To mark its 30th birthday, today sees the opening of the Dream in Colour exhibition in London’s Aubin Gallery, which has seen Stylorouge given free rein to create brand new artworks for the space. Design Week caught up with studio founder Rob O’Connor to talk freedom, Blur and the ‘expression of expression’ he says the exhibition will showcase.
Design Week: What was it like being given the freedom to work without the constraints of a brief or having to meet a client’s needs?
Rob O’Connor: ‘Everyone’s loved it. We’re very pragmatic – it’s how we make a living, doing what people want, but it’s increasingly more difficult to find design patrons that trust you to get on and do what you do. There are so many pressures on the marketing side of things so that things turn a profit. It’s been very liberating.’
DW: Was it challenging though, working without any constraints?
ROC: ‘It was only a challenge in as much as within first the few hours of meeting Stuart [Semple, who runs the Aubin Gallery], he said that he really wants it to be an art show. I went back to office and we though “that’ll be fun”. For the first few days everyone was racking their brains but everyone really wanted to do it.’
DW: What can we expect from the show?
ROC: ‘With the retrospective stuff we wanted to put a different tilt on it. Quite a bit of work refers back to what we’ve done in the past but with most of it people were given free rein to do what they want. There are paintings and even some sculptural stuff, which is unusual for us. There’s a very different approach to the video side of things – it’s more art than commercial video. There might be a few old Blur visuals but it’s more about things people wouldn’t be so familiar with. We’re not at all dismissive of what we’ve done in the past, but everyone thought it’s the time to say “this is what we do now, and what we’re proud of and capable of.”’
DW: Without wanting to dwell on the past too much, would you be able to tell us a bit more about some of the process behind designing the early Blur artwork?
ROC:‘ ‘It was a difficult time because I think the managers were also the record company and they literally thought they had the hottest property in the business by signing Blur and wanted everything to be amazing. They weren’t so into making art, they wanted something cheeky, attention grabbing an mischievous to get the ball rolling. This was, in fact, a T-shirt – and that’s where the logo was born.
Bands weren’t really into logos at that point – or so it seemed to me, anyway – it was almost deemed a bit naff in the early 90s, so it was good to have David Balfe [Blur’s then-label Food’s founder] as he was really into having a memorable brand and a good t-shirt to sell.’
DW: So how did the sleeve designs come about?
ROC: ‘For the first single, She’s So High, we put together tear sheets of things we really liked – some were very British and quite cheesy – and they really liked the Pop-Art things. The American Pop-Artist Mel Ramos had this picture of a girl on a hippo, it’s really bizarre, and that really took their imagination.
DW: What about for the Leisure album?
ROC: ‘When the album came round it didn’t have a title, which was very difficult. We put together images we thought were cool and once we found the picture that’s when the title was born. We tried abut a dozen different colourways to make it more lurid and crazy and Pop-Arty. There’s very simple typography on the inside packaging, and we used the picture from the press shoot of the band sitting in a field.
DW: Are there any bands that you’d like to work with in the future?
ROC: ‘Pulling names out of a hat’s hard – I like a lot of American music but it’s great to work with credible artists who are in charge of their own destiny but do sell records, bands that are interested in other media. Unfortunately with a lot of bands in this country there’s such a low profit-margin so there’s a real problem with making things that use other media.
Dream In Colour: An exhibition by Stylorouge runs from 11 January – 3 February at Aubin Gallery, 64-66 Redchurch Street, E2