Comparing Creative Processes

I can't think of a graphic design that doesn't contain type or an image. It's just unfortunate that other objects also fit that description. This means that the qualities of displaying type or image, or some combination of both, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for being a graphic design object. What makes them distinct from other kinds of objects, such as illustrations, photographs and other works of fine art? There must be another feature of graphic designs that we can include in our description which will exclude these other forms of visual communication.

I had to take a break from writing for a little while, because, frankly, I was stumped at what the answer to this question might be. I had to go away and do some reading before having a stab at the answer.

Here's the first of a few of my ideas: a graphic design object is the outcome of a graphic design creative process, and that's what makes graphic design objects unique. But that leads us on to the next question:

 Poster by  Olivia D'Cruz

Poster by Olivia D'Cruz

In some ways this avenue of exploration could be really helpful, but there's also a chance that such a line of reasoning could be fruitless. Defining a graphic design by the property of being made by 'the graphic design creative process' simply shifts the question from 'what is a graphic design object?' to 'what is the graphic design creative process?'

We would have to be really careful not to define the graphic design creative process as 'a process which results in the production of a graphic design object,' otherwise we'll have ended up with a closed loop, no closer to an answer when we started. This would be a strong constraint on any kind of empirical investigation into 'the graphic design creative process.'

However, a comparative approach to such an investigation, is likely to be fairly enlightening. For example, there are some obvious differences between the photographer's creative process and the graphic designer's. The photographer will make use of some kind of light sensitive apparatus to make images. Manipulating this machinery will be their first point of call.

While it is increasingly the case that graphic designers are expected to be competent photographers, it is not a requirement. Designers may art-direct photoshoots or commission illustrators, or forego both options and opt for a typographic treatment. It is possible to be a graphic designer without using photographic equipment as part of one's creative process.

When it comes to illustration, the comparison between processes becomes more tricky. I once heard the Art Director of Walker Books (a children's publisher) describe the illustrator's creative process as 'world-building.' Such a description hints at a strong creative imagination, generating contained images that do not necessarily need to refer to anything outside of themselves. 

  Covers for the Economist , 9th June 2018, UK Edition (L) 23rd June 2018 UK Edition (R)

Covers for the Economist, 9th June 2018, UK Edition (L) 23rd June 2018 UK Edition (R)

I'm aware that this is quite a convenient description of illustration, that suits my purposes, which neatly separates graphic design from illustration. I am sure there are quite a few practitioners who would disagree with it. For example, editorial illustrators may contend that their work only makes sense in relation to the text it is placed next to. Would the above cover illustrations make sense without the titles?

 Photo of an  Emma Studd Print , taken by  Phil Delaney

Photo of an Emma Studd Print, taken by Phil Delaney

There are also practitioners who solely work with geometric shapes in the abstract. This last example is extremely problematic as their output bears a strong resemblance to graphic designs and graphic design images. It is likely that finding a description that encompasses all these illustration practices in order to compare it with the practice of graphic design will be just as tricky and as full of pitfalls as my current study of graphic design is proving to be. Indeed, some of these practitioners may not even describe themselves as illustrators.

Unfortuntately, the creative process of the fine artist is even more broad and varied than the illustrators', so much so, that it could include almost every creative discipline. Performative art will require group work and rehearsals. Video artists use film equipment, whilst others have constructed large factories and employ a team to create their artworks. The traditional sculptor or painter may, in contrast, be solitary. For others again, this process involves working on combining type and image.

Examining and comparing processes could tell us quite a lot about what graphic design objects are and the way in which graphic designers practice, which is an interesting study in itself. Some initial areas of research could include exploring the relationship between designers and their computers and the physical act of making, and whether their practice reflects the description of graphic designers as 'compositors' or 'combiners' of different elements. 

There are a few other options we could look at that might shed some light what makes graphic designs unique, which will most likely inform such research should it be conducted. We'll return to this idea in due course. Next I will examine the idea of the role or function graphic designs have, to see whether this might separate art, illustration and photography from graphic design.

What Is A Graphic Design Object?

My early posts were interested in what a philosophy of graphic design can offer and why it is important, and during that process I mentioned several descriptions of graphic design objects, as combinations of type and image.

In this post I want to examine that idea more closely. Can something be 'graphic design' if it is just an image, or type in isolation? Is it possible to combine type with an image and for it not to be graphic design? If so, then the 'classic' description of graphic design will be somewhat lacking.

 Unit Editions,  Type Only , pp. 150-151, 2013

Unit Editions, Type Only, pp. 150-151, 2013

Let's start with 'just-type' designs. Unit Editions' book, Type Only, is a fantastic showcase of graphic designs that solely rely on typography only (pictured above. More examples here). Let's, for a moment, ignore why our intuition is telling us that these are, without question, examples of graphic design, and accept that they are. From this we can conclude that an object can be called 'graphic design' even if it doesn't contain images. But is the reverse true? Can an image be 'graphic design' even if it doesn't contain any type?

stop sign.png

Take this image, for example. All UK drivers will recognise this sign immediately – it indicates that they cannot enter the road upon which this sign is placed. It contains no words, but it is significant to particular audiences, trained or training to drive. This image is one element of a larger system of communication, designed to be interpreted quickly by those moving at rapid but variable speeds, aiding travel.

The system as a whole was originally designed by Jock Kinnear and Mary Calvert between 1957 – 1967. Slightly over half the examples given in the Highway Agency's explanatory document contain letters or numbers. However, the above symbol conveys meaning without words, even if it is part of a system that uses them. It is not dependent on other signs in the system to be understood. Such wayfinding systems are classic specimens of graphic design.

 Excerpt from  'Traffic Signs' PDF , courtesy of The UK Highway Agency, downloaded on 30th May 2018

Excerpt from 'Traffic Signs' PDF, courtesy of The UK Highway Agency, downloaded on 30th May 2018

These examples indicate that graphic design objects can be:

  1. Type + Image
  2. Type Only
  3. Image Only

It is important to note that there is a plethora of objects we label as 'graphic design' day-to-day that fall into the second category, but very few that fall into the third. Furthermore, the vast majority of images we encounter day-to-day are photographs, illustrations or art. Image-only graphic designs hold unique and unusual properties which separates them out from other images. 

So, there are images out there that are not graphic design objects. Are there objects out there containing type that are not graphic design objects?

I've spent rather a lot of time thinking about this, and have struggled to find an example of type that are not graphic designs apart from some objects that fall into a rather special category: Art. Conceptual artists in the 1960s were increasingly interested in using language in their artworks, in order to question what art itself is, a tradition continued by artists in the modern day.

 Robert Montgomery, part of  Words in the City at Night  project, 2016

Robert Montgomery, part of Words in the City at Night project, 2016

Unfortunately, works of art are also counter-examples to the idea that 'if it displays type with an image, then it is a graphic design object.'

 Roy Lichtenstein, 'Whaam!', 1963

Roy Lichtenstein, 'Whaam!', 1963

This causes a wee bit of a problem for our definition of graphic design as 'type and/or image.' It's simply not true that an object that either contains either type, or an image, or a combination of both, will always be graphic design.

Oh dear. 

At the beginning of this post I asked you, dear reader, to overlook how we incontrovertibly identified road signs and typographic posters as examples of graphic design. Perhaps a closer look at why we know these are works of graphic design will help us come up with a better definition of a graphic design object. I'll look at this in my next post.


If you're interested, here is a summary of my argument:

Graphic designs display a combination of type and image (conjunction).
Displays of type by itself can be graphic design.
Displays of images by themselves can be graphic design.
Therefore the description of graphic design should be: graphic designs display either type, an image, or type combined with an image (disjunction).

There are some objects that are images in isolation that are not graphic design.
There are some objects that are type in isolation that are not graphic design.
There are some objects that combine type and image that are not graphic design.

Therefore our description of graphic design objects is lacking. The statement regarding the set of graphic design objects as having the property of displaying either type, or image, or some combination of both does not accurately pick out graphic design objects.

Doodle 6

I tried out a different pen this time, and was able to do more pattern styles.


Doodle 2

A time limit of an hour produced this smaller blossom.


Doodle 1

An interest in drawing was reignited whilst I was waiting for IT to resolve some technical problems with my computer.


UK General Election 2017: Shareable Graphics

During the 2017 General Election campaign, a friend and I became involved in the Labour party campaign and came up with the following graphics, which are twitter-friendly. The idea was to create similar ones for Instagram but in a 1:1 format, and perhaps animate them for Facebook.

 Words inspired by Wendel Berry quote, comp image from Shutterstock

Words inspired by Wendel Berry quote, comp image from Shutterstock

 Copy by  Harry Farmer

Copy by Harry Farmer

 Copy by  Harry Farmer

Copy by Harry Farmer

 Copy by  Harry Farmer

Copy by Harry Farmer

 Copy by  Harry Farmer

Copy by Harry Farmer

 Copy by  Harry Farmer , comp image from Shutterstock

Copy by Harry Farmer, comp image from Shutterstock

Highlights of 2015

2015 has a been a busy year! Here’s my list of the art and design highlights of the year,  categorised according to event type and listed in chronological order:


Enlightening Exhibitions

 Screenshot of the RA's  Landing Page  for the Ai Wei Wei Exhibition, retrieved 31/12/15

Screenshot of the RA's Landing Page for the Ai Wei Wei Exhibition, retrieved 31/12/15

Late Turner – Painting Set Free,
at the Tate Britain, 10th September 2014 – 25th January 2015

Adventures of the Black Square, Abstract Art and Society 1915 – 2015,
at the Whitechapel Gallery, 15th January – 6th April 2015

Inventing Impressionism, The Man Who Sold A Thousand Monets
at the National Gallery, 4th March – 31st May 2015

Ai Wei Wei
at the Royal Academy, 19th September – 13th December 2015


Three of these four exhibitions are ‘populist’ – accessible to those who have little time for gallery trips and are less inclined to concept art. One need only walk into the Impressionism and Turner exhibitions, wander about and bask in the uplifting hues and tones of the exhibited masterpieces, without worrying that ‘you didn’t get it.’ You walked away from both exhibitions feeling lighter, with the feeling you get after a long country walk, that there is simple beauty in the world, and that we do well to remember that in our every day lives.

Ai Wei Wei at the RA could also be considered a populist exhibition – his works drew immense crowds and, due to the artist’s love of engagement with the public, his works were all over social media. The exhibits displayed often had a simple elegance to them, a beauty in and of themselves without requiring reference to the dark, totalitarian context from which they were borne. However, such undertones were impossible to ignore, and endowed a weighty significance to what could be simple structures. A curatorial spark of genius meant that every ticket holder was given a free headset, clearly and succinctly introducing and contextualizing each work at the viewer’s own pace, reducing crowding around introductory signage, giving viewers an entry point into some of the more esoteric cultural references.

I won’t go on too much more about Adventures of the Black Square, as I have already waxed lyrical in a previous blogpost. On a less evangelical note, this exhibition was probably the least accessible of the list above. Without an appreciation for the origins and history of abstract art as well as knowledge of the works and movements they went on to inspire, this exhibition may have failed to prevent stubborn, incredulous comments like: ‘people actually make a living doing this?’ However, this retrospective covered an under-represented era of art history that fully deserves its place in exhibition programmes, and highlighted wonderful work of lesser-known as well as more contemporary abstract artists. This was a truly inspirational and educational exhibition.

 JMW Turner, Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus exhibited 1839, Oil pain on canvas, Tate. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1859. Image  retrieved  on 31/12/15, courtesy of

JMW Turner, Ancient Rome; Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus exhibited 1839, Oil pain on canvas, Tate. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest, 1859. Image retrieved on 31/12/15, courtesy of

Graphic Design Events of the Year


Pick Me Up 2015
at Somerset House, 23rd April – 4th May 2015

London Design Festival 2015, Graphics Weekend
at the V&A Museum, 19th September – 20th September, with the wider festival running in multiple locations until 27th September.

The Modern Magazine 2015 Conference
at Central Saint Martins, 29th October 2015


The ticket costs for each of these marvelous celebrations of the graphic arts vary significantly. The Graphics Weekend at the V&A’s London Design Festival is a series of talks and workshops running from 10.30am – 5.30pm both days, which are completely free to attend. There were talks from the brilliant Joanna Basford, the initiator of the adult colouring book trend, Tony Brook on his agency Spin, Adrian O’Shaughnessy on Unit Editions, Pentagram Partner Harry Pearce on his personal photography, a type tasting workshop from the wonderful Sarah Hyndman and the work of innovative design agencies Europa and The Beautiful Meme. Keep an eye out next year for your free fix of the latest and greatest projects of some of the most exciting designers around.

A day ticket for Pick Me Up 2015 cost £10, with a festival pass coming in at a very reasonable £17.50. I myself made the most of a festival pass, attending 4 of the 7 days of the festival. Again, the lecture series was unforgettable, with Ian Anderson of the Designer’s Republic, Graham McCallum of Kemistry Gallery, and Jeremy Leslie interviewing the founders of Anorak, Cereal and Wrap magazine, amongst others.

The Modern Magazine 2015 was the most costly coming in at £120 for an early-bird ticket, £150 if you purchased after 31st July. However, the event was well worth the high overheads. With hefty, well-filled goodie bags, the chance to handle first editions of magazines such as Nova, Wired and Raygun, as well as speakers from all walks of magazine life, this event was certainly a highlight of the year.

Lectures at ModMag 2014 discussed the trials and tribulations of setting up a magazine – dealing with distributors, contributors and how to manage backlist orders. This year, ModMag discussed the ways in which magazines extend beyond the printed page and develop into something iconic. Attendees heard about how the editorial team of Stylist magazine were installed in the Saatchi Gallery as a live performance art exhibit, Uncube magazine explored and discussing what it is to be a truly online magazine, Monocle described their experience of translating their content into radio shows, and Charlotte Heal, Kinfolk’s design director, explicated what it took to restyle and update what some considered to be a stale brand.

The day was jam-packed with leaders in the magazine industry, as well as some of more inspiring, smaller teams, including the founder of Outpost Magazine, Ibrahim Nehme, who looks to find stories of creativity and innovation in the Middle East, and diversify the negative narrative espoused about the region. The founders of Mushpit, Charlotte Roberts and Bertie Brandes were also a breath of fresh air, discussing their anarchic fashion magazine, empowering women rather than demeaning and demoralising them with unrealistic body image ideals. The day was exhausting; the energy and appetite for each project was palpable. This is an event to start saving for.

 Image of Pick Me Up London 2015  retrieved  on 31/12/15 courtesy of Somerset House online

Image of Pick Me Up London 2015 retrieved on 31/12/15 courtesy of Somerset House online

‘Watch Your Wallet’ Design Fairs and Sales


Offprint London
at the Tate Modern, 22nd – 25th May 2015

East London Comic Arts Festival (ELCAF)
at The Laundry, 2 – 18 Warburton Road, E8 3FN, 20th – 21st June 2015

London Book Arts Fair
at the Whitechapel Gallery, 10th – 13th September 2015

Magazines for Good
at the Typo Café at London College of Communication, 12th December


These events have been labeled as such because it is far too easy to spend rather a lot more money than expected at each event, and well-spent it is too. These fairs and festivals showcase the best editorial publications and prints, whether they be the labour of love of one artistic individual or the best creative work of larger publishing houses such as Thames and Hudson and Taschen. ELCAF showcased the work of amazing illustrators and comic artists, such as Cachete Jack, Icinori and Supermundane, where Offprint demonstrated the prowess of not just publishing groups but specialist printers too.

Three of these events are annual affairs, to look out for and put in your calendars. Magazines for Good was most likely a one-off event, where magazines sent in for submission to the magazine Oscars equivalent, the Stack Awards 2015, were sold at 50% off to raise money for charity, L’Auberge de Migrants. The sale was accompanied by a half day of talks and discussions by magazine makers who want to make a positive impact on the world. The speakers included Danny Miller, creator of Weapons of Reason, a magazine that explores key global issues that will need to be addressed now if we are to face the challenges of the future. Lisa Lorenz, the creator of Nous Magazine, was also in attendance, discussing her magazine for mind culture and empathic thinking, which aims to address stigma often associated with mental health problems. Hopefully we will see this event return for 2016, as this year’s was a raring success for a great cause.

 Image of Offprint London  retrieved  on 31/12/15 courtesy of the British Journal of Photography online

Image of Offprint London retrieved on 31/12/15 courtesy of the British Journal of Photography online

‘Keep an Eye Out for These’ Lecture Series


Printout, once a month on a Tuesday
Subject area: magazine culture
The Book Club, Leonard Street, tickets available via Eventbrite

W Project Symposium
Subject area: celebrating women in the creative industries
Protein Studios, 31 New Inn Yard, EC2A 3EY, tickets available via Eventbrite

The Typography Workshop Type Talks
Subject area: historical figures in typography
19 Cleaver Street, SE11 4DP, tickets available via Eventbrite

Nicer Tuesdays, once a month on a Tuesday
Subject area: thematic perspectives on the visual arts
Protein Studios, 31 New Inn Yard, EC2A 3EY, tickets available via Eventbrite

Grafik x Monotype’s Letterform Live
Subject area: single letters or particular typefaces close to the speaker’s heart
Protein Studios, 31 New Inn Yard, EC2A 3EY, tickets available via Eventbrite

Typographic Circle Talks
Subject area: typography-related events
Various Locations, often St Bride Foundation, 14 Bride Lane EC4Y 8EQ, tickets available via Eventbrite

St Bride Foundation Lectures
Subject area: book binding, printing and typography
St Bride Foundation, 14 Bride Lane EC4Y 8EQ, tickets available via Eventbrite

The Letter Exchange Lectures
Subject area: handcrafted lettering
The Letter Exchange, The Artworker’s Guild, 6 Queen’s Square, WC1N 3AT, tickets available on the door


The links listed for each lecture series lead to the organiser’s Eventbrite page, where you will find that these events have varying ticket prices, depending on whether you are a member, non-member or student. They mostly range between £5 and £15. Some sessions are very popular, and tickets sell out very fast. To find out when tickets are released, it is advisable to sign up for the organisers’ newsletters.

Each series has a different specialist interest – it’s worth working out which content is of most interest to you. There are quite a few sessions that offer discussions relating to typography, but approach it from various angles. You may discover that your favourite designer is speaking at a seemingly-type only series, but will discuss other aspects of their work as well.

Thus concludes my roundup of the best design events of 2015. I attended every event listed apart from some of the lecture series, which I hope to attend in the new year. 

Coming soon: events I'm looking forward to in 2016. Stay tuned! And Happy New Year to All! 

 Image relating to Printout at The Book Club  retrieved  on 31/12/15, courtesy of

Image relating to Printout at The Book Club retrieved on 31/12/15, courtesy of

East of Eden: The Modern Fable

John Steinbeck's last major work, East of Eden, is an epic narrative covering three generations of two families that find themselves living in the Salinas valley of California. 

We meet Adam and Charles Trask, growing up in late 19th Century Connecticut, with a sanctimonious, self-important father drilling "beneficial experiences" into his children that he himself lacks. Meanwhile, Samuel Hamilton sets himself up in the Salinas valley, scratching a living out of the dust of one of the more unprofitable parts of the valley, to support his ever burgeoning family. The plot revolves primarily around the experiences and development of the Trask family, regularly intertwining with the exploits of the Hamilton clan.

What unfolds brims with allegory, exploring the nature of what it is to be a man: his propensity towards good and his potentiality for greatness. Note that the masculine form of that sentence: Steinbeck's female characters often lack potency, and languish busily around the hearth redoing male attempts at homemaking, making sensible demands of their children and spouses.

Cathy Ames is the unforgettable anomaly to this recurrent female characterisation. Steinbeck has been criticised for her inscrutability. Until the very end, we are unsure of her motives for dark deeds, and murderous machinations. No one, the critics say, is that evil.

There in lies the fascination of this novel for me. 

As the novel progresses, one begins to recognise each character as an archetype of human nature. Steinbeck's cast covers a wide range of dispositions, from those whose purity of heart blinds them to glaring immorality, to cynical, physical brutality thwarting any capacity for emotional vulnerability. Steinbeck captures traits and instincts fleetingly prevalent in the general population to formulate his populace. Attitudes that underpin single actions in reality drive every action of one of Steinbeck's characters. 

Despite their anger, bitterness, or downright deviousness, the reader relates to nearly every single character: their motivations and flaws endear us to them. We still wish them success; there is always a spark of goodness counteracting their weaknesses. All apart from Cathy Ames.

The scenes in which Cathy is involved are the primary source of preliminary criticisms of the novel: they are obscene. East of Eden was published in the sexually repressive early 1950s, where women's freedoms were again controlled and restrained to the home after the end of the war.

Contrary to this, Steinbeck's Cathy is powerful, liberated and demonic: sexual assault, paedophilia, sado-masochism, adultery, abortion, and prostitution are but a part of her narrative. This list of dark, traditionally shocking and immoral activities doesn't even cover Cathy's more straight-forwardly malign propensity to manipulation, blackmail, violence and murder. You can imagine how a post-war America reacted to such a portrayal of monstrosity.

Throughout the novel, I was convinced that a person like Cathy does exist in the world. There is something compelling about her psychopathic inclinations: humans are most certainly capable of the behaviour she exhibits. But on reflection, her litany of sins does begin to seem implausible; no single person can commit that number of atrocities in a single lifetime, surely?

This single nagging question continues to plague me long after the more motivational aspects of East of Eden struck my soul. The paradigms of good and evil, present in Cathy and her counterpart Adam and the retelling of the oldest story of the western world which is the centrepiece of the novel, pivot around one focal question: what are we, as humans, capable of?

Cathy is but a part of Steinbeck's answer. Without her archetype, Steinbeck cannot explain the atrocities we witness in this world. But it is his deeper, more detailed exploration of human possibility that leaves the reader with a sense of profound joy. 

Steinbeck embraces all aspects of humanity: our ability to destroy, to remain static in the face of difficulty, but also to support, consider and guide those around us. Not just this, he reaffirms the hope that we are more than an expression of inherited chromosomes in reaction to an uncontrolled environment. We are masters of all that we are, and all that we can be. 

And here in lies the beauty of this book.

Steinbeck's final masterpiece is a modern fable, retelling the story of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the shock of the fall and the disgrace of mankind. He pushes it further, goes deeper, and develops it into an empowering, ennobling exploration of the human condition. The definitive list of books to read before you die would surely include East of Eden. It has the capacity to instil revisions of your motivations, the interpretation of others' and encourage an aspiration to all that is good in this world.

Analogue Abstraction

A trip to Adventures of the Black Square at the Whitechapel Gallery pushed me to do some of my own experiments with geometric figures. I started  with some rough and ready inky shapes, drawing on top of them with permanent ink.

These were fast, loose and encouraged new ideas. I enjoyed the sensation of mark-making with such a fine nib, so decided to continue in this vein, drawing on memories of the works of Kazimir Malevich, which I saw at a huge Tate Modern retrospective last year.

Of the two, the second drawing (above) had more cohesion. This became my key image, which I manipulated using analogue technology in a variety of ways. First, I tessellating it by hand, using tracing paper, and experimented with pattern and colour.

Although initial experiments were bright and vibrant, I made a conscious decision to remain restrained with my colour choices, to maintain a level of minimalism that had inspired me at Whitechapel Gallery. I played with pattern and primary colours, as well as texture, as you can see from the images below.

My next step was to reflect the tessellated, repeated core design, by scanning the tessellated design into the computer and printing the design on both sides of a piece of tracing paper. 

 I placed formal abstract art by the masters, such as Kazimir Malevich, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Iakov Chernikov, next to my work. I discovered the latter artist at the Adventures of the Black Square; his finely detailed constructions bore some resemblance to the complex image above.

This complex line drawing was begging for colour. I began by focussing on the circular figures.

IMG_6757 curves.jpg

The colours I picked were analogous: they sit next to each other on the colour wheel. The floating spheres of colour in a rhythmic, meditative pattern diverted me from my original intention of colouring the entire image in. 

I decided instead to colour the different kind of shapes according to different colour principles.

IMG_6773 curves.jpg

The triangles were coloured using complementary colour pairs: red and green, blue and orange, yellow and purple. These colours sit opposite to each other on the colour wheel, and provide contrast and dynamism to a colour scheme.

Finally, I coloured the square or rectangular forms using primary, secondary and tertiary colour groups. 

This concluded the analogue part of this series. I then digitalised the work, presented in the gallery below. 

Each of the analogue series is unique: the shapes interact in different ways due to the fact that the tracing paper did not feed through the printer in exact same way for each drawing, forming different alignments and patterns. This was an unintended outcome, but provides each image with the quality of being physically unique.

The earlier restraint with colour relaxed with the concluding series. The colours are bright and vibrant; each of the series has its own mood: serene, autumnal, joyful, and dynamic by turns. The decision to colour only one kind of shape found within the construction lends the series a similarity to stained glass window. Shapes are highlighted and drawn out from what could be constructional chaos. 

Order is restored using select colour.

The Hard Problem

The Dorfman Theatre at the National, Southbank
Monday 9th February - Wednesday 27th May
Written by Tom Stoppard, directed by Nicholas Hytner

 Photo by Johan Perrson, taken from the  National Theatre's site  for the play.

Photo by Johan Perrson, taken from the National Theatre's site for the play.

Having booked tickets to Tom Stoppard's first new play for the National since 2002 in October, I had been looking forward to this production for some time. In preparation, I bought a copy of the play-text and read it before attending the show; I've been a little bewildered by other Stoppard plays I hadn't prepared for.

The Hard Problem is, probably the most accessible of the four Stoppard plays I've seen. We meet Hillary, a young psychology undergraduate applying for jobs, one of which is the elite Krohl Institute, which specialises in neuroscience: in particular, analysing the functions and processes of the brain. 

Hillary is young, confident and is adamant that there is more to people and their humanity than simply a bundle of neurones. Her premise begins on the starting assumption that no amount of observations of brain activity can detect where consciousness sits.

You believe a thermostat has consciousness, but you find God a bit of a stretch?
— Hillary, The Hard Problem, Tom Stoppard

From the outset, an intuitive dichotomy is set up between those who believe in scientific knowledge as truth and those who are searching for something more to understand what it is to be human.

Hillary's assumptions, premises and conclusions are by no means philosophically sound; what we find instead is a young woman desperately trying to interpret her own experiences. She simply can't accept that people are simply a mixture of animalistic tendencies explained by evolutionary biology.

This explanation vs. experience dichotomy is not the only one set up by this intriguing play. Some of my favourite (meta-) ethical and philosophical debates are touched upon and explored. Using the so-called hard problem of consciousness as a springboard, Stoppard explores the question of whether humans are egotists by nature and altruists only through nuture. Can selfish behaviour be justified by appeal to Darwinian theories of evolution?

He doesn't stop there though. For good measure, the play ponders the question of whether computers are capable of mapping individual human behaviour and en-masse. What is it to be irrational? Is it explicable, explainable, predictable?

This final problem ties beautifully into the "the hard problem" of modern society: the economic downturn of 2008 and the consequences people all around the world are feeling today. The play is set before the financial crash, the scientific research portrayed is funded by a ruthless, risk-taking hedge-fund manager. This clever collision of mathematical, scientific, theoretical and financial domains begs the question: If economic models of fiscal behaviour could account for irrational human behaviour and predict them, could we avoid financial crashes of the future?

There's also a healthy dose of God vs. Science in this play (how could Stoppard resist?). Our protagonists express exaggerated outrage at a dependance on God or reliance on science, which eventually whittles down to something similar to a deep sigh, and an agreement to disagree. But this final question cannot be shrugged off too easily; it is perhaps their answers to this question that drives the outcome of the play.

Stoppard's deeply questioning, socially relevant and irreverent play is a whirlwind of social dynamics and all manner of theoretical discourse. If you're interested in social theory, science or philosophy, this is certainly not one to be missed, and if I had my way, it would be hitting philosophy or literature A-level syllabuses soon. Returns are released at 6pm everyday before the evening performance, and new tickets are being released on 12th Feb. Failing that, get your hands on a copy of the text: it's well worth a read. There are no excuses for missing out on this one.

The Adventures of the Black Square

15th January – 6th April 2015, Whitechapel Gallery, London


 Having heard about this exhibition on a "Must Visit in 2015" list at the beginning of the month, I ensured my attendance at the Whitechapel Gallery's The Adventures of the Black Square on it's opening night, with high expectations. I was not disappointed. This retrospective pulls together infamous works that expressed and defined the mood of their period, the tone of society, a change in mindset. Here are my top 5 exhibits you can't miss, in no particular order:

1.  El Lissitzky, Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge, (amongst his other works, pictured above)
Groundbreaking geometric communication graphics at its best, breaking artistic conventions and representing a change in world politics in one swoop. These are the seeds of the graphic design profession.

2. David Batchelor, October Colouring In Book
Batchelor took umbrage to a fine art magazine that declined to include any images and remained totally black and white. The result is a spectacular explosion of bright geometric colour. This work is not in the exhibition catalogue, and can only be found if you buy the monograph dedicated to it. Not to be missed!

3. Karthik Pandian's film Reversal (pictured bottom)
Black and white vintage photography seamlessly stitched together, overlayed with transfixing sliding geometric forms, coupled with chilled audio. You'll stay sitting in this room for much longer than you thought.

4. Gunilla Klingberg,  Spar Loop
This cycling twelve minute kaleidoscopic animation pushes supermarket logos into mesmerising geometric abstraction. The derived shapes and forms are captivating - only the desire to see the rest of the exhibition will pull you away.

5. Wyndham Lewis, Blast Magazine (pictured below)
This Vorticist publication was only one of two - and contained the works of both artists and poets, including the formidable Ezra Pound, as well as their game-changing manifesto. Lewis pushed the boundaries in terms of literature and art; his strong bold lines, and typographic explorations were inspiration for El Lissitzky's designs. You can view the interior of the editorial here.


The above list contains some notorious works in combination with less familiar pieces. This sums up my experience of the exhibition very well – I came to see the greats, and was exposed to lesser known, but equally stimulating works – an outcome only the finest exhibitions achieve. The expansive, cross-cultural appeal of abstract art is on full display; I was also pleasantly surprised to find female and ethnic artists well-represented. 

If you are to visit the exhibition on Thursdays, you will also be treated to a performance of Josiah McElheny's Interaction of the Abstract Body: dancers wearing mirrored geometric forms softly stepping through the upper floor, in a manner reminiscent of the costumes designed by Malevich. Malevich's costumes were the beginnings of the Suprematist movement; the first step towards artistic abstract utopias.

This exhibition will appeal to those with an interest in early twentieth century history, those with a love for colour and abstraction, graphic illustrators and of course, graphic designers and publishers. The range of historical publications and iconic front covers, and daring, dynamic work will induce wide-eyed delight in all of the above. 


Marlow Moss

29nd September 2014 – 22nd March 2015, BP Spotlight at Tate Britain, London 

A recent hankering for geometric design has led me to seek out and collect traditional and current examples of mathematical regularity (all image credits are at the bottom of this post).

On a recent trip to the Tate Britain, I found myself gravitating towards the work of a lesser known artist, called Marlow Moss, who was, if you hadn't guessed from the gallery below, a contemporary and friend of Mondrian. She (yes she) bonded with Mondrian more so than with the other constructivists of their day over their use of parallel lines running from edge to edge of their paintings.

I found but a few of her works in the Tate Britain, but longed for more. Her use of yellow was liberating. It sets her apart from Mondrian; its buoyancy is hemmed in by close black lines, or radiates across a white space. This felt like a mark of femininity: a sensitive test of structural boundaries that cannot be achieved through the use of stark, blood red favoured by Mondrian.

Her personal life is also notable. From 1926 onwards, she dressed in a masculine fashion, and changed her forename from Marjorie to Marlow; her lifelong partner was a writer, named Antoinette Hendrika Nijhoff. She was also an athiest, with humanist tendencies, writing:

Works of Art are the creations and expressions of conscious minds or primitive emotions. Outside man, Art does not exist.
— Marlow Moss, Abstract Art, 1955

Lucy Howarth writes in her essay for the Tate, entitled Marlow Moss: Space, Movement, Light:

Moss cannot be confined to one particular field of academic study, as she pertains to several: British ... European ... feminist ... [and] queer art history. Moss relates to them all, and this is one reason for her obscurity. She was a British artist in Paris, a European in Cornwall, and woman artist among men. She disrupts and subverts the histories that could include her, and in the search for a coherent artistic narrative, has often been left out.

Her lifestyle was unlikely to have been acceptable to early 20th century society. I admire her boldness. Although her art is not an expression of her lifestyle in any sense, indeed all non-figurative work of this period was precisely a revolt against such a concept, I felt I understood the work a little better after hearing this information. Her temperate yellow tests and explores; it is boxed up and permeates in equal measure, embodying both restriction and expression, perhaps echoing her personal life.


Image Credits:
[Right to Left, Top to Bottom]
Carcass by Georg Nickolaus
Peach by Fujosshi
Self-portrait by Jenna Kellen
Notebook by Hubert/Fischer
Between Worlds by Julian Sirre
Photo by Lunarwhale
Notebook by Hubert/Fischer
Checkerboard with Light Colours by Piet Mondrian


Works referenced:
Curatorial information displayed at the Tate and curatorial essay:

"Marlow Moss: Space, Movement, Light" L. Howarth, 2014, electronically published by the Tate, available here:

Images of Marlow Moss's works from Google

All images and links accessed: 8th January 2014