You know those odd coincidences when you’re writing or typing and are thinking of just the right word and, as if by magic, that word is simultaneously mouthed by someone on the radio, just as it appeared in your head? Or perhaps a film, painting or book comes to mind and two minutes later it turns up in a magazine or while flicking through a book? Over the years, it has happened to me at an alarming rate – some two or three times a day. I have always felt rather blessed by this personal phenomenon, as it has proved so useful on many occasions.
Last year, I noticed a Facebook post for an exhibition of the illustrator Brian Sanders, in particular his work on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I thought “hmmm, I must remember that”. Then it went completely out of my mind. Next day, I am taking a walk in my neighbourhood and I stumble on a small gallery I hadn’t noticed before, called the Lever Gallery. I looked in the window and what should I see but the Brian Sanders show I’d noticed on Facebook. It was fortuitous because not only did I see the show, and very good it was too, but I also met the gallery director, Didier Madoc-Jones. During a conversation about the exhibition, I told him that I recalled other illustrators working on 2001: A Space Odyssey at the company I worked at back in the 1960s. He then took me into the gallery’s storeroom to show me the wonderful collection of illustrators’ work from that period.
Original artwork by Gianluigi Coppola.
Original artwork for 'Wages of Fear by Pino Dell'Orco
Original artwork by Renato Renato Frattini.
Original artwork by Michael Johnson.
I felt that same tingle of excitement at seeing them again. A few days later, I met with Didier Madoc-Jones again to discuss his plans for the gallery and to unload my memories from that very special period of British creativity. Over the following week, I agreed to support the gallery and act as an advisor. I had personal knowledge of the period and people and was happy to pass it on for a good cause. A few months on from that first meeting, I have redesigned the gallery’s identity and styled the print material.
New logotype for the gallery.
Poster for the new exhibition at the Lever Gallery featuring an illustration by Michael Johnson from 1963.
The first iteration of this brings me to a new show at the Lever Gallery: ‘Uncovered: Illustrating the Sixties and Seventies’ is a mixed show featuring a small group of illustrators, including the outstanding Michael Johnson and Renato Frattini. For me, Johnson was the British illustrator of the early 1960s. He, Frattini and others in this show were represented by Bryan Colmer & Partners, where my job was to take the illustrations commissioned for book jackets or paperback covers and design the typography. Very few publishers had art directors back then, so they needed someone to do this seemingly mundane job. It involved copious amounts of Letraseting and, in my case, being a bit geeky, buying copies of Twen magazine in order to cut out the blocks of its headline typeface, Schmalfette Grotesk, unavailable in the UK at that time (As it happens the very same typeface I have used on the 'Uncovered' poster above) . But this early submersion in typography stood me in good stead, as it was to become a lifelong passion. As a wet-behind-the-ears 20-something, I was in awe of these super-talented and rather glamorous illustrators. I remember going to some kind of publishing function at the Royal Garden Hotel, at which Renato Frattini was staying and had a large suite. Nervous, shy and way out of my depth, I kept drinking every glass of wine offered to me by the passing waiters until I passed out, waking up in the early hours on a sofa in Frattini’s suite; apparently, I’d been carried there out of harm’s way. Such was my youth.
So, this delightful new show has vividly transported me back to those heady analogue days, in full glorious colour, rifling through those wonderful illustrations, created over half a century ago.
The exhibition ‘Uncovered: Illustrating the Sixties and Seventies’ runs from 1st February to 24th March 2018
Lever Gallery, 153-157 Goswell Road, London, EC1V 7HD