Nice List #1: Vaughan Oliver

Found under the tree this Christmas, a copy of This Rimy River, the catalogue from an exhibition of Vaughan Oliver's design work for, among others, the English label 4AD. It was Oliver's album cover designs (done in collaboration with his v23 partner Nigel Grierson) in the mid-1980s that first opened HM's eyes to the variety, potential and impact of types in design. And not just the regular edition, but the deluxe edition issued in a quarter-seude binding with clear acrylic boards.  

"Where Oliver has succeeded as a visionary is in his amazing balance and almost timeless feel to much of his work. He is a classic graphic designer in every aspect of color sense, typography, layout, art direction, concept and, at times, humor. What makes Oliver so interesting is his place in history. He is very much born of the pre-digital design era and this is reflected strongly in his work as a visual subtext." - Tobias Grime

"This Rimy River is a catalog of an exhibition held at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles in 1994. Coming eight years after the Lonely Is An Eyesore deluxe box* design it marks another watershed in v23's studio output. In addition to a large-format paperback edition, the book was issued in a limited edition of 400 copies, using the regular edition as its starting point. The original page designs have been overprinted with two new layers of artwork. The first overprint, in black, utilizes enlarged details of archival artwork which virtually obliterate the existing illustrations and text. This, in turn, is overlaid with one large word per page, running bottom to top in a translucent bronze ink. The words are an extract from Victoria Mitchell's poem Dearest Vaya con Dios Darling, which inspired the exhibition's title This Rimy River. The resulting palimpsest, more painting than book, is finished with end papers that incorporate snapshots of the L.A. show bound in a patterned plexiglass hardcover, and housed in a luxurious velvet slipcase." - lifted & mutated from the site of the book's distributor, Art Books.

* Lonely Is an Eyesore was a sampler issued by 4AD in 1986, featuring bands from its roster. The near-mythical wood-box issue consisted on 100 copies of the album issued in a wooden box along with some ephemeral material. If you have one, please send it to HM with an invoice; we will be pleased to remit with haste.

Oliver's work with 4AD petered out by the '90s, but in 2009 he spearheaded the design of an elaborate box set covering the Pixies entire recording career, titled Minotaur. With this one we might debate whether aspects of the design sufficiently considered the real-world constraints of interacting or storing the set: it weighs 25 pounds (including the five studio albums on both CD and vinyl [why?], plus a book and various other items) and is covered in faux fur. It does, however, exemplify the creative audacity and originality that has characterized Oliver's work. Here's an interview he did about the project. And here's a good interview between two other graphic designers, about Oliver's work and influence.

When Minotaur was released, NME ran an interview with Black Francis in which he discusses the central role Oliver played in creating a visual esthetic that complimented the band's music. This Rimy River is an immersive example of both innovative contemporary book design, and Oliver's esthetic influence over many other bands on what was, at the time, one of the coolest labels around.