Cover Notes — March

Published:  March 8, 2013
Heath Killen
Cover Notes — March

Each month this year we’re going to be featuring a little more information about the concept behind (and design of) our magazine covers.

The cover image for March (#291 – Back to the 90′s) was created by Melbourne based designer and artist Sean Hogan, who works under the name Trampoline. Sean is profiled in the issue, and among other things he talks about starting a studio in the 90′s and his mentorship with design legend John Warwicker.

If you’ve picked up a copy of the issue, you undoubtably would have noticed the striking embellishment added to the artwork. This will be a regular feature throughout 2013, supplied by our good friends at Avon Graphics. Avon Graphics provide a wide range of high-quality printing services and they specialise in unique finishes and effects. Each issue this year will feature a different type of embellishment that has been crafted by Avon. For March, Sean’s artwork has been brought to life with the addition of a glossy, high-build spot UV varnish.

Sean has been kind enough to shed a little more light on his work —

David Byrne in his wonderful book ‘How Music Works’ states:

“…at times words can be a dangerous addition to music – they can pin it down. Words imply that the music is about what the words say, literally and nothing more. If done poorly, they can destroy the pleasant ambiguity that constitutes much of the reason we love music. That ambiguity allows listeners to psychologically tailor a song to suit their needs, sensibilities, and situations…”

How Music Works by David Byrne (2012). Published McSweeney's.

I love music – all kinds of music. I listen to music all day, and as you may have gleaned from the quote above, my preferred type of music is that without words. Music affords me a freedom – a freedom of my own interpretation. It allows me to have my own personal relationship with the work. Maybe its just me, but it feels less dictatorial, more open ended, more abstract.

In the same way that music is abstract, so is colour. Colour is a hard thing to describe or define and, like music, is totally subjective. Try describing a colour to someone in words or similarly try explaining in words what a note sounds like. Josef Albers in ‘The Interaction of Colour’ (1963) writes:

“If one says ‘Red’ (the name of a colour) and there are 50 people listening it can be expected that there will be 50 reds in their minds. And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.”

Screenprints from the original 1963 edition of "Interaction of Color" by Josef Albers. Published by Yale University Press

Screenprints from the original 1963 edition of "Interaction of Color" by Josef Albers. Published by Yale University Press

Colour and music occupy the same space in my mind. They are both abstract and yet both emotive. They are mutable entities and they are responsive to that of the viewer/listener at any given time. In 1920 Albers wrote this:

“Colours appear connected predominantly in space. Therefore, as constellations they can be seen in any direction and at any speed. And as they remain, we can return to them repeatedly and in many ways.”

Over the past few months I have begun a series of works that use colour as a method of relating the mechanics and process of music into a visual. Here colour shifts gradually like lingering notes merging in harmony or creates harsh and severe junctions like some kind of contemporary mash-up. These works are intended to be abstract, emotive, interpretive and open ended. The cover of Desktop uses two of these pieces overlaid – one in a circle, one in a square. This cover was designed to be ambiguous. The work is open to interpretation.

The relationship between design and music is a significant one. Many designers (myself included) were first introduced to graphic design through music. One only needs to visit a website such as Studio Music, listen to Adrian Shaughnessy’s Resonance FM show Graphic Design on the Radio, or jump on Twitter to see hashtags such as #nowplaying & #studiosounds in frequent use to see the evidence of the important role it plays in many studios around the world.

However while music may have some influence on our work as it plays away in the background, the challenge to find (and exploit) the shared creative junctions between making music and making imagery is still ripe for exploration. Historically there are varying degrees of success to be found in this area. Brian Eno and John Cage spring to mind as especially good examples of people who have operated successfully between the two fields. It’s impressive to see Sean shoot for similarly lofty goals, and produce some stunning, thoughtful work in the process.

Additionally, the sense of ambiguity and openness in Sean’s work is a rare and wonderful thing to see in graphic design. We’re often encouraged by clients, educators, and audiences to make our work as explicit and unambiguous as possible. Clarity in communication is important, sometimes essential, but there are also times when obscurity and vagueness are necessary tools for commanding attention and leaving a lasting impression.

I’m reminded of a this David Carson quote from Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica documentary, which ties things nicely back into the issue’s 1990s theme —

“Don’t confuse legibility with communication. Just because something is legible doesn’t mean it communicates and, more importantly, doesn’t mean it communicates the right thing.”

And this quote (from Twitter circa 2011) comes from another 90′s icon, Graham Wood of Tomato – which similarly feels apt —

“Where’s the beautiful complicated strange unrecognizable things? The things that cause you to lose bearings and wonder?”

I love that Sean’s work leaves space for interpretation, and that for him the line(s) between art and design are blurry and unfixed. Both disciplines can be used in distinct ways for distinct purposes, but they share a similar terrain, and sometimes they bleed into each other entirely. In an industry that is often over-explained and over-prescribed – it’s a pleasure to see something that is designed to stimulate the imagination. If the reaction that we’ve received to this cover so far is anything to go by, it seems that the majority of our readers agree.

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