“He flooded plain everyday reality with extraordinary, unexpected information, processing the details through a buoyant, mobile mind, and made intellectual discovery seem incredibly glamorous. He helped create in my own mind a need to discover ways of making sense of both the universe and the self by seeking out the different, the difficult and the daring.”
– Paul Morley
We have designed of the book to accompany a major exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, David Bowie is – the first international retrospective of the extraordinary career of David Bowie. This is the first book to be granted access to Bowie’s personal archive of performance costume, instruments, set designs, photographs, original design artwork and handwritten lyrics.
The concept of the book and exhibition is formed around an extendable title, David Bowie is. Rather than making Bowie an antique in a museum collection, the title places him at this very moment, omnipresent in our cultural environment. The title is informed by Bowie’s cut-and-paste accumulative appropriation, which, in turn, influenced our thinking and methodology. Bowie was able to channel avant-garde ideas into the populist mainstream without compromising their subversive, liberating power and we hope, in some way, to articulate this in print.
For the design, we drew inspiration from the rich visual diversity of Bowie’s career as well as one of the prominent exhibition themes – the psychogeography of London. Bowie lived in London during a period of immense change, from the peak of optimistic modernism in the 1960s to the retro-fascinated, introspective, post-modern dystopia of the 1970s. The design draws influence from this urban energy employing a varied layout style, full-bleed images and bold headlines.
The book showcases a rich variety of visual material from Bowie’s career including costumes, portraits, lyric sheets, drawings, models and other memorabilia. To anchor this material in the expansive singularity of the title, a bright orange accent colour was employed throughout – a colour that reappears throughout Bowie’s aesthetic. The hair of Ziggy Stardust, the Aladdin Sane flash, the covers of Low, Heathen and Scary Monsters, as well as the RCA single labels all feature a shade of orange. The cover image is a twist on what must be one of the most iconic pop culture images, the cover of Aladdin Sane. In this image from Brian Duffy’s photo-shoot, Bowie stares straight ahead, confronting the viewer with with an almost unsettling stare. The image is given a bright orange treatment, distinguishing it from the album cover.
Albertus was chosen as the headline typeface for number of reasons. London plays a pivotal role in the story told by the exhibition and we wanted the book to speak the language of London without resorting to Johnston (as fantastic as it is). Firstly, Albertus is used on the street signs in Lambeth, the borough in which Bowie’s birthplace of Brixton is located. Secondly, Albertus was commissioned by Stanley Morison (creator of the quintessentially British Times New Roman) and designed by Berthold Ludwig Wolpe (German born, British designer), so the Anglo-Germanic history draws a nice parallel to Bowie’s time in Berlin. Priori Serif, drawn by Jonathan Barnbrook and Marcus Leis Allion is used as the body typeface. Priori borrows from the work of notable British typographers Eric Gill and Edward Johnston, and found one of its first outings on the cover of Bowie’s 2002 album Heathen.