Thursday, March 31, 2016

Saul Bass tattoo

Saul Bass's The Man with the Golden Arm – an arm on an arm
I met a friend of a friend one recent evening and he showed me the tattoo on his arm. He's had it four years and I was the second person to ever recognise what it was – obviously, Saul Bass's symbol for the film The Man with the Golden Arm, starring Frank Sinatra. Saul Bass also designed the poster and the title sequence. The tattoo is quite possibly one of the best things I've ever seen. The man with the tattoo was an ex-graphic designer, and retired from design in his late forties to retrain as a nurse. He was doubly inspiring – the Saul Bass tattoo, the meaningful life after graphic design.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Don't become a graphic designer
Saul Bass book finally out
Random Film Review: Phase IV
Top 10 graphic designers

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Lookalikes #38: High-Rise and A Clockwork Orange

From the movie's poster and the brutalist architecture featured in the film to its depiction of society breaking down and the class war leading to ultra sex and violence, Ben Wheatley's recent adaption of Ballard's HIgh-Rise, published in 1975, felt heavily influenced by Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971), adapted from the novel by Anthony Burgess (1962).

Do say: dystopian; prescient; Ballardian
Don't say: derivative

Elsewhere on the web:
Ben Wheatley's Bakers Dozen

Sunday, March 13, 2016

London through its charity shops #31: Forest Hill SE23

The magnificent Horniman Museum sits atop Forest Hill with great views of London from its gardens. Down the hill lies Forest Hill town, with a lovely old 1920s picture house, The Capitol, now a Wetherspoons pub. Sir Norman Foster described Forest Hill as "a delightful pocket of South London" and other buildings of interest include an Arts and Craft library, several Art Deco mansion blocks and my personal favourite:
It has some quirky cafes (one, The Montage, also has a vintage shop and art gallery upstairs) and gift shops, and three pretty good charity shops. Sue Ryder is large and pleasant but, as my daughter bemoans most charity shops, not enough toys. Not many books either, but lots of clothes and bric-a-brac, some decent records, and too much new stuff. A few doors along is a small British Red Cross. Mainly women's clothes and yet again, poor children's section and small book section. Some decent records and loads of CDs and DVDs. Best of all, opposite the new swimming pool and the old library, Ald Life felt like a jumble sale scrum. Just missed out on a Doctor Who Tardis containing DVDs for £3 – and that was expensive. It's mostly cheap as chips and has loads of books, CDs, buggies and kid's stuff.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

London through its charity shops #30: From Lewisham to Blackheath

Colourful Lewisham: my boon companion in the foreground
There was rain, wind, hail and sun, there was coffee and Greggs sausage rolls, and starlings catching the crumbs in their beaks mid air, and there was giving fried chicken to a very grateful homeless man. Along we way we passed Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen's former house and Danny Baker's current one and popped into, oh, 13 charity shops (unfortunately we had to miss out a few) where my boon companion bought about twenty books and I got absolutely nothing, but there were some close barngains.

My esteemed colleague had enthused about the charity shops in his local area for some time so I asked him to put his money where his mouth is and we met up on a Saturday outside Lewisham train station. Walking towards town, one is greeted with the ugliness of roadworks and construction sites, with flats going up and bollards all over the place. Things got better once we walked through the shopping centre, with a fruit and veg market on the other side and some charity shops.

We started with the British Heart Foundation, which had friendly, helpful staff (a rarity nowadays), good CDs and lots of cheap paperbacks – my companion picked up half a dozen thrillers for his missis and declared the non-fiction section to have seen better days. Next was the 'uninspiring' British Red Cross which had plenty of women's clothes and a poor book department. Scope has a nice feel to it; it's small and pleasant yet the music is too loud and the staff "dozy".  Good CDs but bad placement of the books, next to the changing rooms and till. Cancer Research had loads of CDs and women's shoes, cheap clothes rails and a small book section.

Soviet sci-fi style staircase, Lee Green
We took a bus to Lee Green, where's there's a large Geranium charity shop with some furniture and electrical good; plenty of bric-a-brac. Books were cheap. Next door was a smaller Geranium 99p shop. Nearby is a huge Sue Ryder furniture store which also sells white goods. Along the walls were lots of books, CDs, DVDs and bric-a-brac.

Onto Blackheath, where there's an okay and cheap Cats Protection shop, featuring lots of cat figures in the bric-a-brac section. The Community Hospice is small with good bric-a-brac and cheap books. The British Red Cross is lovely and colourful, with lots of designer clothes. I spotted a lovely pair of black Levi's 501s, as new, for £8.99. Unfortunately a few sizes too big for me, but I joked with the shop assistant I'll put on weight to make them fit. She told me of the harm of being overweight and the possibility of getting diabetes. At the back some good records too, but I wasn't going to pay £8.99 for Jimi Hendrix's Smash Hits.

We walked past lovely houses and across the heath to get to Blackheath village, where there was a uber chic Mary's Living and Giving Save the Children, which we didn't dare go into. There's a nice Cancer Research where a near barngain was the pop-up 3D ABC book, unfortunately some letters were damaged. I had nothing and was getting desperate: a cool Wrangler shirt was frayed; a nice Penguin shirt was too small. The final stop was Oxfam, our first of the day. Women's clothes are downstairs; upstairs there's a large book and music section. Nothing grabbed me. Still, it was a good day. It had started raining again and the light was fading.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

London through its charity shops #29: Peckham SE15

Peckham Rye train station, designed in 1866 by Charles Henry Driver,
who was also the architect of the Crossness pumping station

Peckham is part hipster hangout (Frank's bar, the Bussey building etc) and part still-reassuringly a shithole (albeit a pricy one). That's being unfair; it has vibrant and colourful African markets and community, the £4.99 Peckhamplex is the only place I go to see films, it has an amazing library and the South London art gallery. The Best Place To Live In London according to The Metro (last year anyway).

Peckham is surprisingly bad for charity shops, having only four average ones. Presumably there's not much of a need for them: there are markets, Poundlands and Poundworlds and other numerous budget shops in the area. Sense on Rye Lane is spacious but uninspiring. There's a disturbing amount of new, twee goods. Over the road is Traid, which I never used to go into, selling mainly clothes. It's large, funky and reasonably priced with a large table of books and CDs at the back.

On the High Street next to the library is a very nice but small Sense. Finally there's Ald Life which has stacks of books, records and magazines, all pretty crap. Some furniture too. It's an old school charity shop and smells accordingly.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Don't become a graphic designer

Towards the end of my foundation course at art college, one of my tutors tried to persuade me to go on and study graphic design and illustration. I was only eighteen but had a sneaking suspicion it was a boring career to follow. My actual words to him were, somewhat pretentiously, "the film industry needs me more", and at the time I was obsessed with film, and went on to make films and generally have a good time.

(He also said as a graphic designer, it's better to design something you're not interested in – the example he gave was Val Doonican album covers – in order to remain objective. Well, after years of designing car, technology, fitness and financial magazines – which have all bored me to death, I have to disagree with him.)

Years later, when reality hit and I reluctantly became a designer – literally, against my will – I was being interviewed at a design recruitment consultancy. The woman interviewing me, barely out of her teens, told me I wasn't passionate enough about my work. Well, for a start it was crap, but mainly because, well, graphic design isn't a passionate profession; it's measured and precise, and not very interesting. It's not like being a painter or filmmaker; you're not expressing yourself, you're fulfilling a brief and providing a visual solution.

Graphic design is a popular choice for young people. They all want to work in a Google-type office with bean bags and table tennis tables and create pretty pictures and imagine it's a glamorous, cool profession. But whether you're earning £18K designing catalogues or a local newspaper, or £80K at a hot design agency, either way you are essentially being told what to do and staring at a Mac screen (worse for your eyes than PCs, apparently) for eight hours a day, like I am right now when I should be designing a DPS for a financial magazine.

In short, being a designer is boring. We've (designers) got cool design books and magazines (Eye is the best), we've got blogs (design observer is good), we've got typography talks (actually quite interesting at St Bride in London), but on a day-to-day basis, and compared to other people doing completely non-skilled jobs often in the same office as the designer, it is a cheerless, underpaid, unrewarding, anhodonic profession.

I'd say graphic design is a skilled profession. It's not an art but it's a craft which takes years to learn. Sales and marketing (for example), by contract, from what I've observed, requires no skill or qualifications apart from the gift of the gab or being blonde and bubbly, yet they are lauded and praised like Gods. And paid twice as much as designers (if I owned a company, everyone, from admin assistant to CEO, would be paid exactly the same). Profit is king.

Sales guys get lunches and bonuses, commissions and conferences in Cannes and Vegas; journalists get to eat foie gras at Grade I listed houses and go to free football matches; marketing may get hampers from Fortnum & Mason. In 15 years as a designer I have literally yet to get taken out for a cup of coffee.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top 10 graphic designers
Top ten jobs
The offensive office
In terms of moving forward
Wasting time
Aspire to be average
Absolutely famous

Graphic design work:

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Notes on Black Sparrow Press

I devoured the books of Paul Bowles after travelling in Morocco and I equally voraciously read Charles Bukowski after visiting the States. What links them both is the beautiful editions of their books published by Black Sparrow Press in California. The publishing house was founded in 1966 by John Martin, to begin with purely for the purpose of publishing Bukowski. The down-and-out beat writer Charles Bukowski was forty-six and working in a post office when Martin discovered his poetry. He made Bukowski an offer he couldn't refuse: $100 a month for life to quit his job, write full time and let Martin publish his work. The rest is history and Martin went on to publish other alternative writers such as John Fante and Paul Bowles.

The books feel lovely: larger than regular paperbacks, they have slightly textured, matt covers usually with a light yellow colour background. On the back might be a continuation of the design from the front, or nothing at all. There's no ISBN number, no author blurb, no quotes. The designs are beautiful yet quite simple, often with a geometric shape. Designed by John Martin's wife Barbara, who had no design qualifications or experience, the covers were printed using letterpress, a technique which gives a relief effect with bold and bright colours.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Paul Bowles: Exit on Maghreb Street

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

This morning

Last night in bed just before sleep I closed my eyes and suddenly we were transported to an apple orchard where we were surrounded by very tall wizards with long, grey beards wearing polka dot robes and pointed hats; I had to open my eyes to make them go away.

Looking out of my kitchen window every morning I notice a man and his dog. The man always picks up rubbish lying around and has become a kind of unsung hero to me. The streets are littered with litter, no one gives a damn, I never see any binmen, and here's this lone ranger with his dog, clearing up the streets. He reminds me of my brother a bit, with his beard and wellies. I'd never spoken to him until today.

He comes up to me this morning just as I've left the flat on the way to work. I smile at him as he approaches and am about to say what a great job he does. He cuts me short:
"Six fucking years I've been doing this and every fucking day I think this will be my last."
"It's not about the litter it's about not being called a cunt."
"Oh." I was in shock.
Someone is apparently calling him a cunt, and dropping litter purposely to antagonise him. He's going to get violent if he finds out who it is. "I know it's not you, mate." I was relieved. He rants some more and is about to leave when he says, "Your bins are a fucking disgrace." I am aware of the ongoing problem of the communal bins (not my fault, I exclaim). "You can do something about it, you can make the change." And then, as a coda, "Litter causes property prices to drop by 6%-9%." I appreciated the tip.

A few minutes later there was Superman on the kerb covered in blood. He was a strange sight and I didn't know what to make of it. The figure in the Superman costume seemed young and lanky, blood all over his hands; he wasn't able to stand. It was a great image, loaded with metaphor, but I didn't linger; police had turned up, hopefully he would be okay. A few minutes later, a ginger cat without a tail came bounding over to me, meowing. I stroked the cat and it followed me for a while.

As morning walks to work go, it was action packed.