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Alan Fletcher: Fifty years of graphic work (and play) @ CUBE

Lauren Murphy takes a look at an excellent CUBE exhibition given a time extension

Published on March 16th 2010.


Alan Fletcher: Fifty years of graphic work (and play) @ CUBE

CUBE. Centre for the Urban Built Environment. In other (admittedly less acronymic) words, an exhibition centre aiming to provide a link between the public and the environment. Through exhibitions the curators at CUBE aim to reveal social issues that may lie behind our environment and its buildings and spaces.

'Alan Fletcher: fifty years of graphic work (and play)' is the exhibition currently being shown, documenting the 50 year career of an influential graphic designer. By re-working corporate identity, Fletcher offered companies simple and effective ways of communicating with world at large.

Throughout his career in graphic design, Fletcher worked for leading corporations such as Time and Life magazines, Pirelli, Penguin, Shell Petroleum and Phaidon Press and is responsible for many classic campaigns. He is also behind the design of the V&A logo. Evidence of all of this is in the exhibition: famous adverts and brands occupy every wall. Even if you hadn’t heard of him before, you soon realise Fletcher’s work has touched you at some point.

The work need not be viewed chronologically, nor by theme or medium; if you were to jumble it up or walk through it backwards, you would still get it. His work from the 1960s is as fresh and modern as his work from the 90s. Indeed his long career has been described as an “unbroken stream of thought” thanks to his use of recurring images and familiar patterns.

Running through the exhibition is a prominent use of the alphabet, of basic letters and numbers, of the calendar, of the weather and seasons, of buses and pencils. He projects these commonplace and mundane ingredients into thought-provoking images and advertising. He weaves design into everyday life in a way which makes you question how they could ever have been separate.

Evident in Fletcher’s exhibition is the undeniable power of branding. Collages are on display where he has extracted letters out of famous logos or newspapers to spell out something different, but because of the power of brand identity, we are immediately reminded of their original context. To spell the word ‘collage’ itself, Fletcher uses the ‘Co’ from ‘Coca-cola’, but in our minds we all understand ‘coca-cola’ before we read ‘collage’ - such is the power of the brand. He also satirically reverses the letters of the ‘Evian’ logo to spell ‘naïve’. In revealing the process of brand identity itself, he creates the strongest brand identities yet.

Confidential particularly liked the Alphabet Gates (1990), a spray-painted version of the impressive wrought iron gates to Fletcher’s family home and the Technological Graveyard (1996), a “collage of redundant technology” that Fletcher made in response to the fact that, when he was working at Phaidon, nobody had a pencil to lend him. It is curious how much time one can spend thinking about all the pencils in the world after seeing this little masterpiece.

The references to both work and play in the exhibition title became self-explanatory once inside. Fletcher’s toys are his letters, typography, fonts, arrows, hands, newspapers, words - toys with which he is endlessly playful. This playfulness results in an often witty exhibition. His preoccupation with the alphabet, and even that penchant for pencils, makes his work friendly, uncomplicated and approachable.

The exhibition is running until 4th April. Get down there while you still can to see the colourful workings of this graphic design master.

CUBE
113-115 Portland Street
Manchester
M1 6DW
Tickets £4/£3.50 concessions
www.cube.org.uk

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