No limits to their talents

From Henri Matisse to Barney Bubbles, great creative minds refuse to be restricted by the labels that we put on people

The theme for this month’s article occurred to me whilst walking around the Matisse ‘Cut-Outs’ show at Tate Modern. Well, I say walking… I was probably on my knees, such was the brilliance on display.

I was struck not only by his unquestionable genius. But by the volume of his ‘design’ work. Especially some stunning magazine covers that I hadn’t seen before.

So it turns out Henri Matisse was also a graphic designer. Who knew?
One of the things that frustrates me about our business is the tendency to label people by discipline. Which particular silo are you in? Art director? Graphic designer? Photographer? Illustrator? Copywriter? Artist?

It’s all nonsense of course.

Sure, different people have different talents and interests. But shouldn’t we all at least try to be jack of all trades and master of five or six? It makes life that little bit more interesting. And it makes our work better.

The poster on this page features Ian Dury. A man who certainly resisted silos.
He was a promising fine artist (taught by Peter Blake) but then chose illustration, then music and acting. This poster advertises his first album, New Boots and Panties!!, released at the height of punk but it’s not a punk record. It’s actually a weird and wonderful mix of punk, music hall, pub rock, rock and roll, funk and even disco. So no musical silos for Mr Dury either.

But back to the poster. A great design by the one and only Barney Bubbles.
His work was full of playful, inventive graphic ideas. Especially during his stint as in-house designer at Stiff Records in the late 70s. Dury’s second album for example, had a cover which existed in 12 versions and was made from pages of the Crown Wallpaper catalogue. He also created a poster for Elvis Costello that had to be constructed from ads in three UK music papers.

The poster featured here is a supreme demonstration of how to take an artist’s name, album title, product description, catalogue number, record label logo, record label address and artist photograph and glue them together into a single element. For graphic impact. Incredible. And inspired.

The clever bit is to place the information on a series of badges, positioned on a portrait of Dury. But not real badges. And not a normal photograph. The graphic power of photographer Tom Sheehan’s high contrast black and white image of Dury and the contrasting red and blue of the button badges, reduced down to simple flat coloured circles with consistent white bold type, really grabs the eye. A graphic master-class.

Barney Bubbles’ life was cut tragically short at the age of just 41, six years after this poster was completed. “What a waste…” to quote one of Dury’s lyrics.
Who knows what marvels he would have gone on to create, in whatever discipline. In his short yet impressive life he worked as a graphic designer, art director and film director.

There’s no flippant gag at the end of this month’s column. Instead, a quote from Irving Penn: “Don’t waste time on the unimportant things. It’s the work that remains.”

Get to it.

Paul Belford is the founder of London-based agency Paul Belford Ltd. His work can be found at paulbelford.com and he tweets from @belford_paul. A wealthof information on Barney Bubbes can be found at Paul Gorman’s barneybubbles.com/blog/

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