Letters from Somnolescent June 17, 2021

A forgotten era

by devon

[Since publication of this post in unfinished state I re-wrote it. It was published on my now sunset blog and if you’re interested in reading finished post you can check it out here.]

Taking photos with tungsten setting again, feeling like it’s 2016 again

Lot of people around Somnolescent already know that I’m a huge fan of design from one very, very specific period – turn of the millennium, roughly from 1997 to 2003, but I never really talked about this. It’s time to change it I guess and it’s great group blog material.

Every generation a constant cycle nostalgia brings back the past again, but in fact it deforms it and sometimes itself can be a caricature, poking fun but sometimes bad pastiche which feels even disrespectful for original era. With some elements that are still in mass consciousness which are most known are usually most referenced. Pretty much other stuff is usually forgotten until someone finds it.

Like these small UK design companies I found when I started paying attention to cover art of albums I like, that are seemingly forgotten except well-known and celebrated The Designers Republic and somewhat lesser known Intro (think of Roni Size’s New Forms for an example). Nowdays TDR is making rounds again among internet people but don’t care about anything but AFX/Autechre/Wipeout. Even known companies weren’t evaluated properly but what about ones that got forgotten and are almost inactive?

I’d like to put some spotlight on them and I have a great opportunity to do – both Sampler books and Pen and Mouse were putting attention to era’s trends in graphic design and illustration, documenting pretty diverse selection of artists and styles prevalent at that time. Not like some may believe that only was photograph and Hevletica slapped on top (still lot of it though) or crazy CGI.

For a good while I already was interested in commercial illustration from the past, because of blogs like Illustration Art or Today’s Inspiration. All focusing on the mid-century artwork mostly from US, just before it was overtaken by photography and hyperrealistic airbrush illustrations in the 80s.

90s feel like uncharted territory compared to previous decades, especially late end. Well, I knew about some illustrated album covers before – like EBTG’s Temperamental, some albums by The Chemical Brothers, Super Furry Animals’ Radiatior or Back to Mine series (an avalanche of chillout/electronica mix CDs from that period would be a good idea for another post) and maybe some ads from this period that were floating around the net.

Wanted to find more of it and maybe other works from some illustrators I found that way. Some digging around Internet Archive yielded some results – I found this little known book and after flipping through it decided to get it (because of this truly great quality of scans at IA). Having a physical book feels nice too instead of staring at screen and trying to read something.

This artwork is so stylish.

Book except being a showcase of then working professionals, touches subject of changes in this field. Since DTP got omnipresent possibilites coming with incorporation of digital techniques into workflow were huge. Opening essay mentions these changes a lot, besides how perception of commercial illustration changed and blurring of line between pure graphic design and illustration.

Every artist featured in book had own “profile”, usually a self-portrait and answers for some questions from author – about titles they are using, what is their inspiration or talk about techniques and how computers changed the game.

Example of artist’s profile

Thing I like about this book is that it touches on traditional techniques instead just chasing newest digital effects. There’s an place for all of these paintings, screenprints and collage-y stuff.

Alex Williamson
Alan Baker
Marion Deuchars
Shonagh Rae
Miles Donovan
Evan Hecox

It’s interesting to look at these illustrations after 20 years since that book came out, entire set is truly a time capsule of that time. Seeing common things in them, like lot of them play on subject of urban life of somewhat “hip” people that was a trendy thing to show. Just look at some other media from turn of the millennium – Spaced which shows a group of people with “cool” occupations and rave/club culture, pokes fun at YBAs and features massive amount of current electonic music or all of these lifestyle or fashion magazines that were constanly appearing on market and folding after 2000. Besides this – 60s and 70s nostalgia of Gen X started to kick in even more.

Timmy Kucinda
Kam Tang
Steff Plaetz (I like this child drawing-like style, it’s fun)
Joe Magee
Michael Gilette
Kim Hiorthoy (Some of artwork was nicely spread on two pages. Print quality itself is very great.)

So far I only shown a good amount of more textured, painterly stuff and vectors but there are works that take bigger advantage of new technologies too.

Warren du Preez & Nick Thorton Jones
Eike Konig
Faiyaz Jafri
Nick Higgins

I like that I could learn about some artists I’d never would hear about, but some already were familiar to me. These few already were my favourites for a while.

First time I got to know about Tommy Penton’s work was discovery of mentioned before Back to Mine mix series a good while ago. Well, I liked artwork so much so I checked out who did it – turns out he also did artwork for Embrace’s album Drawn from Memory.

With digging information about artists that got forgotten I always wonder where they are now? In this case, he’s still working! Facebook page is still pretty regularly updated.

Tags: art,

About devon

An exotic housecat, local fanatic of TDRā„¢ and anything from so-called turn of the millennium. I love to draw boxes and graphic design is my passion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *