Alan Fletcher – Designer Research by Carolyn RussellPosted: May 24, 2013
……was born in Nairobi, Kenya 1931 and aged five was transported back to England when his father died.
He studied Graphics in Central School in London, then the Royal College of Art. His real turning point was his post-graduate year in 1956 at Yale University in the US, with tutors Paul Rand, Herbert Matter and the ex-Bauhaus master Josef Albers. He worked on for a further two years in America, for Fortune Magazine in New York, making new contacts and keeping company with his tutor Rand and other movie directors and designers.
This influenced his life – he became streetwise, developed a love of puns, visual cliché expressing a kind of American urban knowingness, he was able to adopt ‘the wisecrack’ into a visual conceptas well as the ‘ridiculous glamour and bravado’. Fletcher was inspired by the optical and fantastical elements being experimented with in Europe, those of Moholy-Nagy’s photomontages and photograms, along with the poetry and collage work of Kurt Schwitters and his contextual displacement of the known alphabet in unusual terms and ‘situ’. He shared an affinity with the strange and beautiful , often seeing relationships within and around shapes and linework of objects. He has been likened to the Czech Avant Garde, philosophically.
Fletcher is said to have been ‘One of the most influential figures’ in graphic design in London, England and Europe. He had a passion for sunrise colours in his design work that boldly and poetically helped change the inter war years of appreciating colour in design. In the ‘Design Museum’ his work is referred to as a synthesis of graphic design elements and traditions of Europe and North America, and I wonder about the influence of the colours of Africa in his early years. Fiona MacCarthy wrote of Alan Fletcher, his personality and style played a strong role in the for front of the 60’s design movement and shot colour and style into postwar London. His works are known most for being both spirited and witty (designmuseum.org/design/alan–fletcher).
Fletcher’s quirky aptitude for the use of typography as a visual art form and not only to convey a just a message to be read and understood , but to have a considered impact, either to shock, to deliberately provoke reaction or to confound the viewer. He wished to prove that visual communication was a serious artform and working magic into word formations.
He Played Games with Verbal and Visual Perceptions.
From the 1950’s he transformed the bleak walls of London, with his simple yet striking posters of design logos for institutions and companies such as, Penguin, Pirelli, Cunard, Penguin Books, BP and Olivetti. His was a fusion now of, Euro Modernist / American Post-War Graphics and British Pop Art. He marvelled in the geometrics of traffic signs and road markers, constantly observing,detecting inspiration for design concepts. In 1959 Fletcher headed back to London, a job for Pirelli, a Milan company and arrived at a time of Visual Revolution and transformation in England and Europe, he would be a huge part of.
In 1962, Fletcher co founded –Fletcher/Forbes/Gill, an early modern design consultancy company and contributed to the blossoming of London period as infinitely rich and strange. Their work opened the eyes of Britain to new designs like combining Type and Image and Reconfiguration of Objects in the traditional sense. This changed the face of commercial ads, logos and corporate identities.
Eg:- Pirelli Slippers Ad – photogaphically devised slippered feet topped with real
passengers heads on a cut away London Double Decker Bus.
From the 60’s to the 70s Fletcher worked on huge scale design projects for Shell and Reuters. A change in company dynamics in 1972 and adding new designers saw the Co’s name ‘Pentagram’ emerge. This company was to dominate the design scene in Britian for the next 20 years growing bigger in London and then with offices in new York and San Francisco.
Fletcher was obsessed with how many variations of views or versions of images there are of things. From Palm Trees to the typographical Ampersand. He Worked On 1960’s Retro Lettering For Logos For Goods n Chattles and the Victoria & Albert Museum, now the famous V&A logo based on the period Bodoni typeface. He created design programs for Reuters, Lucas Industries, The Mandarine Hotels , Lloyds of London, Damlier Benz – the list goes on. He was president of the Alliance Graphique Internationale in 1983. Designing for over thirty years, Fletcher worked on projects ranging from Penguin Books to the IBM logos. His posters reveal paradox and sense of humor, in his work.
In 1992 he left Pentagram to work alone in his own studio in Notting Hill, with clients including Domus Magazine, Dentsu, London Transport, Shell, Toyota, and Novartis Campus. In 1993 Fletcher became Art Director of Phaidon Press.
Though fascinated by modern technology Fletcher was a defender of Handwriting and Drawing – To scratch or graze a line – Graphein
From an Interview with Alan Fletcher by Rick Poynor 1991 for Eye Magazine:
RP: Why do you use your own handwriting so much in the posters?
Alan Fletcher: I like to reduce everything to its absolute essence, because that is a way to avoid getting trapped in a style. You’ve got to keep on breaking down the barriers. Of course you could argue that I’m creating my own style and that’s a weakness and I should try harder. I think you would probably be right. I always think of writing as drawing. Every letter is a symbol, so you can begin to play games. I don’t treat writing as calligraphy. The more controlled and raw it is, the more interesting it becomes.
Fletcher wrote and designed Books such as : The Art of Looking Sideways (2001) and Beware Wet Paint (1996), both published by Phaidon Press. He co-authored Identity Kits – a pictorial survey of visual signs, Studio Vista (1971); Graphic design: visual comparisons, Studio Vista (1963); A Sign Systems Manual, Studio Vista; together with four publications on the work of Pentagram: Pentagram – the work of five designers and Living by Design, Lund Humphries; Ideas on Design, Faber & Faber; The Compendium, Phaidon (1989); and The Art of Looking Sideways, Phaidon (2001). Fletcher’s last book, Picturing and Poeting, was published posthumously in 2006.
Design Museum- 50 years of Graphic Design – Alan Fletcher
1991 Winter Edition Eye Magazine:
Alan Fletcher (graphic designer) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Fletcher_(graphic_designer)
Thinking Form by Aswin Sadha, 2012.