Sunday, 24 October 2010

A Storm In a Teacup

As a bit of a departure and a break from my usual blog fare, this is a review I wrote a while back but apparently forgot about. I've just rediscovered it while investigating the hard drive of my other laptop which I've recently had returned after it was stolen a few months ago. It was written shortly after a trip to London to visit a friend, when a Sunday-morning jaunt alongside the river near Westminster took us down to Battersea where I took this photo which conveniently reminded me of a news article, posted on Facebook a few days earlier discussing the exhibition which had just opened.

The iconic image of the Battersea Power Station achieved much of its fame through its appearance on the cover of Pink Floyd's
Animals, featuring a giant inflatable pig hovering overhead. Legend has it that during the production of the image, an actual inflatable pig was floated next to the station with a marksman on hand to shoot it down should it come away from its tether. Unfortunately the marksman had not been contracted for a second day which was required due to adverse weather conditions and the giant helium-filled pig indeed broke away from its teather and floated off across the London skyline where it eventually landed in a field in Kent scaring a herd of cows. For one day in December 1977, thanks to Pink Floyd, Pigs did indeed fly.

(Exhibition photos courtesy of Martin Senyszak)

Right But Wrong, The Extended Art Work of Hipgnosis and StormStudios: Storm Thorgerson,
Idea Generation Gallery, London.
2 April – 2May 2010

A few years back, long before I even knew I wanted to become an artist, in the mandatory Art Class in First Year at secondary school was where I got my first taste of the world of Art and Design. Our classroom was home to a number of interesting objects, books and most interestingly, impossibly large album posters. The single image that stuck out in that classroom, which really captured my imagination, was Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell.

This was long before I had even heard a Pink Floyd song and could recognise it as such. The poster, a large landscape photo of an almost-anonymous field, the only identifier in the form of Ely Cathedral in the background, framed by the mouths of two giant heads. Seemingly impossible sculptures, pop-riveted industrial fascias, sleek curves and modernist angles jar with the serene, quiet dusk countryside, questioning the legitimacy of the image itself. This surreal juxtaposition is a signature of the work of Photographer and Designer Storm Thorgerson, a long time Floyd collaborator, and one of the most sought after Album cover artists.

Right But Wrong, Thorgerson’s current exhibition at Idea Generation, a retrospective of album artwork produced for acts such as The Cranberries, Muse, The Mars Volta among many more, shows the fantastic breadth of work from his time at design studios Hipgnosis and StormStudios. His works, like those of all great album designers, are as much individual Artworks than designs, surreal, organic images heavily attuned to Rene Magritte’s distortions of context, and Salvador Dali’s penchant for expansive, barren landscapes littered with odd artifacts, unreal realizations and hidden images within the composition.

The exhibition is not as expected from retrospective shows of Album art, the space has become a semi-installation, allowing the viewer to become immersed within, as well as view, the Album covers. The floor and wall are adorned with the wide-armed shadows from Muse’s Absolution, mirrored spheres from Floyd’s Interstellar exhibition poster sit in the corner, their reflective surface capturing the viewer and the rest of the exhibition drawing you into another of his images, light bulbs are embedded in plant pots and piled up in the nooks and crannies of the space and elements of three of his designs, hung high on the gallery wall, break through beneath into the “reality” of the space.

Countering the surreal, the exhibition also highlights the background design stages. The Dark Side of The Room exhibits many different versions of the famous album sleeve, including a Lichtenstein influenced pop-art rendering and a stained glass version perched in the window, shining through to the street outside. Other glimpses behind the sleeve are a number of images proposed and rejected for several bands, lining a staircase which lead to a section showing 12” cover proofs, CD inlays, sketches and merchandise.

In retrospectives of album artwork, there is always the obvious form for which the hang can take, however, standing in Idea Generation you can simultaneously be in a recreation of the designs, look left to see those framed images, and up to see how they are made. For the viewer, being in the exhibition is almost like being part of Thorgerson’s cover to Pink Floyd’s Echoes compilation. For a designer whose work deals with fractured realities, this exhibition gives the viewer the most unique place to view Storm Thorgerson’s work: from inside the work itself.