Village Green: pagan ritual as graphic design

If ever a studio space reflected the work that its inhabitants produce, then Village Green’s basement in east London is it

Far removed from the clean, pseudo-modernist lines of the stereotypical contemporary designer’s workplace (and work) Village Green’s home is full of mismatched antique furniture, theatrical masks and found art. There’s even an old wooden gate mounted on the wall.

Amid this collage of ephemera, collected from all manner of places, the studio of six creates an equally diverse array of work. Their space and its contents give off a sense of folk traditions, of rural Albion, of wooded glades – but also of the darkness that lurks within these emotive myths. The name Village Green, it seems, is no happy accident.

“I’ve always had this concept in my head of a pagan, English tradition, concerned with rituals and the countryside,” explains Jon Cooke who set up the studio in March 2007 with partner, Seb Marling (both having left the studios they previously headed up, Love and Blue Source, respectively). “Village Green has this feeling of being something different,” he continues. “There’s a dark side to it.”

Take a look at their ongoing poster work for the Fabric nightclub and you get the idea. After incorporating a heap of eyeballs, molten animals and a plague doctor’s mask (from the series that won Best in Book in the CR Annual 08), their most recent Fabric collages contain disembodied hands and warped, sleeping animals. Far from simply being arresting images, Village Green’s work for  the club often has a pertinent backstory. The sharp-nosed plague mask, for example, references the 17th century plague pits that were dug in the Smith­fields area of east London, where the night­club is based.

Built and shot in-house, the masks series is indicative of the way the studio works. “A key thing for Village Green is that we see ourselves as a work­shop,” says Marling. “We’ll take the furniture out of one room to take our own photographs, which I know isn’t unusual, but then we’ll also be painting things or making the sculptures for a project as well.”

Not all their work has seemingly sprung from the depths of the unconscious however. Far more commercially minded (but still inventive) is their work for Mark Ronson’s album Version which, as the pair explain, went from being a simple idea conceived and developed in-house, to one of the most recognisable campaigns around.

“We were really happy with the Ronson work,” says Marling, “as we just walked round the corner, bought some hoardings from a guy in a car park for £100, then designed and printed posters to shoot.” The team pasted up a range of these posters and promptly commenced ripping them down from the hoarding, photographing the results. “The visuals ended up on sleeves, posters and billboards,” he says. “It was a big success and somewhere along the way, the stuff we’d mucked about with in the studio became this frontline music industry project.”

If they’re not tearing their own work down, they’re invariably assembling pieces together from disparate parts, rarely happy to use just one element in their image-making. An ad campaign for Beck’s Fusions was based on this concept, creating a single figure from a range of objects, and many of their editorial projects use juxtapositions between unrelated objects – as in the fashion spread for magazine 032c where Prada headgear was placed alongside animal bones. This might stem from the magpie-like approach the pair have to collecting things which then informs the studio’s work, but for Cooke and Marling, it’s even simpler than that.

“It’s a result of wanting to have fun doing what we do,” says Marling. “One of the things Jon and I said we never want to do is get trapped in the client cycle. Inevitably, in order to exist you have to do that, but through experience you get to a point where you become a little bit more relaxed about everything you do and it makes the work better. Whether it’s a big advertising project, which comes with its limitations, or a tiny little creative thing where you can do what you want, you can get something out of it. It’s all work – if you make it enjoyable, it’s all valid.”

It’s unsurprising that this mindset comes from long experience within the industry – Cooke and Marling have known each other since 1993 – but the pair are now more comfortable than ever in working for a range of different clients. They’re represented by map for advertising projects (having just completed some large-scale print work for Sky Sports) while continuing to work on record sleeves for bands such as The Whip, Orange Lights and Glasvegas and on art direction for magazines including Quest and Harper’s Bazaar.

Village Green’s next major project, however, will be their most ambitious to date. If all goes to plan, they hope to open up a shop by the end of the year that will sell a range of eclectic products – from vintage clothing and records, to posters and scooters – behind which a brand new studio space will also sit.

“The reason I’m so excited about this is because it’s what we always said Village Green was going to be about,” says Cooke. “It wasn’t just going to be about graphic design and art direction but be bigger than that, an extension of all the things that we liked. If you buy something in the shop, you’ll  buy a part of what Village Green is all about.”

villagegreenstudio.com


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