The doors have been opened on graphic designer and art director Vaughan Oliver’s first major exhibition exploring his long-term collaboration with US alt-rock band the Pixies.
Oliver designed the album art for all five of the Pixies’ studio albums as well as EPs and special editions working closely with the band and other collaborators.
The designer has come to be known for an abrasive and direct graphic style cultivated by using unconventional and experimental techniques.
The exhibition – which is being hosted by Greenwich University, where Oliver now teaches graphic design – has been curated by Nic Clear, who is head of architecture at the university.
Original print proofs and processes
Two main stories have been told; firstly a retrospective of Pixies album artwork, associated releases and rarities, followed by an installation designed by Clear and Oliver based on the Pixies Minotaur limited edition box set, incorporating text, image, video and objects, which make up an immersive environment.
“In the show you’ll get to see my processes and how different it was when I started out to how people work today; everything was a lot more hands on,” says Oliver.
The Pixies made four albums Surfer Rosa (1988), Doolitlle (1989), Bossanova (1990) and Trompe Le Monde (1991) before the band split in 1993, reformed in 2003 and later released Indy Cindy (2014) – all of which Oliver designed.
With the earlier albums you can see original print-making proofs, processes and experiments on the gallery walls alongside elements created by collaborators including photographer Simon Larbalestier who worked on most of the albums and a collage by Ian Pollock who worked with Vaughan on Indy Cindy.
The Pixies Minotaur boxset was created in 2009 and contains the five albums and a book, which make up and original presentation set designed by Oliver in collaboration with Larbaleister and a team of Oliver’s students.
Oliver says: “I got my students to make graphic responses to the albums and we used those in the large format book. They used nails, torn up paper – all sorts of three-dimensional stuff.
“We wanted unfinished-looking pieces that look like they have been found and already live. They ended up being full-bleed images in the book.”
Oliver came to work with the Pixies because he worked so closely with the band’s record label 4AD, which gave him a desk at their offices.
He had a good relationship with the label and was allowed complete creative freedom and the opportunity to “always work collaboratively with the band,” he says.
Oliver says: “It was generally Charles Thompson [singer-guitarist aka Black Francis] who I worked with and it was usually always professional. We got off on the right foot and shared a similar dark sense of humour.”
With access to recording sessions, ideas and lyrics Oliver was able to immerse himself in the fabric of each record.
“There are so many images in Pixies songs it was a dream. I never had to take anything literally – other than Monkey Gone to Heaven – and even that song’s about something completely different; a hole in the ozone layer.”
The monkey he speaks of appeared as the composite image on the front of the Doolittle record.
From album to album Oliver says he looked to ensure “a sense of continuity” but says he has always taken a “fresh approach” by using new textures and type and new techniques.
“I wasn’t happy unless I learnt something”
“I wasn’t happy unless I learnt something. I went on a real journey, especially with the typography,” he adds.
Oliver was based at 4AD between 1982-1998, which led him to design for the likes of The Breeders, Cocteau Twins and Lush as well as others outside of 4AD including David Sylvian and Bush.
“Building individual identities for bands”
Record companies tended not to be prescriptive with Oliver, or expect a certain look he says – “I never had anything foisted upon me. It was always about building individual identities for bands.”
Where Is My Mind? The Work of Vaughan Oliver and the Pixies runs until 9 April at The Stephen Lawrence Gallery, 10 Stockwell Street, London, SE10 8EY
For more info head here: http://www.greenwichunigalleries.co.uk/where-is-my-mind-the-work-of-vaughan-oliver-and-the-pixies/