John Pasche’s original artwork for the Rolling Stones’ logo, acquired by the V&A for $92,500
In 1970, while still a student at the RCA, John Pasche designed a logo for the Rolling Stones that has become one of the most recognised pieces of graphic design in the world. He was paid £50. Today, the V&A Museum announced that it had bought the original artwork for $92,500. We talked to Pasche about the logo and working with the Stones…
You’re the lead singer in the biggest band in the world and you need someone to design a poster for your next tour – what do you do? If you’re Mick Jagger in 1970 you call up the Royal College of Art and ask them to recommend a student to do it.
So it was that John Pasche began a working relationship with the band that produced one of the most memorable and widely-recognised graphic devices ever created. Pasche was part of a talented group of graphics students at the college – his contemporaries including George Hardie and Storm Thorgerson. Following Jagger’s phone call to the college, he went along for a meeting with the star, the upshot of which was a pastiche of a 1930s travel poster which was used to promote the Stones’ English tour that year (below).
Later, Jagger called back. The Stones were going to launch their own label and they needed a logo, could Pasche design it? He met with Jagger again where the singer “talked about things he liked and things he didn’t like, nothing too specific,” explains Pasche, “and then I just had this idea”. While an obvious reference to Jagger’s features (not especially flattering, but Jagger didn’t seem to mind) Pasche says that the main reason that the thick red lips and sticking out tongue seemed so right was because it was blatantly anti-authoritarian and “they were still the bad boys of rock and roll at the time”. The style came out of Pasche’s fascination with Pop Art – its directness and simplicity, he says, “is probably why it stood the test of time”. The fact that both it and the band have (save one or two personnel changes) remained basically the same has turned it into an icon.
One of the first jobs to use the logo was the sleeve for the Sticky Fingers album which famously featured a photograph by Andy Warhol of a well-filled pair of jeans on the front and a real zip for the fly (the zip caused all kinds of problems, damaging both the record inside and other albums placed next to it). Pasche was given the Warhol artwork and asked to complete the packaging by designing the inner sleeve, for which he used his new logo. Unfortunately, because of Warhol’s involvement, it is Warhol, rather than Pasche, who is often credited with the design of the logo.
Until 1974, Pasche worked as the Stones’ designer. He always dealt directly with Jagger who, he says, “was very interested and knowledgeable about art history and graphic design. He’s always taken a lot of interest in everything graphical and photographical related to the band and he understands the importance of image”. Once Jagger was satisfied with a design, says Pasche, “he would get the rest of the band to rubber stamp it, but he was always the leader.”
Pasche went on to forge a career in the music business, as an art director at United Artists, then creative director at Chrysalis. Up until three years ago he was creative director for London’s South Bank Centre and now runs his own studio.
It was, he felt, the right time to part with the Stones artwork and put it up for auction through Chicago-based Mastro. The V&A had previously asked about loaning it for a forthcoming exhibition. Hearing of the sale, they decided to acquire it for their permanent collection. Victoria Broackes, Head of Exhibitions, V&A Theatre and Performance Collections, is convinced of its importance: “The Rolling Stones ‘Tongue’ is one of the first examples of a group using branding and it has become arguably the world’s most famous rock logo,” she says.
The money was secured with the help of charity The Art Fund which donated 50% of the cost. The 14-inch square colour separated, handpainted artwork comes with a colour print, as shown above.
“It was a fantastic break for me,” says Pasche of the original commission. And one that would be unlikely to be repeated today. The current state of design for the music industry is, says Pasche “a great shame, but when you’ve got downloads who needs packaging anymore? I just feel lucky to have been part of a period when [working in the record business] was exciting.”
See more of Pasche’s work here