"Storm Thorgerson: Right But Wrong - The Extended Album Art of StormStudios and Hipgnosis" - report
Written by Alex Bremer   
Thursday, 01 April 2010

Storm Thorgerson Exhibition, 01/04/2010The fact that we were attending an art show in Shoreditch should have prepared us for the rich and varied sight upon entering this retrospective of Storm Thorgerson’s life’s work... and I'm refering to the hairstyles...! The Idea Generation Gallery’s “Right but Wrong” exhibition could so easily have been the expression that most readily described the extraordinary shapes and styles that the wan young men – many of whom had most likely not been born when Storm’s output had been at its most prolific – had teased their hair into.

The first thing to say about the show is that it appears to be broadly representative of the output of one of the most influential and creative forces in commercial graphics over the last 40 years or so. Needless to say, we were most drawn to the Pink Floyd covers that adorned the majority of the wall space available, but album artwork from Led Zeppelin, Peter Gabriel, Genesis and 10cc sat comfortably amongst Storm’s more contemporary output.

Perhaps the fact that so much of this work is so familiar to so many meant that the sizeable portion of floor space that is given over to “Dark Side of the Moon” artwork held some of the most interesting works on show. Storm seems to have had a lot of fun here; creating a number of pieces that irreverently play with the prism motif over and over, each time maintaining the proportion and space that have made this particular piece of graphic design one of the most iconic album covers of all.

Storm Thorgerson Exhibition, 01/04/2010Storm himself seemed in his element here tonight; relaxed and at ease as he met and greeted well-wishers and old friends alike, as well as compering the evening’s festivities, which included a raffle and auction, in a good-natured and informal fashion. However, at the most inconvenient moment possible, I took the opportunity to corner the poor man in order to fire in a few pertinent and deeply intelligent questions on behalf of the Brain Damage community:

Speaking as a Pink Floyd fan, and as a representative of the Brain Damage community, I must say that I have enjoyed the show enormously. I felt that it seemed pretty representative of your career’s output; would you agree? Do you feel the show was representative of the Storm Thorgerson portfolio in general?
Yeah. I mean I also do a separate Pink Floyd show, I've obviously done a lot of work for them over the last 40 years, so we do a separate one that is only Pink Floyd – the next one being in Milan sometime soon. This show is more general.

Uncut magazine recently featured the photo shoot for Syd Barratt’s “Mad Cap Laughs”. This is one piece of work that is not featured here. Was there a reason for that or do you feel that it is not perhaps as representative as your more recent work for Pink Floyd?
Well I think that Mad Cap Laughs is not Pink Floyd, it's Syd and it's a portrait rather than an interpretation. So in some ways it's less interesting to me personally. But we do show it in the Pink Floyd show. There really is too much stuff, and I'd never get it all in unless I hired a turbine hall or something. Due to a massive ego of my own, let alone the people I work for, there is simply not room for it all.

Well on that subject, could you be pressed to pick out a single piece of work at that show that you are most proud of or perhaps you would say most represents your life's work?

I think that would be very difficult, really. I mean obviously we tend to like stuff we've recently done, so on the one hand we like Biffy Clyro’s “Only Revolutions”, for example because we think that works very well. We also like our “Onion Ladies”, and we like our work for The Cranberries. The “Onion Ladies” were done for bottom half for a band called Umphrey's McGee. We also like our new experiments on “Dark Side Of The Moon”, I thought that was fun. I think personally they are fantastic because they are done in what is called “Controlled Random”, and the thing is, you don't know how they are going to turn out. It's a very interesting process and I think it works really well. I was really happy with that. But you see that is more for me than for the Floyd; we are not using it for anything as yet. I did it for myself.

On the subject of your more recent work I’d like to ask you about the Steve Miller cover that has been used as the poster for this show. It occurs to me that it is one of your more humorous offerings – what would you say to that?
Well I think it probably is but it's difficult to know when you are talking about your own work because you tend to either love it or hate it and obviously your reactions as an artist is always extreme and totally over the edge. I don't very much relate it to reality really. I think it is humorous but I think it's also odd. I think it's got a little narrative which is the bit you are supposed to work out. But in case you don't get there, you can just enjoy the odd-ness and the humour. I hope it's all of those things in a way.

I think it is and I think it's very successful. And I think the joke, the fundamental joke, “Let Your Hair Down” is very obvious, and made me think of Rene Magritte. . .

You would be surprised how many people don't get it! You are supposed to have known that before you see the title. In my wild brain I thought people will ask - if they bother to ask anything of course - “why the ladder?” And Steve himself thought that the ladder was to go up on, because he didn't get the idea. I think he loves it now!

Now it's being used as the poster, and when you are most clearly well know for the Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin output, why did you choose a poster image that was so unknown?

I think because I thought it was funny. It made me smile. I guess I thought, if it makes me smile then maybe it will make someone else smile too. You never can tell can you? When you do stuff, when you make music, do a ballet, paint a picture, write a book, you never know how it's going to go down. I think I thought, it made me smile, hopefully it will make someone else smile too.

Well it made me smile and I think it was very successful.
There you go: it's served its purpose there, Alex. It's a start. As they say, it's a start.

And the Magritte comparison?

Yes, people have made that comparison before, but I don’t think I’m particularly like him – the piece just makes me smile.

Storm Thorgerson Exhibition, 01/04/2010Another thing I wanted to ask was that I am intrigued to know where you stand on the state of the music industry today? We are living in a time where people are downloading music, legally or otherwise, and they seem happy to just have the music and the tangible product, the covers and so on, seem to be secondary. And yet, your work is as popular as it has ever been. How do you reconcile that?
Well I think that is actually a very complex question because on the one hand obviously downloading is quite good for music, it doesn't suffer too much down the Internet where as pictures can. Secondly, I think there is another underlying issue about objects. Do we like to have objects? And in some ways I think it's a difficult area because, ironically, vinyl sales are up in The States. And we did a vinyl box with Biffy Clyro and sold out immediately. It's not absolutely clear that the album cover is dead but I think it is probably, temporarily set aside.
But then people may come back to it because in some ways, when you've got the tangible object you quite like to have something to read, something to treasure, remember by, something to protect the record and something to identify it. So I think this is really a question about objects, how much do people like objects? In a way, I think, people may still return or come back to ownership of knick knacks. You'll have in your mansion or your hovel, in your bedsit or your flat or your house, things that belong to you and make your universe. I don't know about you but I've got pictures of my mum and my son. I've got pictures of the wife and her sister. Pictures and posters and postcards - nothing expensive particularly.

And album covers really form part of that, don't they?

I think they might yes. And the imagery is often connected to . . . the “Dark Side Of The Moon” is probably, for example, inseparable from its shape and its graphic, and therefore the graphic will tell you all about “DSOTM” in a swift instance, as will Led Zeppelin’s “Houses Of The Holy”. You only have to look at the cover - whatever it is, good or bad in a way - and the music comes back to you. And the possession comes in, something you could look at or not look at, something you could pore over or ignore.
But I think it's like little knick knacks, a little pot here, a little picture, this and that, that you keep around you because you like objects, they remind you of who you are. As I say it's very complex, I don't know how true what I'm telling you is any more than I know how true it is to say that there won't always be a place for pictures with music. There probably will, whether it's a t-shirt or a poster for a gig, back stage screen projections, album covers, posters. I think the visual and the audio world go quite well together.

Well they do traditionally, and I think that the easy answer is that it’s a generational thing; my generation will always covet the tangible product. As kids we pored over the cover, the album, the lyrics and the artwork particularly. And the worry is that all these things mean nothing to the current generation of music consumers.
Either that may or may not be true. I know what you are saying but I think it's such a complex issue, psychologically, sociologically. I think it is actually hard to make any tight or convincing solutions. I think it's an open ended question which is why I am waffling around not being able to answer it. I will have to leave you to answer that because think it is probably not appropriate for me to say. I mean we do try and interpret the music, that's always been the first thing to do, to be a representation or a flag. And in representing the music we are trying not to represent it directly with big bangs or loud shouts or soft flowers but to represent it by digging a bit deeper . . . and a little ambiguity, obscurity or hidden clues does no harm! A little open-endedness is a good thing; music means different things to different people.

And what next for Storm Studios?
Well, you know, we’re working... we currently doing some work for a new band called Younger Brother, Biffy Clyro and we’re about to redeploy some things for Pink Floyd, I think.

Yes, I suppose for a band like Pink Floyd, whose body of work is so suited to re-packaging and re-release, there’s always going to be work.
Well, the band won’t... but somebody else might! But we shall see... a lot of these things are in the future, and often I don’t know what I’m going to be designing until I’m actually doing it! I know what I’m doing this week; work for Younger Brother and a new band called Goose! I think the diversity of work that I do is one my great joys."

The show runs from 2nd April to 2nd May 2010 at The Idea Generation Gallery
Pictures from the show >>
Alex Bremer is a partner with 3B Digital

Last Updated ( Friday, 09 April 2010 )