CR is launching its first online training programme. Mastering Creativity will help unlock your creative potential, whether you are a professional creative, designer or commissioner of creative work. Additional expert insight for the course will be provided by our creative pioneers like Caroline Pay, Jim Sutherland and Zia Zareem-Slade, who have shared their insights here.
Caroline Pay, Joint Chief Creative Officer, Grey London
The biggest barrier to getting creative work made is confidence. We are too responsible these days. Creatives these days are too responsible. They take on a lot of the responsibility of the team and the client so we are not so rock and roll or ‘F*ck that’ than we used to be. Confidence in selling. I think the account teams are less confident sales people than they used to be. That used to be a rock star: a hustler. I don’t see many hustlers anymore. I think clients have less time, less money and therefore less confidence to take risks.
Jim Sutherland, founder, Studio Sutherl&
The biggest barriers to creativity are time. I think it is having enough time to not just think of the ideas but reflect if they are actually any good.
I [also] think there is a danger of over-analysing things so ‘let’s put it all into research’ and everyone comes back…And, again, it is how research is done. It has to be done in a much more nuanced way I think.
And, actually, I think the biggest barriers to creativity is if you are not enjoying it. I think it is that forced idea, and this is work or it’s a job. I think it just means that you are going to create workman-like work. It’s not a very good phrase… But I think if you remove the joy then it becomes a business; you are knackered and you charge from meeting to meeting and stuff like that, that is not a good place to be creating stuff. We all need to get back to the art department don’t we and muck about a bit more.
Time, curiosity, inquisitiveness, skills. I think the best creative work is done when people have a natural interest in the world around them and we don’t all have the time, always, to just go out and just observe, watch and be curious. So, making that part of what we all do is pretty important. I think people can. I think being risk averse is probably the biggest blocker to creativity: overthinking something; layers of bureaucracy to get something through can whittle an idea that was once brilliant down to something that kind of doesn’t resonate, once you’ve had everyone’s opinion. Being too risk averse and process-driven can actually kill great ideas.
Two weeks ago, the St Bride Foundation in London hosted a night of rejection. Killed Covers brought a range of book cover designers together to share their tales of woe – a commemoration of those designs that never made it.
By all accounts it was a confessional and cathartic experience, with design talent from some of the UK’s leading publishers and imprints discussing what happens when, for any number of reasons, the work just doesn’t quite succeed. More significantly, these designers also recalled what they took from the experience – and how they moved on from it.
We asked each of the speakers who presented work on the night to share one of their cover design stories with us. All 12 of the participants at Killed Covers tell their story below.
Donna Payne, Creative Director, Faber & Faber faber.co.uk Cover for Lullaby by Leila Slimani
The book’s plot centres on a couple, their nanny and two small children. It opens with a murder but examines themes of middle-class guilt and the times we live in. At the time of briefing, the book was still in the process of being translated [from the original French].
The editorial pitch made it clear that it was spare, clean, simple prose; for a literary market. Since acquisition, it had gone on to win France’s top literary award the Prix Goncourt. In short it was the kind of brief that book designers love: lots of creative freedom without the demands of the mass market.
The key elements of the brief were that it should not be photographic. And although colour and imagery were called for it should retain some of the understated elegance of the original typographic French edition. Several rounds of roughs later we agreed on this bold graphic treatment.
The author and agent loved the simplicity and the ‘film noirish’ feel. At this point, the translation finally landed. The whole company starting buzzing from a satisfying reading experience. We knew it was beautifully written, but [the fact] that this slim novel was as fast-paced and compelling as any mass-market thriller was a surprise. We began to make plans for a more commercial paperback treatment. Then we discovered that the US was putting it out in hardback with not only a straight-to-the-point photographic cover, but a punch-in-the-face title change.
By this time I’d read the book. And after staring at both covers for the longest time I had to admit that the US cover and not my cover was just right. It’s broad. It’s still literary. But feels inclusive. The US cover has the kind of reach this book deserves.
So the typographic cover was killed. And as a reader I helped kill it. The challenge of constantly re-imagining, finding a new, fresh take on the same text is what book designers thrive on. The very fact that two jackets as diverse as this can both/all be right or indeed wrong, depending on the market, is what fuels our creativity.
Matt Johnson, Art Director (adult books), Simon and Schuster UK simonandschuster.co.uk Cover for The Farm by Tom Rob Smith
This is the first of many visuals I created for The Farm. The design is a good example of an idea that was liked and approved in-house, only to be dismissed in no uncertain terms by the author.
Looking back at his criticism of the cover – too predictable and quiet – it was entirely justified. I’m still not quite sure why I put a stag on there. He wanted a design that looked original for the genre of psychological thrillers, something that ‘moved on’ the look. My job was to balance these expectations with the demands of our sales and marketing teams.
The final cover, I think, is a vast improvement on the original concept. I went though at least thirty variations before I landed on this – it was a real battle at times. Thank heavens the author liked it.
Thy Bui, Art Director, Orion Children’s Books thybui.space Cover for The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish
This project was a story about grief. The idea was to have the main character broken into two, his world turned upside down after the death of his friend. The composition cut in half tied in to the title – Ethan before and a changed Ethan after his friend’s accident.
To my horror, it transpired the book was based on the author’s real life experience. Her friend had fallen to his death. You can imagine the upset it caused when the author opened her email to see an image of a boy falling and broken into two!
This cover was scrapped, as were a few more attempts. The final cover was designed by Sophie Burdess. So the lessons learnt? That there is almost always a hiccup somewhere along the process – accept this. And, there is no right or wrong design for a book cover. Our role as designers is to explore the options.
Richard Ogle, Art Director, Transworld, Penguin Random House penguin.co.uk Cover for The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Commercial book cover design can be a game of semiotics and market research. Genres and trends are dissected through focus groups and consumer insight and we view our covers through the prism of audience segmentation.
When working on the paperback edition of The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne our initial instincts, regarding the target audience, changed as we broadened our hopes and expectations of the potential readership spread. What began as a focus on a specifically Waterstones audience opened up to a wider, more commercial, audience range as the project progressed.
I think the covers for each stage were all good covers, from the commissioned typographic solution by Neil Gower to the final photographic image by Jeff Cottenden. It was a matter of a changing pitch not design quality that lead to the killing of the earlier covers. As a designer this is sometimes hard to accept but the business of graphic design is sometimes pragmatism as much inspiration.
Will Speed, Designer, Hodder & Stoughton wrmspeed.com Cover for Growing Pains by Dr Mike Shooter
I chose to talk about one cover, Growing Pains, because we went through such a journey, with so many design variations (photographic, typographic and illustrative) until we found the right solution of a hand-drawn labyrinth.
The book draws from real life stories of child therapy, which made it difficult show a figure on the cover as it deals with different age ranges and genders. However, the cover still had to feel human and hopeful. Sadly, this selection of covers didn’t make it for a mixture of reasons: not feeling human enough, being slightly misleading, or not appealing to the correct market.
Matthew Young, Designer, Penguin Books mymymy.co.uk Covers for the latest Pelican Book series
The [previous Pelican] covers [designed for its relaunch in 2014] survived for about three-and-a-half years. But, inevitably, people start to get bored. ‘The covers all look the same’. ‘It’s impossible to differentiate front-list from back-list books’. People within the company were getting restless.
This all came to a head with a book on Islam, where I put forward this suggestion (shown above). I love this illustration. It’s by Lewin Bassingthwaighte from a 1961 Pelican book on the same subject. But this was dismissed for being too different. The new brief was to keep the existing template, but introduce imagery, somehow.
When your template consists of a giant bird, and giant type, right in the centre of your cover, finding imagery that works around, and works with, that template, is a considerable challenge. But, I gave it a shot and put forward some ideas.
When these were presented, it sparked a huge debate about the design direction of the Pelican series:
‘That blue is holding us back’.
‘We never liked that blue anyway’.
‘Make them all different colours, like a box of Smarties’.
I thought (the first set, shown above) answered the brief rather nicely. The different colours and illustrations add plenty of variety whilst still being recognisably part of the same family. And it could even work with photography too (that’s my daughter on the right there). And this approach was liked at first, but every time there was a cover meeting, things backtracked a little (see the other two sets):
‘Maybe they shouldn’t all be different colours after all, maybe we should stick to white’.
‘Maybe that’s still too much of a departure from the existing look. Maybe make them blue. We’ve always admired that blue’.
‘Ok, but obviously these illustrations aren’t right’.
We then spent three weeks arguing about the hierarchy of the type.
‘Should the line ‘A Pelican Book’ sit below, or above the title?’
‘Actually, could you please use the flying logo rather than the standing one?’
‘And please move the text down a bit; put it beneath the logo’
Unfortunately I don’t have the time to extoll the virtues of options one and two (above), which are my preference. But after much debate, we ended up with number four.
And eventually, we found we all agreed on a new cover direction. It’s similar enough to the previous template to be obviously part of the same family, whilst shifting the focus to illustration, allowing each book to stand out as a unique object (below).
So there you have it. As you can see, the path that led to this point is littered with killed and abandoned covers, but it’s been an interesting journey to get to this point, and I think we’re headed in a good direction.
Liron Gilenberg, Book Designer, IronicItalics ironicitalics.com Cover for The New Munsell Student Color Set (5th Edition)
To design a cover for a design-related book is both a treat and a challenge. I’m a minimalist at heart who sometimes likes to overcomplicate things, but for this one I decided to rein myself in and practice the art of Less is More.
I really thought I nailed it, except the Munsell colour system is intricate, made of very clear grids and is the exact opposite of colours fading organically into one another.
Fortunately, I love a good grid and once the first design was killed I embraced complexity by building upon a basic Munsell structure, expanding and adapting it to go beyond the system and stand on its own as a cover. After a few colour tests the design was quickly approved and is one of my personal favourites.
Rafaela Romaya, Art Director, Canongate rafaelaromaya.com Cover for Lace by Shirley Conran
Shortly after joining Canongate in 2011, I was asked to redesign Lace by Shirley Conran. Perhaps not an obvious Canongate title – a bonkbuster! – but it taught me a valuable lesson about rejection.
Comps came in: cult classic Valley of the Dolls, Shirley’s contemporaries Jilly Cooper and Jackie Collins, and newbie Tasmina Perry. First visuals used primary colours, Vogue-esque fonts, lipstick, Versace dresses, all evoking the 1980s.
But these were rejected. At first, I couldn’t see why. So I did something I often do, and created a moodboard. This gathered the visual language of the decade as re-imagined in the Noughties, and led me to illustrator Mat Maitland. Together we rebranded Lace.
I realised our new visuals screamed the 1980s but weren’t of that decade. They had all the signifiers of the book and genre but interpreted for a contemporary audience. Covers say something about a book, author, publisher, reader and the time they emerge. It worked. Eventually, Pan Macmillan joined the party by publishing the rest of Shirley’s backlist in matching livery.
For me, rejection is part of the creative process. Those first visuals weren’t a dead-end but a chance to pause, reflect and discover another direction.
Ness Wood, Art Director and Designer nesswood.co.uk Cover for Thornhill by Pam Smy
The process was a collaboration between myself – as the designer – and author/illustrator Pam Smy. We deliberated and negotiated to get this dark-themed, fully illustrated debut novel the strongest possible cover.
We screen-printed, Pam produced line work, and painted in emulsion, we involved puppets and scary girls, until eventually we decided upon the titular house, Thornhill, as the subject of the cover, depicted on both the front and the back.
Our ultimate ambition was for the reader to feel as if picking up the book was picking up the house itself. Sprayed, black-edged pages unify the book block with the cover, emphasising the sense of the book as an object.
Yeti Lambregts, Senior Designer, Headline Publishing Group yetilambregts.com Cover for The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
I thought this cover (above) was heading in an exciting direction – a perilous circus trick: what could go wrong? The performance, the drama, the dark side. How one move could end everything. But it wasn’t approved in the cover meeting; it was felt it didn’t represent the whole story as it only showed one member of the family of four.
So, I went away and had a good think about how best to get the unusual title to work, and capture where and when the story took place. Which led me to this cover (above), showing the four siblings – but it lacked adventure and didn’t look unique enough, it needed more oomph!
By pushing this idea further – changing the perspective of the building and giving reason for the lettering on the wall – it brought me to illustrating it as if it were an old, hand-painted advertising sign on the side of the building, found in 1970’s New York (shown above). The siblings are huddled together at the top, sharing the moment when they’d been told their fate.
Quotes feature on the side of another building, and different rooms hint at other lives as the jacket unfolds – inspired by the great Hitchcock film Rear Window (above). The Immortalists will be available March 2018, published by Tinder Press.
James Fraser, Designer jamesfraserdesign.com Cover for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (young adult edition) by Mark Haddon
My piece at the event was based around my involvement with the young adult covers for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. I had been asked by the publisher to create the photographic look (cover shown above left) in 2011, to hopefully usher in a new generation of readers after the initial success of the original book eight years previously.
This cover didn’t quite make it, due to being ‘killed’ by the author himself, he was still rather fond of the existing paperback version(s). In hindsight I acknowledged an inherent problem with this photographic approach, or in fact any fictional book cover containing a face for that matter.
Granted in that it can help a purchase by a reader, by being able to identify with the most recognisable of human attributes – facial features – but this can also remove the pleasure of building a picture of a character in our heads by the use of worded descriptions on a page.
I had art directed the original paperback look for the children’s cover previously in 2004, working with the fantastic Henry Steadman. A look he generated which heavily influenced the appearance of the adult paperback at the time, which was released by the same parent publishers, Penguin Random House.
Henry Steadman’s original visuals for this paperback (see above) for me are an example that, mostly, rejected covers aren’t really killed, that’s far too strong a term. In fact, aren’t they mostly acting as prototypes on the path to a particular solution or outcome?
Mark Swan, Designer kid-ethic.com Cover for The Painted Ocean by Gabriel Packard
When the brief was submitted this was the first image that popped into my head. Quite different from what the client wanted but I really wanted create it and see weather it was technically possible.
To my surprise, despite being off brief it went down very well with the client who approved it in-house. Unfortunately, the author was not keen and chose another design I had produced. His chosen design was then submitted to another important link in the publishing chain. They didn’t like the author’s preferred route.
The three sides battled it out for a while, but an agreement couldn’t be reached so my designs were scrapped altogether and the project went in-house (see above). The lesson I took away from this experience is it’s important to go with your gut and try something new, take a risk and satisfy your own creative needs as well as the client’s.
Sometimes doing something you are proud of is enough, even if it never sees the light of day – except now that is.
Killed Covers took place at the St Bride Foundation in London on September 13. For more details on SBF events, see sbf.org.uk/whatson. The Killed Covers project first came to life in a limited edition publication produced by Nico Taylor, Ceara Elliot and Jack Smyth through the Studio of Ideas they set up whilst working at the Little, Brown Book Group in 2016. St Bride Foundation would like to thank them and Jon Gray and Jamie Keenan for all their help and advise co-curating this lecture
Working atop faded street maps, vintage National Geographic magazine covers, and decades-old stationery, London-based artist Mark Powell (previously) draws the wrinkled contours of his subject’s faces with a standard black Bic ballpoint pen. The weathered portraits of both famous and anonymous people reflect his antiquated canvases both in texture and tone as he traces the topographies of their faces across literal street maps or paper materials that have traversed the world. Powell’s drawings have grown in both scale and detail over the years, magnifying the impact and density of each piece. You can see more of his recent work on his website where he sells a number of prints and quite a few originals. (via This Isn’t Happiness)
Today we’ve got a new watch from a small American brand that has made a name for itself amongst fans of so-called "micro-brands." After a few years of R&D and some trips between Chicago and Switzerland, Oak & Oscar founder Chase Fancher was able to quit his day job and launch his very own watch brand. The watches are sporty and easy to wear, with an American personality to them too. The watch we have here is the Jackson, Oak & Oscar’s very first chronograph, and it’s a manually-wound flyback chronograph to boot.
This is the third major release from Oak & Oscar. The brand launched in 2015 with the Burnham, a 42mm time-and-date watch that was made in a (long sold out) limited edition of 300 pieces. The next year, they followed things up with the Sandford, a GMT that drew on many of the same design codes as the Burnham, including the grey and orange color scheme, the sandwich dial construction, and the use of hidden little details to entice collectors.
The Jackson very much looks like an Oak & Oscar watch, but with a few differences too. First off, it doesn’t use a sandwich dial. Fancher wanted to go with something a little more straightforward and traditional for his first chronograph. The luminous baton markers are very functional and keep the dial from looking cluttered, even with the two-register chronograph layout and the date at six o’clock.
While the watch is the same 40mm across as the Sandford, look at it from the side and you get a different feel entirely. The Jackson is 14.5mm top to bottom, which is definitely on the thick side. This is the nature of the beast when dealing with modular chronograph movements (more on that in a minute). Honestly, the number sounds way scarier than it feels on the wrist, but this is no super-slim vintage chronograph here. The finishing on the case is good throughout, with the polished bevels on the pump-style pushers providing an extra little touch that I really enjoyed.
The Jackson comes in three variations. There are two versions in stainless steel, one with a blue dial and another with the more typical Oak & Oscar grey dial, as well as a charcoal grey PVD version. All of them have the signature orange accents and contrasting light grey sub-dials. There will be 150 pieces made of each of the steel versions, while the PVD will be held to only 100 pieces. The darker watch definitely has a unique look, but to me the blue and grey steel Jacksons are close to a perfect tie for best of the bunch. As I’ve continued to look at them over the last few days, I find myself preferring a different one each day.
While the Jackson is a two-register flyback chronograph, it actually has a 30-minute totalizer and a 12-hour totalizer, plus a running seconds register. How, you might ask? The register at three o’clock actually contains both the chronograph totalizers, with a dark grey hand counting the minutes along the outside of the sub-dial and a smaller white hand counting the hours along an inner track. That leaves the sub-dial at nine o’clock free to display the seconds. There’s also a tachymeter scale in the light grey rehaut for when you want to calculate speed. If you told me that there was a chronograph that used three different colored hands to show the elapsed time, I would be pretty skeptical, but I think it works here because the colors echo other design features across the watch. It ends up feeling cohesive, despite my expectations.
Powering all of this is the Eterna caliber 3916M. This is a variation of the caliber 39, Eterna’s base movement that has become popular with micro-brands over the last few years. And, to be honest, it’s a great choice for a watch like this. Unlike most versions of the caliber 39, the 3916M is manually-wound and has a flyback chronograph module as well. It’s a 25-jewel movement and it has a 60-hour power reserve. Looking at the movement, you’ll notice a column wheel at the top left too. As far as decoration goes, there is Côtes de Genève on some of the bridges, as well as a few custom engravings. It’s nothing fancy, but the movement is still nice to look at through the sapphire caseback.
Each Jackson comes with two straps, one vintage-style strap in tan Horween leather and one rally-style strap in bright orange Horween leather. The watch also comes with a branded buckle that fits both straps. The packaging for the Jackson is also great – instead of a traditional watch box, the watch comes in a modular watch wallet that is also made of Horween leather and heavy duty grey felt. The wallet holds three watches in detachable grey suede pouches, and the whole thing zips up for easy transport. It’s something functional that you’ll actually use instead of something that just sits in your closet gathering dust.
By this point you’re probably wondering how the Jackson actually wears though. The answer: just as you’d expect. The 40mm diameter is great, and gives the dial plenty of room to breathe. The contrasting registers make it easy to read the elapsed time at a glance. My only real complaint is about the thickness. As I mentioned, this is really unavoidable from a design standpoint unless you’re sourcing a fully integrated chronograph movement, and I did find the watch to wear thicker than I would ideally like. Day to day though, I think the Jackson will still be comfortable for a lot of people and it doesn’t look overly thick once you strap it on. Plus, that blue dial is just flat out great looking.
The Oak & Oscar Jackson is available for pre-order now, with delivery starting the first quarter of 2018. The stainless steel versions are priced at $2,850, with 150 pieces in each color (blue and grey), and the charcoal PVD version is priced at $3,150, with 100 pieces total. A portion of the profits from the Jackson are being donated One Tail at a Time, a Chicago dog rescue.
The UEFA Nations League is “a new competition that aims to ensure the continued success of national team football by replacing most friendlies with competitive matches and by allowing all nations to play against equally ranked teams,” the European governing body say.
It will begin in September 2018. All 55 football associations that are part of UEFA (i.e. all European countries) will take part. They will be organised into four leagues (A, B, C and D), according to their official ranking. So the top 12 ranked teams will be in League A, and so on. There will be promotion and relegation between the leagues. Games will be held over six matchdays, during September, October and November 2018. A UEFA Nations League Finals competition for the teams that win the four groups within the top division is scheduled for June 2019.
Confused? Join the club. Really, it seems to be an exercise by UEFA in protecting the value of international football against the boredom of too many meaningless friendlies and the threat of the Champions League, which many fans have decided offers much better quality football.
Anyway, enough of the football, what about the design? Y&R Branding, which is based in Portugal and has previously worked with UEFA on other major tournaments, has created a vibrant identity based on the flags of the competing nations and the centre circle of a football pitch.
Like the competition itself, [the identity is] “always in motion and this is represented through triangles – moving up and downwards – which underline promotion and relegation with constantly changing shapes,” Y&R say. “The competition logo forms the heart of the brand identity: a flag that represents all 55 nations with the four leagues that make up the competition and participating countries moving up and down between the leagues.”
Y&R’s work for UEFA (including the identity for its 2020 European Championships) has been consistently innovative in what was previously a sector of design renowned for clunky visual metaphors awash with clumsy gradients, swooshes and tortured ball-related symbolism.
This bright, lively, graphically pleasing system may well be the most entertaining thing about the Nations League.
Rustam Qbic recently visited Shanghai, China, taking part in the Color, Way of Love, Art + City Project there. For this occasion he painted a new large mural titled “Dreams” showing constant progression and evolution of his visual language and technique.
Persistent about creating works that carry universal messages and celebrate life, youth and the future, Russian artist painted a surreal piece depicting a young boy blowing bubbles that form impossible shapes. The bubbly, playful image is accented with the painterly approach and technique which the artist used to paint the floating bubbles. Spreading thick layers of paint with his hands, he achieved stronger contrast between the background and the boy’s creations, creating a simple illusion of depth along the way. Inspired by the boundlessness and creativity of children’s fantasy, this 5 story mural celebrates human creativity that has it’s roots at the earliest age.
Check out more progress and finished mural photos by Rustam QBic and @iew_uoy_gnahz after the jump and let us know your thoughts about this piece in our comment section.
The great sensualist Romantic poet John Keats arrived in Rome in late 1820 with his friend, painter Joseph Severn. This was not to be a grand tour of Italy in the typical sense. Fortune did not smile on Keats’s lungs or his bank balance; one year later he was dead. Passionate letters from sweetheart Fanny Brawne lay unopened and were buried with him, as he requested, in the tranquil oasis of the English Cemetery in Rome. How surprised young Keats would be to see his last home, a cheap rental in its day, become a dynamic museum, filled, not just with tourists and poetry lovers, but with artists and refugees.
Some, like Rome-based art therapist Helen Creswell, consider Keats to have been both a health and an economic refugee. The poet fled creditors and poverty in England but his doctors had also recommended that he soujourn in a warmer climate to help his deteriorating Tuberculosis condition. And so he famously undertook a difficult journey by boat and land, finally arriving in Rome on a cold mid-November afternoon in 1820 after ten days in quarantine in Naples. Keats took lodging in the “English Ghetto”, an area that had attracted English artists and writers since the 1760s; sons and daughters of the ascendant middle and upper classes also came on educational grand tours, sending crates of real and fake antiquities home.
These days, the journey to Italy by boat, even where that journey finds its terminus in the eternal city, has a different cast, being a common, perilous quest for many economic refugees and asylum seekers. The politics too has become perilous as Italy strains under the economic and social weight of assisting more settled migrants than any other EU country. UNCHR figures from August 2017 suggest that 97,377 refugees and asylum seekers have landed at Italian ports with over 2000 deaths sustained from Mediterreanean sea crossings. In literature, the trope of the courageous quest has been with us since Virgil’s epic poem the Aeneid (19 BC) in which King Aeneas and his tattered band of survivors seek repatriation in Italy via Scylla and Sicily.
I recently visited Rome to research and update ideas of the “grand tour” in relation to mass people movements, hoping eventually to create a body of poems that contest negative stereotypes of refugees. Fieldwork opportunities included volunteering at the Joel Nafuma Refugee Centre in Rome and dialogue with individual refugees and asylum seekers, NGO staff and art therapy organisations. One workshop made a particular impact.
In June 2017, the Southern Italian art therapy organisation, Art and Seek, partnered with the Keats-Shelley House in Piazza di Spagna to run a special workshop for refugees, migrants and artists: “Art and Seek: The Journey from Romantic Times until Now”. Volunteers and staff working for refugee organisations in Rome were also invited to participate.
Like good tourists, we took a tour of iconic rooms where Keats and Severn, lived and worked (and died, in Keats’s case, on the wintry night of February 23rd, 1821, his famously monastic single bed intact in the tiny upper floor bedroom). Workshop participants were then invited to create a large artwork based on found, large scale maps of the world. A collage by contemporary painter and filmmaker William Kentridge was used to trigger responses, particularly the image of a silhouetted man on a map struggling to carry his furniture on his back. Following Kentridge’s powerful image, we made shapes out of black card, talismans of something that had been important to us on our respective journeys.
We then drew over large, colourful print-outs of world maps with modest means (markers and black paper, scissors and glue), depicting journeys made thus far. The maps filled with skewed, competitive lines of latitude and longitude. Erratic diversions from this grid indicated how some had been transferred from refugee camp to camp across Northern Africa before landing at Libyan ports for embarkation to Italy.
We admired the looping trails, the chaotic journey lines that had finally intersected in Rome, intrigued to ask each other about our places of origin. The lingua franca was English, interspersed with Italian.
Language is the first tool of social, cultural and economic advancement within the host country for newly settled migrants, according to Italian linguist Maria Grazia Guido. Guido has described the particular importance of English as a lingua franca. In a short video posted on YouTube, a British interviewer undertaking vox popoli interviews with people rescued at sea shows one unnamed young man intoning “I like my mum, I like my mum”. The simple repetition of this one English phrase conveys a moving signal of loss, mourning and fear. Repetition drives home that, in his limited English, the young man means to use English verbs he cannot yet find, the verb “to love” and the verb “to miss”.
Church centres around Rome daily pack with newcomers desperate to participate in language programs. As William Maley observes in What is a Refugee?, churches and NGOs are working with refugee communities to compensate for massive failures in the system of states. New arrivals turn up punctually at 8.30am to the Joel Nafuma Refugee Centre at St Pauls Within the Walls for the free language classes run five days a week in windowless, vaulted classrooms below the church. There are never enough volunteer teachers to meet demand. For teachers, classes are joyful but chaotic as people attending have different mother tongues.
But this is not to put an overly optimistic gloss on the experience of arrival and transition. As Maley has observed, “To leave one country for another is a traumatic decision”.
Workshop participant Ali, is an educated, dynamic 25-year-old, recently settled in Rome from Tanzania. While to date, the Italian government had been “very friendly to migrants, with friendly policies and laws’, he laments the daily experience of racism that prevents him, as a black man, from being considered for work as a town planner. "Boredom is an issue for refugees,” he adds. “Boredom and shame”. He spends his time on the fringes of Rome working as a part-time chef in a Swahili restaurant. The outlook is bleak in Italy, with youth unemployment at 40 per cent.
Two months after speaking with Ali, forced evictions of up to 500 mostly Eritrean people from a squat in Rome’s Via Curtatone and subsequent refugee protests in nearby Piazza dell’Indipendenza culminated in a show of brute force by police. Nonetheless, ordinary Romans filled the streets to protest the violence and lack of sustainable housing alternatives, while evicted refugees set up sleeping quarters by the Forum’s ancient heart, banners insisting on housing as a universal right.
At Keats’s House, as we worked and chatted, only weeks before the violence at Piazza Dell’Indipendenza, tourist time flowed about us; sometimes we took a break to peer out the window, marvelling at the sea of tourists surging around and up the Spanish steps. Workshop leader Vivianna Bagnato then asked us a confronting question; how did we see ourselves travelling in the future? Was this an optimistic bridge too far, given Italy’s dire economic and employment situation? Or an important opportunity to dream, rarely conferred?
The room went quiet.
But watching a fragment of the Jane Campion film biopic Bright Star (2009), refugee participants became moved and vocal about the separation of the amorous protagonists, John Keats and Fanny Brawne.
The idea of the journey was not the only thing to unite us; ideas of love and loss, and of ordinary difficulty in relationships, were spoken about with heated feeling. In Rome. Keats was lonely for Fanny and mourning the death of his brother Tom; finally, he became too ill to work on that which he loved most: poetry.
“He [John Keats] should never have made the journey,” Mohammad from Afghanistan said, wringing his hands and pointing to locks of Keats’s hair, installed in a museum case.
Ali, the same age as Keats when he left England, disagreed, averring that “there could be no such thing as love without health”. “Love”, he added, as if health had not been a sure thing for him to date, “needs time and health”.
Alas, for poor Keats, a cure was not found, despite the offices of famed English doctor and Roman resident James Clark, who nonetheless encouraged Keats to get out and about, to be in the world.
Guinean woman Aisha, a young mother of three, insisted, that “travelling meant learning, learning meant travelling, no matter what”. She had limited patience with Ali’s despair about Italian job markets visibly affected by racism. She felt that Keats had done the right thing. “You must never stop travelling, never stop learning,” she re-asserted, like an oft-visited line of poetry. “That is the life”.
Her English and her Italian were already excellent. Another new arrival to Italian shores, Virgil’s character Aeneas, expresses a similar attitudinal mantra in the heroic dactylic hexameter of the epic:
What greater ills hereafter can you bear?
Resume your courage and dismiss your care,
An hour will come, with pleasure to relate
Your sorrows past, as benefits of Fate.
Thro’ various hazards and events, we move
To Latium and the realms foredoom’d by Jove.
Keats, though suffering a terminal illness, was generally given to more melancholy views. In the poem, Ode to a Nightingale, one of his five great odes from 1819, he tackles themes of mortality:
Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
But a few stanzas on, Keats has some quite contemporary things to say about settler dislocation and homesickness:
Thou was not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn
The same that oft-times hath
Charm’d magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.
The story of Keats’s life and death hit a nerve for some now “amid the alien corn”. Hakim had made a perilous passage across the sea to reprise Keats’s epitaph (“Here lies one whose life was writ in water”). But as the workshop came to a close, he was laughing, full of life, bemused by the recent gift to the museum of Mary Shelley’s portable writing desk, a small, sloped timber escritoire with a suitcase-like handle.
This object, with its lockable desktop, KSH curator Giuseppe Albano proudly observed, was the laptop of its day.
“I am just like Keats,” the young man said. “But I am staying longer,” he added, with a lopsided grin.
“Yeah? You got a girl yet?” Mohammad piped up. “Yo! A bright star?”
The names of refugee workshop participants have been changed.
Dr Amanda Frances Johnson received funding from the Australia Council for the Arts to travel to Rome and undertake a six-month writing residency at the B.R. Whiting Studio in Rome.
After several months of studio work, the Norwegian artist is now ready to unveil a new body of work which will also include several of his iconic past images. On top of that, Martin also spent some time creating installations and sculptures which will feature his unique world. The show is curated by Rom Levy.
To celebrate the opening, Martin Whatson will be releasing 4 new prints, each from an edition of 35 will be available during the opening night, a total of 100 prints available. Stricly one per person.
An additional FREE mini-print will be raflled to everyone registering during the opening. A total of 30 FREE mini-prints by Martin Whatson will be available.
Diamond Dogs, David Bowie’s eighth studio album released in 1974, was the first Bowie album I heard. I had just turned 13.
The album represents Bowie’s attempt to create his own post-apocalyptic soundscape after the George Orwell estate refused him the rights to 1984 for a TV musical. However, Bowie references Orwell through songs like Big Brother, We Are the Dead and, of course, 1984:
They’ll split your pretty cranium, and fill it full of air, and tell you that you’re 80, but brother, you won’t care, you’ll be shooting up on anything, tomorrow’s never there.
But despite its dystopian themes there is something wonderfully hopeful about Diamond Dogs. The album followed Aladdin Sane (1973) and Ziggy Stardust (1972), the latter having established Bowie as a star(man), come to deliver us from the emptiness, the dreariness, the heteronormative fetters of English suburban life. Like these albums, only more so, Diamond Dogs homed in on that other-worldly quality that Bowie seemed both to embody and so sublimely express.
As was typical of Bowie, sound was preceded by vision. On Diamond Dogs, the extraterrestrial messiah that was Ziggy is gone and we encounter Bowie as half-man, half-dog. Perhaps more preternatural than supernatural (though in European times past the dog symbolised the devil), the image is arresting. Yet, in Bowie’s hands, somehow urgent, necessary. Through the image he appears to embrace hybridity, difference, to move beyond our limited conception of what it means to be human.
And how he delighted in it! He did ambiguity with such certainty and style that it no longer seemed adequate to be “normal”, which was fine and dandy with me. Bowie carved out a space for us freaks and it was both overwhelming and delicious.
As a young trans person, long before “trans” had any real cultural currency, that is, before I could name myself, listening to Diamond Dogs changed everything. Like Bowie, I’d “found a door which let’s me out” (When You Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me). At first, I was semantically shocked (“something kind of hit me today” – We Are the Dead), then undone. It was simultaneously: recognition, connection and hope, that moment when we sense something more, something different, something richer.
Musically, the album creates a tension between dark and light, sinister, yet seductive. Positioned somewhere between glam rock (or in Bowie’s case art rock), soul/funk and the soon-to-arrive punk, Diamond Dogs is a transitional album. Bowie was always on the move.
It’s not an album for purists or genre-junkies, but that was never Bowie’s shtick. Rather, Diamond Dogs is an assemblage of styles, a montage. It is symphony and cacophony. It opens with spoken word accompanied by synths (Future Legend), pays homage to the Stones (Diamond Dogs), and closes with the hypnotic Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family. In betwixt, we move from Frank Sinatra-like crooning to German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. When you listen to Diamond Dogs, it ain’t just your mother who’s in a whirl.
The best part of Diamond Dogs, and arguably the greatest piece of music Bowie ever produced, is the nine-minute triptych that lies in the middle of side one: Sweet Thing, Candidate, Sweet Thing (Reprise). These songs are highly emotional. They trade in vulnerability and longing, but they also transport and delight. This is Bowie at his best, accompanied by Mike Garson’s sublime piano. “If you want it, boys, get it here, thing.”
Diamond Dogs creates a sense of vertigo, an out-of-kilter state through which we gain access to something sacred. Vocally, Bowie sweeps from a deep register to a soaring falsetto.
The album is lyrically opaque. In the past Bowie had relied on his own dreams, a practice that was both instinctive (think Hunky Dory 1971) and consolidated by his familiarity with the writings of psychoanalyst Carl Jung (see Memory, Dreams, Reflections 1965). Diamond Dogs marked a shift in Bowie’s approach to writing. From here on in he would adopt the cut-up technique (where a previous text is rearranged) popularised by William Burroughs.
Bowie is the tasteful thief and the studied faker, laughing at the hubris of the hippies and the prog rockers, at their illusions of “authenticity”. Yet, while preferring surface to depth, he captures a deeper embodied truth, one we feel riff after riff. It just feels so right. The fragmentation of his music and his lyrics are us. They point both to the multiplicity of who we are and who we might become. They call us to move beyond ourselves, our received identities. This is especially so in relation to gender and sexuality, themes that loom large on the album.
For me, Diamond Dogs was a mirror experience. Listening to it today, “I’m in tears again” (When You Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me).
Alex Sharpe does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Asinas II is the latest kinetic work by Dutch artist Jennifer Townley who is intrigued by how machines can create complicated nonlinear movements from a circular motion found in rotary engines. The work is a successor to a piece from 2015 that similarly relies on sequential geometric forms that rotate to create seemingly chaotic movements. From her statement about Asinas II:
The various angles and curves of the individual parts create an elaborated unity when joined together on the shaft. The two “wings” formed by these seventy-seven parts are able to slide through each other and rotate in opposite direction at a slightly different speed. This results in a movement that appears to be far more complex, existing of multiple layers, where repetitive shapes seem to be moving within one another.