I find it a little ironic that as I’m putting together an entry for my online journal about how the Manic Street Preachers have influenced the way I design and have been a huge inspiration in my life, I’m listening to their song ‘A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun’ off their most recent album ‘Postcards From A Young Man’. Just in case you don’t know the song, I’ll put my statement into context. James Dean Bradfield bellows out the chorus:-
A billion balconies facing the sun
A billion faces turned to their screens
The perfect answer to camouflage our screams
A billion lies becoming the truth
An ecstasy of the eye
As wide as eternity tonight
Just like Art and Design, lyrics are subjective but I was very amused by the moment and I thought it was worth sharing.
I can imagine if you asked a Graphic Designer what they thought was the inspiration for why they ventured into the Creative Industry, a high percentage would say they were influenced by music and album cover artwork.
I would also be in that high percentage. In the mid-late 90′s I got deeply involved with listening to music and hanging out with the local school bands. I couldn’t play an instrument and I was completely tone deaf. But that didn’t stop me debating the subject and having a very outspoken opinion. It was at this very same time I discovered my love for art and design. I’m sure this was no coincidence. My friends were musically gifted and I desired to find a similar expression, so I could be heard.
Growing up in the old mining town of Abertillery, one band stood out amongst the rest. They were the local celebrities as they came from Blackwood, which was a similar town that was only 7-miles away. At first I was a reactionary. I was unsure of this radical change in music that my peers were embracing. But in time I went along with the Zeitgeist and ever since I’ve become a life long fan of the Manic Street Preachers.
I’ll always remember the first time I had the album cover artwork of ‘The Holy Bible’ in my hand. Sat in a windowsill of a mates bedroom, for an unknown reason my reaction was a mixture of disgust and intrigue. As I poured over the delightfully controversial and shocking ‘Strategy’ paintings by Jenny Saville, I could sense a burning desire in my heart to want to be just as creative and to make a statement.
When it has come to their cover artwork, the Manics have always been dedicated to the process of art and design. From all of their album and singles covers, you can see there’s an enormous amount of detail, effort, and skill that have gone into creating them. They have hand picked some of the finest creatives in the industry to work with; using design and art direction from Farrow Design, original paintings from Neale Howells and Jenny Saville, and photography from Andy Earl, Glenn Lutchford, Mitch Ikeda, Tom Sheehan and John Ross.
The Jenny Saville paintings used for ‘The Holy Bible’ and ‘Journal for plagued lovers’ are instantly captivating and the artwork concept for the album cover ‘Life Blood’ has influenced multiple design agencies and their work. But my personal favourite out of all of the artwork created for the Manic Street Preachers is the collaboration between Nick Wire’s creative concept, the design and direction of Farrow Design with the original paintings of Neale Howells for the album ‘Know Your Enemy’. I love the simplicity of using Neil Howells’ ‘Pollock-esque’ inspired canvases and overlaying the text in a condensed version of Helvetica. The last word on each line has been broken and continues onto the next line, which engages the viewer, tempting them with a moment of thought and to question; “Why has the Designer/Artist decided to break from the norm?”.
I was lucky enough that in 1999 the Manic Street Preachers took part in a exhibition called ‘Unconvention’ curated by Jeremy Deller in the old ‘Centre for the Visual Arts’ in Cardiff. The exhibition brought together artists, photographers, poets and organisations that have inspired the work of the the Manics. On show were loaned works by Pablo Picasso, Edvard Munch, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. At that point I had been to multiple art exhibitions across Britain, Spain and France but this was the first to awaken me to the prospect of my voice being heard through the medium of art and design. Once the exhibition came to a close, BBC Wales aired a special feature on ‘Unconvention’, below this post I’ve pasted 2 links to YouTube videos which shows parts 2 and 3 of the documentary. I have been unsuccessful in finding a full version of it and part 1 has been removed from the YouTube website. So, happy hunting if you want to find the start of the documentary and please post a link if you are successful.
I will forever be grateful and inspired by this great Welsh rock band and even though they are taking a much needed break I will look forward to being further influenced by any music or artwork they produce in the future. For this Graphic Designer, the chance to work with the Manic Street Preachers on any art or design project would be the ultimate career dream.
Further Reading & Videos:
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