Work from young British artists is conceptual and dramatic. So are the graphic treatments conveying this art. Two art events occurred simultaneously in September in London: the publication of the book by artist Damien Hirst and the opening of “Sensation,” the young British artists exhibition at the Royal Academy (which includes the work of Damien Hirst).
The Hirst book was highly publicized with signings (and sightings) in art bookstores in Covent Garden and Soho. This hefty tome titled “I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now.” features the various art series, styles and musings of Hirst along with reviews, essays and media coverage about this prolific and controversial artist.
Designed by the London-based Jonathan Barnbrook, this finely achieved interpretation of the life and art of Hirst is a perfect pairing of subject and form, an instant collectible, which captures the spirit of the work and the signs of the times. As a production feat it is formidable: 440 oversized glossy pages with diecuts, pullouts, vibrant color and expressive use of type. This is no mere catalog but more a permanent artist’s statement. The book provides insights into the thought processes, the development and, most effectively, the range of work that Hirst has created to date.
Barnbrook collaborated closely with Hirst over a two-year period. His design challenge was to develop a concept that placed each Hirst series in an empathetic setting while formulating a focused retrospective overview of the artist’s total vision.
The work of Hirst is conceptually complex but often simply executed, e.g., his color spot paintings using ordinary house paint, his arrangement of cigarette butts into gallery-scaled installation art. Hirst’s most controversial pieces are animal carcasses in vitrines filled with formaldehyde. In an exhibition setting these have a formal, eerie beauty. In the book these series are portrayed floating on white spaces, and, in fact, some are also presented on transparent, loose pages which adds an actual as well as an illusionistic dimensionality.
Barnbrook paces the book by switching styles and treatments for each series while building a coherent context for Hirst and his work. The book indeed has two covers: the wraparound clinical book jacket with “Damienhirst” as one word, hinting at pharmaceutical branding, and an embossed red leather cover simulating a serious medical text. There are visual puns but these always emerge from the content such as a butterfly pop-up on bright blue as a transition from the White Paintings and Live Butterflies to Coloured Monochrome Paintings and Ashtrays (also featuring butterflies) in the “In and Out of Love” series from 1996.
Not surprisingly, the varied work of Damien Hirst loomed large in the “Sensation” exhibition at the Royal Academy. In this staid and palatial setting, Hirst’s 1996 Some Comfort Gained from the Acceptance of the Inherent Lies in Everything (composed of steel, glass, cows, and formaldehyde solution in 12 tanks, each 2000 x 90 x 30 cm) dominated a room. The other “Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection” had an equally strong presence here. Rachel Whiteread’s formal depictions of everyday objects, baths, and spaces under chairs, created elegant vignettes. Jenny Saville’s oil paintings of ponderous and pendulous women reinvented the nude. Equally startling work from Marcus Harvey, Jake and Dinos Chapman, and other young and impassioned artists warranted the label of “Sensation.”
The design dilemma in creating the graphics for the “Sensation” exhibition was to capture the impact of the art presented without showing any of the art. The Royal Academy was adamant to have a generic but fitting image that would capture the Saatchi collection without featuring any individual artist.
Why Not Associates was one of three design firms approached with this brief. According to Why Not partner Andy Altmann, “We needed to come up with an icon which would represent what the Saatchi collection was all about.” The Why Not solution and the chosen design was the result of working with an analysis of different sensations and shapes. For example, a flower would be counterpointed with a circular saw, a butterfly would contrast with a razor blade. The similar shapes of a human tongue and an electric iron touching became the favorite for the Royal Academy (and approved by Saatchi himself).
Altmann also points out that since much of the Sensation art had to do with the body, this selection added the sensual element which paralleled the work. This image appeared as posters all over London and as the cover for the catalog. The design subtly imbeds a concept into the consciousness.