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Images of Our Friends in North

THE work of 10 top designers with North-East connections will feature in an exhibition called Our Friends in the North, one of the highlights of the Design Event 07 festival which starts tomorrow.

Designers from the North-East have achieved great things. David Whetstone reports on an exhibition which charts their success.

THE work of 10 top designers with North-East connections will feature in an exhibition called Our Friends in the North, one of the highlights of the Design Event 07 festival which starts tomorrow.

It should be illuminated by sparks of recognition. A Jamiroquai album sleeve, for instance, or the posters from Trainspotting display imagery that many of us will have salted away in our memory banks.

Fans of Jamiroquai, the acid jazz band which emerged in 1992, will know that the band is fronted by Jay Kay. Those who enjoyed Trainspotting, the Scottish black comedy released in 1996, will know that the film worked wonders for director Danny Boyle and actor Ewan McGregor.

But how many of us knew that these came packaged in the work of designers who studied in the North-East – respectively Mark Blamire and Dave Malone? Designers are often the unsung heroes, dedicated to supporting the projects of others. Frequently, though, it is their contribution which bestows iconic status.

Richard Short and Colin Davies are graphic designers based in the North-East although originally from outside the region (Richard from Barnsley, Colin from Southport).

Richard, who first came here in 1990 to study graphic design at Newcastle College, had the idea for an exhibition about five years ago.

“I was keen for there to be more recognition for the graphic design coming out of the region,” he recalls.

“There was a lot of talk about Newcastle being regenerated through the arts but people seemed to be missing the fact that graphic design is a big success story in the region.”

Off the top of his head, Richard could think of at least five graphic designers who had gone on to world renown after growing up or studying in the North-East. Together with Colin, who discovered an aptitude for graphic design after dropping out of a business management course at Newcastle University, he has assembled 10 design high-flyers for the exhibition at the city’s Robert Stephenson Centre.

Richard, from his home-based Studio Lobster in Newcastle, designs artwork for dance music albums and has also given Newcastle bars, including Tokyo and Stereo, their distinctive identities.

Some of his CD work will appear in the exhibition along with images he had published in the trendy i-D magazine during a brief spell in London between graduating and returning to the North-East, where he says he always wanted to live.

After abandoning his degree course, Colin, who for some years had been promoting bands and DJs, began producing artwork in support of various club nights. “People seemed to like what I was doing and I enjoyed doing it so it became the thing that I do, although I also work for Generator (the music support agency),” says Colin.

“These days, they say, people can buy a computer and become a designer and I guess, strictly speaking, that is me. But I don’t have a business card or anything. It has been very nice to start working with someone of Richard’s stature and now we have started to pitch for jobs together.”

The pair have started up Lobster Foundation (www.lobsterfoundation.com) “to promote graphic design as a relevant contemporary artform.”

On their website they declare: “We intend to work with some of the world’s best talent and produce thought-provoking events and exhibitions which will show the talents of those in the industry.”

With the exhibition Our Friends In The North, they will state their intentions in more spectacular style.

As we speak, many of the exhibits are packed away in an Aladdin’s cave of an attic room in Richard’s Jesmond home, photos of Kylie Minogue rubbing shoulders with the packaging from the game Wipeout which will be familiar to Sony Playstation users. There’s a wonderful skateboard and any number of CD sleeves.

The pair say the designers they approached were happy to support the Newcastle exhibition, all confessing to fond memories of the city and region.

Represented in the exhibition will be Mark Blamire, Peter Chadwick, Richard Fenwick, Alaric Hammond, Dave Malone, Paul McAnelly, Vaughan Oliver, Michael C. Place, Richard Short and Phil Sims.

Our Friends in the North runs from October 13 to November 4 (Mon to Sat, 10am to 6pm; Thurs until 7pm; Sun, 12 noon to 4pm) at the Robert Stephenson Centre, South Street, Newcastle. Tel. 07900 411 792. Admission free

Design Event 07, billed as the North-East’s annual design festival, runs from October 11-28.

As well as Our Friends in the North, it includes a host of exhibitions and events in Newcastle and Sunderland, plus exhibitions at the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, and Woodhorn, near Ashington.

The Sunderland exhibitions include Decompression Chamber, in which seven artists and designers were challenged to create microstructures offering a place for contemplation (Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art, Fawcett Street); sculpture by Mathias Bengtsson (National Glass Centre), No Borders Campaign, by Copenhagen-based design collective N55 (Reg Vardy Gallery); and Design4Science, exploring the impact of design in communicating scientific breakthroughs (Museum and Winter Gardens). The Newcastle exhibitions include Contains, showing how design can make a difference to the environment (Monument); Delight in Design, by the designers of the Designed & Made collective (Live Theatre); ie: creating Innovation through Education, featuring the work of students from three schools (Newcastle Arts Centre); and three related exhibitions, Plastic Recycling Factory, Launch 2007 and If You Could... (Fire Station, Pilgrim Street).

At the Globe Gallery, Carliol Square, you will be able to see 50 Years of Helvetica, an exhibition celebrating one of the world’s most widely used typefaces. A documentary about Helvetica will be shown at the Tyneside Cinema, Gateshead Old Town Hall, on October 13. Taylor Made at the Bowes Museum features contemporary furniture and designs for the home by Alexander Taylor.

READesign at Woodhorn, near Ashington, is a mobile design exhibition featuring the work of Fiona Thompson, Michael Armstrong, Ellen Bell and Lindsay Duncanson. This year’s Design Event coincides with the climax of Dott 07 (standing for Designs of the time 2007), a public festival from October 16-28 at Baltic Square, Gateshead.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer