When the 2012 Olympics artists posters were released last year, a collective howl of protest arose from the graphic design community: why weren’t we given the chance to do these? Well now they have been
Fit is an exhibition of London 2012-inspired posters by contemporary British-based graphic designers at Central St Martins. It was put together by Jonathan Barnbrook and Vaughan Oliver. Frustrated by what they saw as the exclusion of graphic design from the Olympics, and inspired by the challenge laid down by the artists series, Barnbrook and Oliver decided to stop moaning and do something about it. And so, they invited leading UK-based designers (those who, conceivably, may have been officially invited to tackle such a brief) to create a poster inspired by 2012 and sport in general.
So, will the resultant images teach LOCOG the error of its ways? Will Seb Coe be rueing the day he ignored the serried ranks of design’s great and good? Has, in effect, design made its point?
Yes and no. The results are just as uneven as the artists series – as uneven as the work any project of this nature would engender. This is a ‘phoney’, theoretical exercise, with no commissioner to guide it, no degree of control over the submissions (save for those rejected on copyright grounds). Just as, I suspect, happened with the artists series, some have taken it very seriousy, others not so much. Some have really put themselves in the shoes of a designer officially commissioned to do a real Olympic poster, some have just made highly personal responses.
It is the former, where designers are utilising their communication skills more than their artistic ones, that I feel work better. So, for example, Bibliotheque drew on what has perhpas been the most succesful piece commissioned for the games so far, Barber Osgerby’s torch, in their poster:
Build paid tribute to Harry Beck in creating a poster with a direct reference to a London icon – the kind of ‘storied’ approach with great appeal to foreign visitors that London 2012 has shied away from.
Matt Willey’s submission was very much in the spirit of official Olympics posters of times past
While David Pearson’s has a touch of E McKnight Kauffer about it
Others dealt more directly with sport, including two beautiful posters from Jonathan Barnbrook, one on cycling, the other archery.
And Domenic Lippa took the current world 100m record times for men and women as his inspiration
Horse 23 by Vaughan Oliver and Si Scott
Others were inspired more by the stories and spirit behind sporting endeavour. Tomato, for example, created a series of three posters called Olympic Origins based on the early experiences of three British athletes.
Phil Baines listed out past British medallists
Fuel issued an impassioned plea to try harder
Others were more esoteric or playful. Jeremy Leslie’s Hoopless removed the five Os (Olympic Rings) in his message
Marina Willer and Ian Osborne riffed on the show’s title, Fit
Ian Anderson had words of encouragement, of a sort
As did Morag Myerscough
While Catherine Dixon was more consoling
And Graham Wood was, well, Graham Wood. Which is fine by me.
While Angus Hyland passed comment on the way that the IOC jealously guards its copyright (the small print at the foot of his poster is the IOC copyright notice on the rings)
While Alan Kitching found a way around such issues
One thing that certainly didn’t work in the favour of the work on show at CSM was that all were displayed as digital prints, pinned roughtly to the wall. Inkjet or screenprinting would have really lifted many of the designs, underlining the importance of production to graphic work.
If I was to apply the strictly subjectve criterion of which of these I would have on my wall compared to how many from the artists series, I’d put the Fit posters marginally ahead. On balance, I find the designers’ efforts more immediately engaging and relevant than the artsists’ but, given their respective training and skills, that is to be expected.
There’s good and bad in the show – as you must expect from this kind of exercise. At the very least, Barnbrook and Oliver have given graphic design a platform which it has so-far been largely denied in 2012 and they should be applauded for that. The posters don’t prove irrefutably that designers are ‘better’ at this exercise than artists, nor that they should have been given the task instead of the artists commissioned by LOCOG. But designers could have been given a different task – that of producing series of posters with a specific communications objective for the Games which would have really allowed them to make the most of their talents.
Fit is at the Lethaby Gallery, CSM, 1 Granary Square London N1C 4AA until July 9 and the Window Gallery at the same location until August 30. Money raised from sales of prints of the posters will go toward student bursaries at CSM. Posters can be purchased here.
The full list of contributors is: Ian Anderson, Phil Baines, Jonathan Barnbrook, Neville Brody, Catherine Dixon, Fuel, GTF, Angus Hyland, Alan Kitching, Jeremy Leslie, Domenic Lippa, Morag Myerscough, Vaughan Oliver, David Pearson, Michael Place, Tomato, Why Not Associates, Matt Willey, Marina Willer, Graham Wood and Michael Worthington.
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