Designer and art director David James has steadfastly refused to step into the limelight, until now. An online exhibition presents his 20-year portfolio for the first time
Born just outside Manchester, originally made his name designing record sleeves, worked with the late great Trevor Key and Nick Knight before moving to fashion and establishing himself as one of the leading art directors of his generation: no, not Peter Saville but a designer with a somewhat less developed public persona, David James.
James has resolutely shunned the public eye. He routinely refuses interview requests, there’s no glossy monograph and he has never set foot on a conference stage.
But his career has reached a point where it is about to make a major change of direction and James has decided to say a public goodbye to his work in print. As we mentioned in our March issue, James’s work for Prada is shifting toward moving image, with even the print ad campaigns being stills taken from the moving image footage. Over the next year, James will reposition his studio toward working in this way and away from print.
David James: Out of Print is an online exhibition of highlights from James’s career to date. Beginning with his first solo project (a catalogue for clothes brand Moto printed on plastic, shown top) it charts his early career designing record sleeves for the likes of Soul II Soul and, notably, System 7, the electronic outfit named after the Apple Mac operating system for whom James created a series of memorable sleeves with photographer Trevor Key (Limited Addition shown below).
In 1995 James moved into editorial with A Be Sea, a large format newsprint ‘visual paper’ which he designed with long-term collaborator Gareth Hague. Each issue was named after a consecutive letter of the alphabet: for Issue I (below) all the headlines were shot on Super 8 film then re-photographed
While Issue G featured a series of abstract forms
James is probably best-known for his work for Prada for whom he has been art director since 1997. He first got involved with the brand at the invitation of photographer Glen Luchford. The pair pitched some ideas which became the Spring Summer 97 ad campaign (below).
For each Prada show James produces exquisite invitations, mixing materials to create lavish pieces of communication.
While, under his creative directorship, Another and AnotherMan magazines have been notable for their typographic experimentation
Because he has shunned the ‘celebrity designer’ route, James has become almost the forgotten man of British graphic design. This online exhibition, which will come down on 15 May, is a welcome opportunity to view a beautiful body of work.
David James will be profiled in the April issue of Creative Review, out March 24