The V&A’s changing face of Bowie print

Bowie stories, it seems, are like London buses today: two seem to have come at once. Here’s a look at a specially commissioned typographic Bowie print to which over 100 designers contributed…

Bowie stories, it seems, are like London buses today: two seem to have come at once. Here’s a look at a specially commissioned typographic Bowie print to which over 100 designers contributed…

A hundred and one artists and designers have contributed to a typographic screenprint created exclusively for the V&A as part of its activity around its imminent David Bowie Is exhibition (March 23-July 28).

The print’s designer, Blam (aka Mark Blamire of Print-Process), approached dozens of designers inviting each of them to produce the word ‘Bowie’ in a favourite or bespoke typeface of their choice or creation. The final print showcases 101 responses from contributors that include Ian Anderson, Jonathan Barnbrook, Anthony Burrill, Crispin Finn, Angus Hyland, Trevor Jackson, Michael C Place, Emmi Salonen, and Claudia Klat and Tony Brook from Spin.

Each of the 101 renderings of Bowie has a thought process behind it. Designer Harry Heptonstall‘s submission (above), for example, was inspired not by Bowie’s music but by his role in the 1986 film Labyrinth. “Initially I was going to set his name in the same typographic style as the lettering on the film posters,” explains Heptonstall of his approach, “but where’s the fun in that? Instead I’ve created bespoke lettering, creating a labyrinth out of his name.”

Meanwhile, contributor David Jones’ setting of ‘Bowie’ is a recreation of the Bowie graphic he had painted on his school satchel back in 1973. “Originally I did it with silver Airfix paint and it sat very well next to my MUFC Rule OK (in red, black and white) design,” he recalls. His path towards graphic design, it seems, looked set from an early age.

James Nelson opted for a much more painterly approach. “I had a waking dream of a David Bowie totem,” he says of his contribution, above, “a mysterious ancient thing that arrived from another planet. The totem represented a timeless reminder of Bowie’s legend, the carving being how I imagined Bowie’s name appearing on it. The dark surrounding print is suggestive of the totem’s shape.

“Whilst working on Lodger [Bowie’s 13th studio album released in 1979], and in particular the Boys Keep Swinging track, Bowie wanted to get a rougher garage sound so he asked the band to swap instruments,” says Gareth Wild of the inspiration behind his contribution. “Guitarist Carlos Alomar played drums and the drummer Dennis Davis played bass, he continues. “So I made the E [of Bowie] into a W, the W into an E, B is made from the I and a cut-up O, and then the I and the O characters are made from the letter B.”

Contributor Intercity even created animated (with Andy Potts) versions of their design:

“The logo is (obviously) made from reflections of the letterforms in the word BOWIE,” says Intercity’s Nathan Gale of his submission to the project, “referencing Bowie’s ‘many faces’. I wanted to create something with a contemporary feel, rather than retro, as I felt that was more relevant to Bowie.”

The 50x50cm print, entitled The Changing Faces Of Bowie, has been screen printed by K2 Screen with matt white ink onto rainbow holographic, 240gsm Mirri paper and can be bought exclusively from the V&A’s shop, priced at £45. Each print comes with a certificate and a full list of all the contributors.

Thanks to Lee Funnell for photographing the print.

CR in print
The March issue of CR magazine celebrates 150 years of the London Underground. In it we introduce a new book by Mark Ovenden, which is the first study of all aspects of the tube’s design evolution; we ask Harry Beck authority, Ken Garland, what he makes of a new tube map concept by Mark Noad; we investigate the enduring appeal of Edward Johnston’s eponymous typeface; Michael Evamy reports on the design story of world-famous roundel; we look at the London Transport Museum’s new exhibition of 150 key posters from its archive; we explore the rich history of platform art, and also the Underground’s communications and advertising, past and present. Plus, we talk to London Transport Museum’s head of trading about TfL’s approach to brand licensing and merchandising. In Crit, Rick Poynor reviews Branding Terror, a book about terrorist logos, while Paul Belford looks at how a 1980 ad managed to do away with everything bar a product demo. Finally, Daniel Benneworth-Grey reflects on the merits on working home alone. Buy your copy here.

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