Saturday, December 18, 2010

Hybrid visual language...?

I came across this in the Tony Simpson book. It's a report of some sort, to do with Maori being sent to fight in the First World War. I'm interested in the image, the masthead, at the top. What do you call this? It's not heraldry is it? What I'm really interested in is the use of Maori imagery within the structure of this sort of heraldic masthead. It's such an odd mix of two separate and previously distinct visual languages.

Simpson's caption, as usual, tell me nothing as to where it's from, who produced it etc. All it says is "Not all Maoris [sic] were prepared to fight in the white man's war. Many Waikatos went to gaol rather than be conscripted."

I need to find out who 'made' this. Was it produced by English or Maori? If it is an English/Pakeha production then it is an interesting sort of attempt, or concession, to produce a sort of uniting image. If you consider how, generally, colonised nation's languages were discouraged and/or phased out. Remember that speaking Maori was forbidden in schools here for a long time.

Top Ten Records Today

1. Wolf Party: NZ Werewolf Sounds from Stink Magnetic – Various artists
2. Still Your Fool – The Dixons
3. Songs of Love and Hate – Leonard Cohen
4. Slaughter of The Soul – At The Gates
5. Eternal Kingdom – Cult of Luna
6. Dirty Dope Infected Bluegrass Hillbilly Hobo XXX Country Music – Zeno Tornado
7. Gunfighter Ballads – Marty Robbins
8. Self Decapitation — Delaney Davidson
9. Jungle Exotica – Various artists
10. Orange – John Spencer Blues Explosion

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Triumph side covers

I actually made these a couple of months ago now, but never got around to putting them up. I know some people want to see them, so here's what they look like. I used the vinyl-cutter at Canterbury (thanks Aaron), but the vinyl is actually just on top of the paint work... I thought it might be nice to be able to change them as and when I want to. Wanna get the tank and seat cowl done next, and might put numbers on the seat cowl actually, which will change the side covers...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Frozen meat, Julian Dashper, and the PBRF

I'm interested in the pervasive influence of distribution as a way of thinking in New Zealand. It's effect can be seen and felt at quite practical levels in every sector, from art to agriculture. Obviously I'm interested in it in relation to the practice of graphic design, but I'll come back to that at some point in the future.

The first serious depression in NZ occurred in the 1880s and 1890s. I've been reading recently about how bad this was, and about how it was that the country managed to climb out of this downward spiral. In Tony Simpson's book, 'The Road To Erewhon', he attributes aspects of this to technological development, and the development of industrial skills. In particular he makes reference to refrigerated transport, "This development was of the utmost importance to New Zealand."

He carries on..."In New Zealand, the trade owes thanks to the efforts of a remarkable man, William Soltau Davidson... Davidson was only too aware at a time when farmers were driving sheep over cliffs to get rid of them, or trying to sell their sheep at sixpence each to another farmer who was trying to sell his own at two a shilling, that what was needed was a total concept of marketing... and it was under his guidance that the first shipment of frozen mutton was made in the ship 'Dunedin' in 1882. After a journey of some hundred days it arrived at Smithfield as sweet and fresh as the day it was slaughtered and sold for a price double that for which it would have sold in New Zealand... He therefore solved the problem of deflating value, which has always bedevilled a predatory economy based solely on land, by making only one part of a total organised business. Any loss on the land – and Davidson's company lost money on the land they owned for years – could be offset against profits made by processing and shipping the produce of the land." (The Road To Erewhon, p.19)

In my naiveity I was sort of struck by this as a particularly important moment in time for a small, isolated island on the wrong side of the world. Simpson points out though that exporting was already important prior to this, with things like timber, flax, gum, coal and gold. And I'm probably making too much of this here, but I'm interested in the development of an attitude towards distribution here. And I'm thinking about this through the lens of the late Julian Dashper more than 100 years later...

And this is another post entirely but the PBRF (Performance based research funding) we have in the universities here now reinforces the importance of sending your product/work/ideas out to an international audience. Your 'research' is worth more (literally worth more financially) if it is published or shown overseas. It is worth very little to disseminate one's work here at home. I can see the sense behind this, but I do wonder if academics in other countries have this same pressure to distribute themselves internationally? It's easy to be cynical about this too.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


"It is no coincidence that the first really effective national trade union in New Zealand was that of the post and telegraph workers, with their easy access to immediate communication throughout the country"

Tony Simpson, 'The Road to Erewhon', p.17 (1976)

In an attempt to get a bit more of a handle on local history I've started to read 'The Road to Erewhon' by Tony Simpson. It was lying around at dad's and the title caught my eye. I read Samuel Butler's novel 'Erewhon' last year. I want to make my way through it slowly, and begin to get more of a social context for the historical design research I want to embark upon over the next couple of years.

The bit above stood out because lately I've been thinking about the partnership between the newspaper man and the telegraph guy in the TV series Deadwood. The newspaper man in particular I suppose, because he was such a minor odd-ball type character to begin with. He gets pushed around and made fun of, especially for his aspirations towards 'culture' and 'civilisation'. But towards the end of the series, where annexation is obviously inevitable, and various people are fighting for power within that impending system, the actual power of communication becomes overtly palpable. Between them the newspaper man and the telegraph guy form this very important partnership, who in co-operation with the power-hungry saloon owner, kind of manage to 'defeat' the more sinister and mega-wealthy gold-mining magnate. It's a nice idea... access to communication networks beats outright wealth. Well it sort of does.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Record covers I like

I came across this today on the Deadbeat Records site (they are stocking our Don Kings 7"). From what I can figure out this is a two-piece including Bob Log III, which sounds great already. But I was really stopped by this cover.

Ok so it'll be no surprise to anyone, cause all my design work's nostalgic pastiche anyway. But I've been getting a bit sick of the kinda stuff I've been doing lately, it's been difficult to move on from the style I developed around The Damned Evangelist, but I really want to move on now... musically and visually. I'm drawn to this as it sits in the trajectory of what I've been doing, but is more reductive and abstract. Everyone will think this is a bit of a jump, but I'm thinking about Wolfgang Weingart's stuff with the screens... from when? The early 70s? Anyway I like this purely typographic approach, and I'm thinking of a sort of hybridised Weingart-meets-1950s-Doo-Wop kinda thing. You can see it now eh? I like how the language is pushed forward by the abstraction. I like the clunky uppercase Helvetica, and the not-quite-centered title in the circle.  It's sort of clunky and perfect like a lot of Dylan Herkes' stuff. I wonder if this was done by a 'trained' designer? I don't think I could do anything like this. Well apart from just copy it that is.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Dinner at Ian Athfield's (with John L. Walters)

Last Wednesday Jonty and I went up to Wellington to meet John L. Walters, the current editor of Eye. The dinner was organised by Catherine Griffiths. Catherine knew John already, but John was actually here for a conference that Massey were running. We probably should have stuck around for the conference, but things are a bit up in the air at the moment and I've got too much other stuff to think about and do.

Anyway, Catherine and Bruce (Bruce Connew, her partner) are staying up at the Athfield house in Wellington (Ian Athfield, possibly NZ's most well known architect?). I've seen the house a lot from down on the motorway. I even visited once when I worked in Wellington, but it was a very brief pick-something-up kind of visit, and you couldn't see much of the house from where I picked up whatever it was I had to get.

I'd thought that this dinner was going to be just us (me and Jonty), Catherine and Bruce, and John. It was a nice surprise to realise that Ian Athfield and his partner Clare were going to join us. Before we had dinner Ian treated us to a tour around the house... actually houses. Or buildings? I don't know how to describe the property? It's more like a commune it seemed, with some parts empty, and being done up, other parts lived in, other parts worked in, etc. I think some of his employees even live up there too. It's an amazing complex of stairways, rooftops, and rooms.

What interested me most though was Ian's attitude and spirit, and how that had essentially 'made' the house. Apparently the house has no actual consent from the council, which makes sense. you don't see houses like this everyday, maybe this is partly why? Ian's neighbors, at some point (early 70s?), actually shot at the house with a shotgun. They also took him to court to try and get it demolished. He said they won a couple of cases against him, but the house is still there... in fact it's bigger. It just seems to keep going, like it's never going to be finished, sprawling down the wild hillside. I really liked that it was this ongoing project, always with new parts to put on, and old parts to be redone. It's the same way you might think about hot rods or motorcycles.

In the end we didn't really talk much with John because Ian and Clare kind of stole the show. It was a really good night though, and it was good to see Catherine and Bruce again too. We hadn't really talked to Catherine since the Typeshed conference she organised, and it was interesting to hear her thoughts on that now.

The last thing I want to say is how the hell does Bruce not seem to age much? I remember him mentioning running. Bruce smoked a salmon. It was amazing.

(Photos by Catherine and Bruce)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Typewriter, Rick Poyner and post boxes

Today New Zealand Post have announced the removal of almost 10% of their on-street post boxes from around the country, you know, the red-and-white suburban ones which you can drop your letter in instead of going to the post office.

This just as Rick Poyner has commented on my letter writing on Design Observer

I wanted to point out that I use the typewriter almost all the time when I write to people now. Partly it is because I like it — I like it's aesthetic and I like using the old thing (it's 100 years old and still works perfectly... compared to my laptop which is 5 years old and is about to die!), but also I use it more functionally too simply because my hand-writing is so shitty looking. Lisa asked, sarcastically, why don't I just use Word and a printer then? Because the typewriter is actually faster and easier. To turn on my computer, open Word, write the thing, select the printer, do the page-setup, and hit print... and then wait a few moments... ok so this doesn't take 'long', but it does take 'longer'. The typewriter is faster and more immediate, I can't fix my mistakes, but things just flow better.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Writing to an idea, not a person.

I wanted to write something about my writing to SB. Having read his writing and thinking he was pretty great I actually met him after just having published issue #1 of The National Grid. It was a bit scary. I thought he'd just think we were ripping off DDD, but he didn't and he even said he liked our name more than theirs. SB and PB were a big help to TNG when we were getting started, they helped us gain an international audience, and also wrote letters of support for our funding applications.

Anyway, having met SB I began writing to him under the guise of my Masters... I'd been interested specifically in his comments about Wyndham Lewis and the idea of 'the enemy'. I wrote SB quite a few quite long emails, and he replied. Not as often, but often at length. I was always very excited by his emails. partly I suppose simply because SB was writing to me.

Eventually it happened that I was returning to America for work related stuff and so I organised to visit SB. He offered that I might stay with him for the couple of nights I'd be in LA, and I took him up on this offer. To cut a long post short I'll just say it was a bit weird. My visit I mean. Maybe it was jet-lag? Maybe I was nervous? I don't know why exactly, but the visit felt a bit 'forced'. I'm sure SB felt this too. I was afraid that SB and his girlfriend found me boring. Don't get me wrong, it was a great visit and I still hold SB in very high regard, but something changed after that visit. I haven't written to him so much since, and he hasn't written to me much either.

Until today. I just wrote to him more sort of properly again now. I think it was about 3 years ago that I visited, and I think I've realised now that I liked writing to the idea of SB. By which I guess I mean 'what I thought SB was'. It's funny writing to him since the visit, because I'm very aware of actually how he is now. I suppose I miss that kind of writing to an imaginary friend... writing to an idea, and not a real person. I know that sounds fucked up, but it worked quite well as a sort of editorial strategy for me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Top Ten Records Today

1. Moanin The Blues – Hank Williams
2. Pile o Meat – Haunted George
3. Get With It – Charlie Feathers
4. Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs – Marty Robbins
5. The Assasination of Jesse James – Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
6. Farewell Sorrow – Alasdair Roberts
7. Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid – Bob Dylan
8. Born of Wolf – Boss Christ
9. Trail of Tears – The Renderers
10. Slovenly Sampler CD – Various artists

Saturday, September 25, 2010

1974 MkII Norton Commando 850

This is my Norton... with which I have a classic love/hate relationship. Lotta highs, lotta lows. I bought this about two and half years ago, and it was (seemingly) in excellent condition. Which wasn't really the plan. My original idea was to get a rough runner that I would rebuild as a cafe racer. That was my dream since I was about 17... a Norton powered cafe racer. So yeah, I bought this bike... which I have loved. When it's goin good nothing beats it to ride, it feels great, has awesome torque, and can keep up with most modern bikes. Problem was I was riding it a lot, and doing quite large distances on it. I've ridden it around NZ twice. Of course I expected to have to 'work' on it, but I certainly did underestimate that. My expectations for this bike were a little ambitious let's say. And so began the 'work'... and the 'money'! I had imagined I'd spend my money rebuilding the bike aesthetically— alloy tank, race seat, rear sets, clip-ons, etc. But all I've been able to do is keep it running. I've done an awful lot to this bike including replaced fork staunchions and seals, reconditioned speedo and rev counter, new isolastics, recon'd master brake cylinder, completely rebuilt clutch (from handle to primary), and rebuilt back wheel. Problem has been that every time I do something, something else goes wrong... almost immediately. I guess this is 'normal'? Although I have a friend with a real shitty old Commando, and he rides it all the time, and rides it hard, and he doesn't have half the problems I do! The thing to learn here obviously is that 'looks good' doesn't equal 'goes good'.

So yeah this is what I'm thinking about now. I want something I can chop. But this is a matching numbers, really straight bike (still has it's orginal black number plate), that's worth a bit because of all that. And so on top of the fact I haven't been able to afford to modify it much, there's the fear that this isn't the bike to do that to? Hence my thoughts to sell it and get something else I can chop up. But then I do love riding this thing. Also it's the same age as me. 1974... I like that too. Fuck I dunno...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Top Ten Records Today

1. Stud Cole – Stud Cole
2. Rocking Bones – Various artists
3. 43 Sketches for a Poster – The Dead C
4. Outta Here – The Gories
5. Nebraska – Bruce Springsteen
6. Not That Same old Blues Crap II – Various artists
7. In The Flat Field – Bauhaus
8. Swan Demos – Link Wray
9. Solid Brown – Ghetto Ways
10. Guts of Steel – Brimstone Howl

Project bike

I've been giving some serious thought to selling the Norton and putting the money into something older... and a lot rougher. I want something from the 50s. Something I can get running and legal, but keep it really rough and stripped down. A 'rat bike' I guess is what I'm talking about? Although I'm thinking more cafe style than bobber, which rat bikes tend to be. I do quite like this one—half cafe racer/half bobber (apologies for bad referencing but I can't remember where nicked this photo from?)...

Monday, September 13, 2010

Top Ten Records

1. Surfer's Mood – various artists
2. Jack The Ripper – Link Wray
3. Hexaphonic Destructosound – Pro Drag
4. Behind The Magnolia Curtain – Tav Falco's Panther Burns
5. Nowhere – Ride
6. Jesu – Jesu
7. Pile o Meat – Haunted George
8. Don't Cry To Me – Jimmy Martin
9. Out To Hunch – Hasil Adkins
10. You Cannot Kill What Does Not Live – King Loser

No one wants to know what graphic designers think

Everyone wants to know what artists and musicians think. No one wants to know what graphic designers think.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cold Kiwi 2010

Malcolm and I went to the Cold Kiwi motorcycle rally last weekend. It's on a farm very near the Desert Rd in the North island. It's supposed to be cold. Obviously. It snowed. I actually went for the first time last year with 'the Petes', and the weather was amazing... although actually colder than this year. Too cold to snow maybe? Or just extra cold because of a lack of cloud cover. Anyway it was still cold. Obviously. Sleeping in tents in the snow.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Triumph mods

It's taken me a while to get around to putting this stuff up here. This work was actually done almost two months ago now. To give some brief sort of a background — I have always loved old bikes, specifically 'cafe racers' of the late 50s and 60s. I like British bikes, and a couple of years ago I bought my first one. A Norton Commando 850 MkII. I loved this bike. I still kinda do. BUT, I was wanting to ride more, and ride longer, than a 36 year old motorcycle was really willing to, and so I was spending much more time and money on constantly fixing the thing than was conducive to actually riding... many a sunny weekend passed with me either trying to fix it, or looking forlornly at it sitting there before heading off in the van to do something. SO... I bought this. It's a 2008 Triumph Thruxton. My intention being to slowly pull off all the ugly modern looking bits and replace them with bits from old bikes. What you see here (post below) is my first real attempt to do this. You need to see an original Thruxton to see how bad the original back-end looks, but trust me it's pretty shit.

I did this with the help of Malcolm and Shane, see Malcolm below with the bike once we got the hideous stock rear fender off. I have some nice shots of Shane rewiring it too, will post those later.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Julian Dashper vs Billy Childish

It's very odd listening to Billy Childish records while laying out Julian's book. Julian and Billy. They don't really go together for some reason? But it's not bad. It's do-able, but it's like being pulled in different directions. Billy seems the opposite to Julian, most obviously in that Julian was all about travelling and Billy seems to have always wanted to stay at home in the small town he grew up in.


I'm not sure I believe Julian when he says he didn't care about not seeing lightning while staying at Walter De Maria's Lightning Field.

Billy Childish and Bill Drummond

I just found out Billy Childish is friendly with Bill Drummond (of KLF and K Foundation fame). That makes perfect sense and makes me feel good that these guys are out there doing things in the world. Apparently the idea for the band name 'Musicians of the British Empire' came from Drummond, who had the idea to do a thing called Artists of the British Empire.

Art School Journals

Are all schools (by which I mean tertiary art and design schools) publishing their own journals now? I just noticed that one of these Dashper pieces was published in a journal called 'Probe' published by Manakau Institute of Technology in 2002. Did this turn into 'ZX'? Or is it from somewhere else? Canterbury has started one too, it's called 'Oculus' and I believe the focus is postgrad students work in fine arts and in art history. Are these attempts at PBRF outputs? Do they really count in any sort of financially meaningful way I wonder? How many other schools are doing one. I know Otago and AUT were conspiring to publish a peer-reviewed Design journal, but I guess that might not be going ahead now since Otago uni shut down it's design course? Or was it the polytech that was involved? No I think it was the university because Noel Waite was involved. Does Elam do a journal? Massey?

The Julian Dashper book

The problem with the Julian Dashper book is that I keep ending up reading the text, and I just need to be laying it out... fast.

There's some really great stuff in it. He must have been a great teacher? I think he was Dane Mitchell's teacher/lecturer? And maybe Nova's? I must remember to ask them.

I think I'll give some of these texts to my students. We're going to talk about noticing.


1. I shouldn't be doing this I should be working on the Julian Dashper book.
2. The Julian Dashper book is the reason I'm doing this.
3. Julian sometimes wrote about the importance of archiving — for an artist to leave an archive. He obviously wanted to be remembered. Well, his ideas anyway. One of the questions here is do you keep everything or do you edit your archive? I think Julian would have edited his.
4. I going back to laying out the book now.
5. The rough complete layout is due on Monday and I still have over 100 pages to do.
6. It's not an easy job because each text is different and there's a lot of different texts; lists, interviews, essays... even though there's a very straight grid it's taking a long time to set out each page. I'm up to page 94.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


Maybe what I should really be thinking about is using my time more wisely? Gwyn Porter talks about having only so much "available energy"... I think I might be running out.

I guess what I'm really talking about is do I have the available time and energy to be doing this? I end up sitting here staring at this screen thinking 'what am I doing this for?'... I should go to bed. Why did I want to do this again?

I think my earlier posts make it sound like I have some sort of plan in mind, when really I don't... I suppose my anxiety here is quite normal? I haven't told anyone about this yet either. I think I'm waiting to actually start getting into something more properly.

Saturday, July 31, 2010


There are roughly three things I think I want to write about here; music, motorcycles, and graphic design. That's pretty much what I spend my time doing. Graphic Design should probably be first in that list as it's what I do to get paid mostly — teaching it and 'doing' it, so you could say my interests in graphic design are both academic and professional. There's obviously a reason it's last in the list.

Perhaps music shouldn't be first either, because if I'm honest (and this obviously won't work if I'm not honest), all I've thought about lately is motorcycles. Out of the three things I'm mentioning here this is the one that I am least qualified to talk about. I've been riding motorbikes on and off for years, but in the last couple have become quite obsessed by that whole thing... not just riding them, but modifying them, mechanically and aesthetically. Music then... music.

I'm actually thinking a lot more about music again right now. I've recently left full-time employment at a design studio in Auckland, and have come back to the South Island to teach design part-time. Obviously this has given me more time, and I am just finding myself thinking about music more again. Feeling the urge to play more again too. It was really bugging me the last couple of years that this part of what I do had begun to diminish... maybe replaced by the motorbikes (one bike in particular). Maybe it's something about being back down here too (currently in Christchurch, although all my friends live in Lyttelton and we'll be looking for somewhere over there as soon as possible).

I might have to write something about Christchurch too? About why I've always been so much more productive down here. Everyone thinks it's a terrible place, and by all accounts it is. I completely agree. But I have always been more productive down here and even though I've only been here 3 weeks now, I already feel that stuff kicking back in again. What's wrong with Auckland in that respect? It's not like I went out much, or socialised a lot. Where'd the time go up there? Very strange.


Why am I doing this? A few reasons (to make myself feel more comfortable about doing this I suppose) — firstly, I guess, because I've done it before. I had a blog when I was working on my Masters. I was doing it through RMIT in Melbourne, but I was based in Lyttelton, New Zealand, and so it was a good way to stay in touch with my supervisor and other students. But I've no one specifically to stay in touch with now. Do I even care if anyone reads any of what I put here? I suppose I do, otherwise I wouldn't need it to be public or online or whatever you call what this is. So why do I care? And, do I have anything important to say?

My first answer is that if this wasn't somehow 'public' I wouldn't care so much about what I was going to put/write here... and that then maybe I wouldn't sort of 'get anywhere' if you know what I mean. There needs to be some kind of seriousness or responsibility, and knowing someone else might read what I'm writing helps that to happen. I'm definitely not doing this because I think I have anything important to say. That's not the point. The point is more to sort of capture thoughts, problems and various projects 'on the move' you might say.

I've called this blog 'Head Full of Snakes'. It's a title I stole from and old 1970s horror comic. I've also been thinking about using it as a band name, and I probably will at some point. I also wanted to make a sort of 'portfolio' type website under the same name. That may yet happen too... although my biggest problem is that I always do too much. And that's sort of why I like that title too. I think I spread myself too thin, across too many things, and as a result I don't ever do anything really well. I know this, but I can't seem to change, and so what I'm trying to do here is to put all those things in one place... and see perhaps if they can't be just one thing? One thing that is more manageable, but also maybe more easy to articulate. It's the overlaps between the different things I do that I want to focus on here.