Oz 12: Existence is unhappiness

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Image courtesy of Rick Poynor

Oz 12, the Tax-dodge special, a co-operatively designed multi-media poster.

Co-operatively*  designed by Barney Bubbles and myself to begin with, in July 1967, we worked on and off for a while, and then finished with many others, including John Dove, over a time period than lasted, from my initial meeting with Jon Goodchild, for about five months. I don’t think it reached the streets ’til January of ’68. (I was credited as ‘Eric Stodge’. Wikipedia is wrong when it says A1GG Roy Burge was one of the designers, maybe someone could change the reference.) John Dove has accurate memories of the working on Oz 12 and I will post them in a later post.

When I was cross examined over the credit ‘rights’ on Oz12 I was asked “Who was the art director? ” Which, on  this job at least, was the wrong question big time, since both Barney and I were working as communards, and avoided the term with contempt, considering it an irrelevant name of commerce.

Barney or Muggeridge (?) drew the ruled rapidograph art. Barney and I started the Cow-gummed the collage which was finished in a massive work out (at which I was not present) with John Dove, Staffford Cliff and John Muggeridge amongst others. Faces in the boxes come from a history of the cinema and a Picture Post (?) history of technology, both from the fifties.

This sheet is is a dart board – one throws a projectile, or uses a blow pipe with a needle in a fletched cork perhaps, at Donald Duck, then reads off the appropriate codes and learns one’s fate. I invented the game and wrote the instructions amongst other things.  With post cards by various artists including John Dove’s quartet of breasts (lower left, top row, far left).

The wheels on left are the landing gear of the TSR2 bomber that my dad worked on, Barney put them in, said, “Here’s something for your dad.” As others have pointed out the poster is influenced by Paolozzi. But my original drawing, spotted by Barney, was derived from a Paul Klee watercolour of a figure in a skirt, which in turn could be similar to a portrait of St. James(?) in the Book of Kells. Oz 12 also has references to Zen Buddhist art.

That’s my photograph up top of Twickenham student Dave Palmer, later of JWT in Birmingham, grinning at the world. He knew the Great Train Robber, Mr Biggs, before he escaped. While Biggs was doing time, Palmer ran errands for him, so he said. Palmer commissioned me one-time to design an ocean going pod-boat, based on a water-spider and made of moulded plastic with eight out-rigger floats, for ICI plastics. It sank as a project.

I took the art work up to Paisley to print, with the replacement cover drawing by Martin Sharp, by this time Barney was elsewhere and very pizzed-off about the cover, and i was stuck up in Paisley for a week. I put the art together for the Martin Sharp cover sheet, including the pages in what was to be the ‘center fold’ with the line, ‘Tax dodge special’ by the staple, that led to a court case by the tax man, centered around the fact that they said it wasn’t a magazine but a poster, using my words as evidence. I think this may have been ultimately the cause of the demise of Oz. My bad.

*Irrelevant fact, 1137084, was my family Co-op store member number back in the days when you got a rebate for shopping there. I’m amused that I still recall the number.

Quotes from Rick Poynor’s masterful summation of  the Bubbles’ genius:

succinct words about the Fulcher, known as Barney B, and his ways at: http//designobserver.com

Rick Poynor: “The intricately reflexive nature of his work made Bubbles a true original in his day. No previous Britishdesigner had produced mass-market graphic communications this playful, personal, freighted with allusion, or tricksy. Bubbles was a postmodernist before this new category of graphic design had been identified and defined, and he is as significant an innovator as his American contemporary April Greiman. His designs refer to art history (Mucha, Lissitzky, Van Doesburg, Kandinsky, Picabia, Mondrian, Pollock); to popular culture and kitsch (the wallpaper on Ian Dury’s Do It Yourself, the shagpile rug on the Attractions’ Mad About the Wrong Boy); to graphic processes and the nature of the printed medium (the color bars on Elvis Costello’s This Year’s Model, the scuff marks on Get Happy!!); and — never letting us forget his “anonymous” authorship — to the designer himself. Two of these oblique self-portraits, showing Bubbles’ large nose, are well known (Costello’s Armed Forces and Dr Feelgood’s Fast Women & Slow Horses), but there are other graphic faces placed where you wouldn’t expect to find them, such as the image on the copyright page of the “Lives” exhibition catalogue (1979) designed for the Arts Council, and the monumental (block)head in Brian Griffin’s book Power: British Management in Focus (1981), which could be intended as cheeky substitutes for Bubbles’ inevitably absent design credit. When The Face asked to photograph him, he made them a picture out of fragments instead.


Barney Bubbles by Barney Bubbles, 1981

Poynor: “Attempts to hoist Bubbles out of graphic design and claim he was an artist all along do him a disservice by downplaying his achievement as a designer, and denigrate design by implying that anything this good must belong in another category. In reality, Bubbles’ work, like Greiman’s or Saville’s, revealed what can sometimes be possible within applied visual communication, in spite of all the constraints, when a gifted graphic designer finds imaginative client collaborators willing to allow some space to experiment. Compare his work with many classic late 1960s and pre-New Wave 1970s record covers: usually they are composed of a single commanding image with the artist’s name and title. Bubbles’ sleeves are graphic constructions, offering multiple points of interest, dispersing the viewer’s attention. He showed that the visual language of design — type, symbol, pattern, shape, often reassembled in unfamiliar configurations — could be a powerful, exciting and subtle medium for involving a popular audience. Although conditions often conspire against such freedoms now, he is a leading figure within the evolution of intelligently reflexive design. Known but unknown. It’s about time the slower moving design history books caught up with him.”
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