Thursday, July 31, 2008

Guitars & Graphics

Over a Century of guitar music and graphic design, when, if ever, do the two combine?

This is an adaptation of a talk given on June 8th by Michael Johnson from Johnson Banks Design.

He admits that this is a slightly selfish theme for a talk; during the day Mr. Johnson is a graphic designer but at lunchtimes and night he's an amateur guitarist. And in a way, he believes the two things rarely come together. So he thought it would be interesting to take the last century of graphics and guitar music and see if, or when, the two things ever do combine.

The earliest blues guitarists used small, parlour sized acoustic guitars, and often tried to play in a way that emulated the popular piano style of the time, ragtime. Gradually blues guitar developed as a style in its own right, and the earliest guitar heroes were born such as Robert Johnson.

Legend has it that he popped out for a few beers but ended up selling his soul to the devil at a crossroads and received the ‘gift’ of the blues in return.

At the turn of the century decorative design was a long way from beer and crossroads, having carried over the decorative styles of the Art and Crafts and the Viennese Secession. Illustrators such as Aubrey Beardsley and artists such as the Beggarstaff Brothers were the design poster-boys of the day (although no-one called them graphic designers, not yet).

What they were listening to as they pushed around their wood type is much harder to ascertain (although it seems that there is a link between Gropius and Mahler, the former having once had an affair with the latter’s estranged wife). Wagner of course was one of Hitler’s musical favourites (he loved to use it at rallies) and became the spur for some of the finest, earliest ‘agit’ work by John Heartfield, protesting against the Nazi dictator’s rule.

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