Interesting to know quite what you expect of something like that word. A Monet or someone pretending to be someone else. I’m recently back from Manchester where, as readers of this tome know, I’ve been wading through nostalgia. Manchester School of Art, as it is called now, were kind enough to allow myself and several other ex students who graduated in 1969, that they were happy to put on an exhibition for us to celebrate our 50 years away from them! They’ve done a great job, and after meeting up with them and my colleagues last week we are still wading through the past. Some of my college friends I had not seen for many years. Sadly two of our number: Jim Coley, a dear friend of mine, and Robert Heesom have died. Their work is there and looks as good as it always did.
On the night of the opening we were welcomed by the Dean, and then by a local graphic designer: Malcolm Garrett before our own Bryan Brown spoke to thank everyone concerned.
What a lot of changes have taken place in Manchester. In 1969 the city was still full of smoky old buildings. There are one or two left but for the most part it is modern and seems to be building all the time. Just before 1969 the council got rid of trolley buses and trams, they’ve brought the trams back now, modern leviathons that have destinations like Media City that did not exist 50 years ago. Bryan mentioned that all of us, bar one or two, headed south for work on graduation. Graphic Design hardly existed in those days and the general public scarcely knew what it meant. Design Consultants were not that numerous in London and hardly existed in the North. Ad Agencies likewise were a very small community in Manchester. So the need to go South was thought wise by some of us. Things have changed. Graphic Design is even in schools now. Manchester is a centre for creativity and rightly so. It was great to be back and to be given such a brilliant welcome from the college.
The School of Art was just that when we started in the mid sixties, and then transmogrified into a Polytechnic whilst we were there. It morphed into a University some years later becoming Manchester Metropolitan University, which it is now but has re-branded itself as the Manchester School of Art. It’s like the Circle Line!
The Exhibition is on four floors of the Benzie building, its open weekdays only from 10.00 till 4.30 and finishes on the 14 February.
I found it interesting to look at what they say about our 50 year careers since ( what have we been doing? ). There’s a kudos in being linked to big client names and I’m no exception in mentioning the big people I’ve worked for over the years, but I hope it does not give the wrong impression. I’m mentioned as being involved in the TV commercials for the National Lottery and Carling Black Label. I did indeed do some work on them in the form of storyboards, but I merely translated the brilliant ideas that the art directors and writers sold to the clients. A good deal of my work has been collaborative, I’ve worked with some very fine creative people and one or two who were complete ‘numpties’!
Neither do I want, in this show, to give the other impression that it has been a journey of perfect success: a gold plated yellow brick road to happiness. The best way is to say: “It’s had it’s moments!” Good and not so, but that aside it’s always been interesting.
Lets start with the “Not so” first. Being a self employed cartoonist/ illustrator ( see how the word illustrator makes it sound respectable, almost an artist but not quite ) it’s good to grow a thick skin. Get used to rejection and expect to stay up late at night. You are only as good as your worst drawing, because believe me the worst ones will be remembered, and will come back at times to haunt you. I had my period of years when I was succesful, no doubt about that, but I worried when I had no work and when I had too much! I also had periods when the work was thin on the ground, and that’s tough. I’ve worked for some brilliant people and also for some rogues who never paid me, two South African lesbians who lived in Yorkshire being two such! I’ve worked for people who ruin what I’ve done and others who have respected it.
Now lets end on the good stuff. I really thought I’d made it when I did a film poster for a film which starred a youthful Tom Hanks. They flew a print of the film over specially for me from the States and I spent an afternoon chuckling, before it dawned on my that I had to come up with some sort of idea! ( In this particular case the art director and writer just did n’t want to know about it and said: “Oh you just think of something for them, am sure it will be fine!” In the end this too was not my finest moment but the end result seemed to keep them happy, and I was really rather grateful that they covered most of the drawing with text. It was not my best work, but I was proud of it and it did make my parents feel like I’d got a proper job. Odd jobs include a calendar for The Roman Catholic Boy Scouts of Belgium, I was oddly proud of that too and they sold loads, which gave me a good feeling. I discovered later that I was in good company as they jad in the past comissioned their own Herge to do this job one year. A business press ad campaign for Oxo was a good one for me, complete with oil platfrom spewing gravy, no idea why now! I enjoyed a few book jackets and I was proud of the regular work I did for the English Tourist Board, Safety campaigns for a building company, and regular cartoons for Home and Country: the WI Magazine. The latter not very highly paid but great clients.
So, that gives a more rounded image, but perhaps not the full story behind my 50 years after Manchester, and it does not include getting a really proper job when I was 58 years old working for a print company in Gloucester selling print! I’m back at the drawing board now, but must say that I think that I was lucky to spend the golden years of the 70s and 80s involved with the drawing end of the art and design business.
I hope this gives a slightly more accurate impression. By the way I do an excellent impression of Deryck Guyler, those of a certain age will remember him. My impression consists of two words: “Oh Yes!”