Captain’s Cabin residency, Billy Bragg, 1983. Photo: Paul Gorman

The title of the show, Optics & Semantics, is taken from Bubbles’ work with Hawkwind’s 1971 album In Search of Space, where the designer was credited as Optics/Semantics. Bubbles’ video direction for bands like The Specials, Squeeze and Fun Boy Three will also be celebrated in the exhibition.

Poster, Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, F-Beat, 1980

The show is curated with Paul Gorman, the man behind the superb 2009 book Reasons To Be Cheerful: The life and work of Barney Bubbles. As David Knight pointed out in his discussion of the book, Bubbles’ work includes some of the “cleverest, wittiest” sleeve designs ever; as well as essentially inventing what we’d deem today as an “integrated marketing strategy” through his work with Hawkwind creating everything from posters to booklets, stickers and set designs. It’ll be a treat to see this sort of holistic and exhaustive approach to design work told through moving image and objects; as well as another chance to pore over Bubbles’ enduringly brilliant print work.

Barney Bubbles, Optics & Semantics, runs from 31 August – 23 September 2017 at Rob Tufnell, 139 Lambeth Walk, London SE11 6EE

Song titles poster free with Get Happy!!, Elvis Costello And The Attractions, F-Beat Records, 1980
Poster, Brian Griffin, Exhibition, 1981
AC/DC Desk, 1983. Photo: Nina Sologobenko

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