I GUESS it’s a bit of a dream for most designers, spending an extra two years after graduating messing about on an MA for graphics. Sounds like designer heaven,
doesn’t it? But let’s face it, most of us didn’t know about the course, didn’t get in, or never had work good enough to even send for the form.
So once again, the graduates from the RCA provide their own annual brand of graphic polemic. Each year we squeeze into the private view, pray for good air-conditioning and debate whether they “really needed to do another two years when they could have been out there, learning about the real thing”, while secretly envying the freedom and wealth of opportunities that open up to them.
RCA students are tutored in self-expression and they want to work for themselves. That’s why every year RCA students usually set up their own companies – they don’t need to learn how to work in a way that is all their own because they (should) have already found it. Because the students come from so many different colleges, there never seems to be a recognisable RCA style, and the same applies this year. Go to Preston for gags, to Kingston for ideas, to St Martin’s for a headache but to the RCA for a heady brew of pure pluralism.
As you walk through the show you’re bombarded by everything from echoes of the blue-meanies to pop-art perception games, from posters about the ideal iron to typographic family trees. Melissa Price and Sandy Suffield decided to pack a suitcase full of dog tooth flannel trousers, hot water bottles and maps of the solent, cut it up with a band saw into 13 different sections, photograph the cross-sections and then print them in a little book called Deconstructions. Don’t ask me to explain it, but it looks fantastic.
Emma Webb has spent what looks like an inordinate amount of time drawing and assembling one of the most detailed posters on the history of Chicago’s architecture I have ever seen, while Roz Streeten has produced a harrowing account of cot danger that could, and should, remove any further need for Anne Diamond’s coffee-break carping. I saw the show a few hours before “curtain” so Philip Connor was missing a few crucial lines on the floor for his rather smart optical height gauge which measured me up to be taller than the England rugby team. I soon realised I was standing in the wrong spot anyway, but it made me think.
While you’re there you should detour into illustration. It’s a quiet haven from the bluster of graphics, but you’ll be stunned by Nicola Gray’s Munari-esque constructions and James Jarvis’ children’s book ideas that are screaming for a friendly (and smart) publisher.
Laura Stoddart’s seventeenth century gardening illustrations sound deeply dull, but when you see them you may believe again in the beauty of a simple water-colour. And I’ve already admired and acquired Sarah Fanelli’s Button Book and My Map Book is next on my list.
You should go, and enjoy it all. The last thing to say is that the majority of the best work at this show comes from the girls, not the boys. Perhaps now we will see that great, all-girl graphics group that might put the men in the shadows? Let’s hope so. It’s about time.
Michael Johnson is principal of the graphics consultancy Johnson Banks.