Elms Lesters Painting Rooms: The Book(s)

Elms Lesters Painting Rooms book, designed by Iain Cadby, is limited to just 1000 copies and comes in a numbered box
Eliza Williams’ feature in the current (February) issue of Creative Review takes a look at London’s Elms Lesters gallery, which regularly exhibits works by artists who learnt their trade on the streets. Recent exhibitions in the central London space have shown work by the likes of Adam Neate, Phil Frost, Futura, José Parlá, Mark Dean Veca, Stash, WK Interact, Delta and Space Invader.
Paul Jones and Fiona McKinnon, the duo that run Elms Lesters galllery, have been working closely with graphic designer Iain Cadby, of Worlds studio, for the past two years. Cadby has designed the just-launched 502-page Elms Lesters Painting Rooms book which celebrates the gallery’s 25th anniversary by cataloguing 17 exhibitions from the last 12 years. And Cadby has also been designing the gallery’s exhibition catalogues for the last year. Read on for CR’s interview with Cadby about his work with the gallery…


Elms Lesters Painting Rooms book, designed by Iain Cadby, is limited to just 1000 copies and comes in a numbered box

Eliza Williams’ feature in the current (February) issue of Creative Review takes a look at London’s Elms Lesters gallery, which regularly exhibits works by artists who learnt their trade on the streets. Recent exhibitions in the central London space have shown work by the likes of Adam Neate, Phil Frost, Futura, José Parlá, Mark Dean Veca, Stash, WK Interact, Delta and Space Invader.

Paul Jones and Fiona McKinnon, the duo that run Elms Lesters galllery, have been working closely with graphic designer Iain Cadby, of Worlds studio, for the past two years. Cadby has designed the just-launched 502-page Elms Lesters Painting Rooms book which celebrates the gallery’s 25th anniversary by cataloguing 17 exhibitions from the last 12 years. And Cadby has also been designing the gallery’s exhibition catalogues for the last year. Read on for CR’s interview with Cadby about his work with the gallery…

The Elms Lesters Painting Rooms book, limited to just 1,000 copies, is a lavish affair: it comes packaged in a white, individually numbered screen­printed box. Removal of the dustjacket reveals an irrides­cent hardback cover, blind embossed, with iconography pertaining to the gallery and its artists.

Within the book, the chronological cataloguing of various events is split into sections by smaller pages which serve to make the chapter divisions more evident. Interviews with the various artists also sit on smaller pages within the book, employing different stocks and coloured inks.

Creative Review: Tell us about your relationship with Elms Lesters – you’re a big fan of the gallery aren’t you?
Iain Cadby: I can’t remember how I heard of it or when I first went there but it must be about nine years ago. Seeing things like Delta’s work in there was amazing. Having known his work for about 20 years – to see it in the flesh and to have the opportunity to potentially buy and own a piece of that artwork endeared me to the gallery.

My relationship with Paul and Fiona was born out of a mutual love of the work, especially the graf guys. My love was primarily for Futura and Delta – and Paul is a huge fan of all the artists – but you don’t really get bigger fans of Delta than me and Paul. I guess I was going there a lot and trying to spend as much time there as I could – for me it was like hanging out in the British Museum – it was just nice to be in that space. Then I became a client – I was buying pieces from the gallery.

CR: So how did you end up working with the gallery on these books
IC: Paul and Fiona were round my house putting up a work by Delta and I was showing them some of my work and they said “Hey do you want to do a book on the gallery?”. I was like “Yeah, I’d love to.”

CR: Tell us about the book…
IC: It’s been a true labour of love for all of us: almost two years, in fact, culminating in 11 days in Italy printing on two KBA presses… We ended up printing on irridescent paper for the hard cover which is blind debossed… I created various graphic elements from the gallery’s artists’ work – the cover is meant to be an expression of the gallery. So yes, Fiona and I have spent a huge amount of time collating all the work – there’s over 500 image – working out all the right people to write it from an art historical point of view, the right person to write the introduction about the gallery and the history of the area and the gallery. The book is arranged chronologically because you need the story to be clear…

Within the book, there are smaller sized dividers to help separate the shows and then also smaller pages that contain interviews with the artists. These pages are not only smaller than the other pages – but they utilise different stocks and colours and sometimes printing up to eight colours which is fairly rare, I’d imagine. On some of the intro pages there’s eight colours going on. One of the sheets we did was completely outrageous – there was 15 colours.

CR: Since starting work on the gallery book, you’ve also designed various catalogues for the shows in the space during 2008 – talk us through your approach
IC: The only thing each of the catalogues have in common is the size / format – every one I’ve done is very different – and each is inspired by the work of the artists that appears in the books. Each is very much my interpretation of the expression of the artists in the book. It’s also an expression of the excitement that I feel from these guys.

IC: The cover of the Adam & Ron Show book [May 2-31, 2008] is purposefully beautiful-ugly. It’s meant to be garish. It’s meant to be gameshow-meets-horror-film-meets-Metallica-meets-McDonalds. Ron’s work is very darkly ironic and deeply subversive and Adam’s work has this British urban angst, so the cover is trying to communicate some of those things. The cover is always the most important part in delivering the essence of what it is. And the introduction of each catalogue has a different aesthetic which carries on the language introduced in the cover.

In the Adam & Ron Show catalogue, the intro came from a nice letter which Adam had written to Ron, many years ago, saying how much he admired his work, and Ron wrote back in his typical way with a gag basically – next time you’re giving away free art – let me know before so I can grab one! This started an email dialogue between them which is light but revealing at the same time, so I created what is in essence a sort of email language between them, hiding in lots of references to both of their artworks and also lots of symbols relating to their work and even some Portuguese – because Adam lives in Brazil and a lot of the cardboard he works with has Portugeuse text on it – and other iconography relating to their work…

CR: The colours are really vibrant in the intro, have you used any special print processes here?
IC: Normally you print in four colours (CMYK) on white paper – I think when you first start out making work – maybe when you’re at college and you start doing your first couple of print jobs you normally have one or two colours to play with and the trick with two colours is to try and make it look like three colours – so there’s a little bit of that. Although this is much more subtle. Looking this you’d probably think it’s been printed with just two colours – but in fact there’s three colours – so these are tri-tones. This isn’t anything outrageous print-wise, but tri-tones are just an interesting thing you don’t get to use very often. Three colours and the curve from zero to a hundred of each colour – has to be on a curve and the curves can’t clash otherwise you get that moiré effect. What IS interesting is I often – almost always when working on these projects – do a scatterproof. A scatterproof is a wonderful thing – I first saw one when I was working at Why Not Associates – they had drawers full of these things – I couldn’t believe them – you test what you want to do in many different ways and these are all printed on a sheet. Then you can look at all these and choose the ones which work the best.

So I did scatterproofs for this catalogue… There’s tri tones and a metallic – on orange paper and on white – and you print various versions of the same thing but with slightly varied colours to see what will look the best. Scatterproofs – printed on the press that will produce the books – are brilliant. It’s an amazing way, it’s the only way, when you’re doing experimental stuff, to know what you’re dealing with.

CR: And the Delta catalogue [June 1-30, 2008] also looks like there’s some nifty print processes going on…

IC: Fairly intense this one – I redrew elements of Boris’ work so I could use these graphics as half tones to build up the cover image in printed layers. I printed a silver first, then I printed white on top in different percentages, then I printed gold, then I printed another silver which goes on top of the whites and the gold and then I printed another white which then sits on top of the silver and the whites to create different layers and it’s fairly strange when you hold it in certain lights it actually does have a three dimensional quality.

The elements that I created – as a sort of visual language to carry across all the information – are the bold parts and it’s basically a very simple isometric shape – which is then exploded and then I built in Boris’ work too – so everything fits together.

The gold was originally going to be a flouro pink and underneath where the gold is – it was going to be two 100% hits of white with a fluorescent pink on top. But the fluorescent didn’t react well to the white printed on black. It needed to be printed on to bright white, so I ended up using gold. On the computer, the pink looked great – but when you get down to making something, things change and you learn stuff…

The artwork was a bitch. I was using percentages of colours – and then I was choosing the second white to try and work out what the percentage would be where the whites overlap.

CR: The catalogues and the gallery book are lavish affairs. Tell us about your relationship with the gallery – do you work closely with them on the layout of each publication? Do you have restrictions with budgets?
IC: Fiona will look at everything I do, while I’m doing it and in terms of the layout and the choice of work, we try and create a flow and sense of rhythm. If you were to give us both the same 50 images and asked us to pick eight, I bet you we’d both pick at least six of the same images. We’re really synchronised in our way of thinking. Fiona and Paul are both incredible – sometimes I feel that I’m given the freedom that they give their artists. They allow me, budget wise, to do what I’d like to do with the catalogues – they’re not restrictive or prescriptive in any way, either creatively or financially. I get to do my thing – which is great but that comes with a massive amount of responsibility because I have to deliver something exquisite because otherwise I’m failing – I’d be letting them down.


The cover for the catalogue for José Parlá’s Adaptation/Translation exhi­bi­tion [October 10 to November 8, 2008] is printed on cloth to show off a detail of one of the artist’s canvases. The book’s introduction features an essay on Parlá’s work by art historian Michael Betancourt, arranged far more traditionally than the intros of the other books. The catalogue has space not only for the works the artist showed in the exhibition, but also for numerous photographs taken by the artist on his extensive travels that relate to and inform his work

IC: Every book has its own unique set of challenges. My mission is to give these artists something that represents them completely but is a gift. When I give the guys their books, it’s an educated risk I take with the design and I hope they’re going to respond and that it will resonate with them in the correct way. So far, so good – but you really pay the price by taking that approach. What if they absolutely hate it?”

Every guy that I’ve given a book to – they look at it very quietly and go through the whole thing. And while every person has a totally different reaction, they always take their time and go through it very slowly. Anthony Lister said, after going through his catalogue “I didn’t know I warranted such a lovely colour.” For me that’s the moment that makes it worthwhile.

The Elms Lesters Painting Rooms book is published by the gallery and costs £175
Printer: Damiani (Elms Lesters Painting Rooms book). Moore (catalogues)

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