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.