Why does every advert look the same? Blame Corporate Memphis – Wired UK It’s an aesthetic that’s often referred to as ‘Corporate Memphis’, and it’s become the definitive style for big tech and small startups, relentlessly imitated and increasingly parodied. It involves the use of simple, well-bounded scenes of flat cartoon figures in action, often with a slight distortion in proportions (the most common of which being long, bendy arms) to signal that a company is fun and creative. Corporate Memphis is inoffensive and easy to pull off, and while its roots remain in tech marketing and user interface design, the trend has started to consume the visual world at large. It’s also drawing intense criticisms from those within the design world.
“It really boils my piss to be honest,” says Jack Hurley, a Leeds-based illustrator who says his main output is “daft seaside posters.” Hurley was familiar with the style from Facebook’s login page, but had started to see the illustrations, with their sensible, slightly strange characters, while walking around his neighbourhood as well. “I live in a student area and there are some real scumbag letting agents,” he says. “Suddenly they’ve got all this marketing with the bendy-arm-people.”
There’s just so much of it, as this collection curated by tech writer Claire L Evans shows.
It starts with a critique of a ludicrous food delivery advert before going into more detail about this style and where it’s come from. But stick around for examples from the 1920s of this flat geometric style done right.
I think I’ll pass on that. How about these instead?
Face masks hold fish tanks and overgrown patches of botanics in surreal illustrations by Kit Layfield – Colossal A long way from the packs of blue, disposable masks many of us bulk purchased at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the face coverings Philadelphia-based illustrator Kit Layfield envisions are a bit more complex and otherworldly. He draws intricate contraptions featuring the traditional nose-and-mouth covering that then are connected to larger collars adorned with luxuriant shrubs, miniature ecosystems, and tiny fish tanks. The individual subjects all are situated within the diverse environments, providing the necessary structure to keep the micro-systems flourishing.
Dazzling coronavirus painting by biologist David Goodsell – Kottke
“You have to admit, these viruses are so symmetrical that they’re beautiful,” said Mr. Goodsell, an associate professor at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla. “Are bright colors and pretty stuff the right approach? The jury’s still out. I’m not trying to make these things look dangerous, I want people to understand how they’re built.”
Vintage Leap Day postcards – Postcrossing
2020 is a Leap Year, so how about a look at some old postcards illustrating one of the best-known Leap Day traditions? If you’ve never heard of this, the tradition is that on Leap Day (and only on Leap Day!) women can propose to men.
In the Victorian era, there was no better way to let someone know they were unwanted than with the ultimate insult: the vinegar valentine. Also called “comic valentines,” these unwelcome notes were sometimes crass and always a bit emotionally damaging in the anti-spirit of Valentine’s Day.
OK, so let’s assume your Valentine shares your feelings and agrees to go on a date. What could possibly go wrong?
Stupid Cupid: Valentine’s Day disasters, as seen by waiters – The Guardian
While some of us make too much effort on Valentine’s Day, others haven’t even mastered the first rule of dating: don’t perv on someone who is not your partner. Stephenson-Roberts observes that “wandering eyes” are a common feature of the evening. Digital flirting isn’t unheard of, either. Peppe Corallo, bar manager at London’s Kitchen at Holmes, remembers one woman who suddenly started screaming at her boyfriend during dinner. Why? He had been checking Tinder at the table. She hurled her champagne in his face before storming out. Unsurprisingly, her sodden lover soon paid up and left too. “I felt bad for him in some ways, but at the same time, don’t put your phone on the table where your girlfriend can see,” Corallo advises.
Don’t worry, these gangly-armed cartoons are here to protect you from big tech – Eye on Design
In this contribution to The Guardian’s Illustrated City series, writer, printmaker and illustrator Francesca Roe shares with us her views of our home town, or rather, the lower, grubbier half of it.
Faded grandeur: the industrial glories of neglected south Leeds – a cartoon
A walk through south Leeds reveals a district caught between industrial grandeur, post-industrial wasteland and urban blandness. The starting point is Leeds station, where the 1960s edifice and the 1930s art-deco concourse sit directly above the Dark Arches, a series of vaults spanning the River Aire that serve as the station’s foundation. A metal walkway passes through the Dark Arches and over the Aire, where passers-by can stop and watch the churning water receding into darkness. Around 18m bricks were used to construct the arches during the 1860s – the largest such project in the world at that time.
Through the Dark Arches lies the Leeds-Liverpool canal and the gentrified tip of Holbeck: “Holbeck Urban Village”, a tight knot of former red-brick flax mills and steam engine works. The Round Foundry dates back to 1795 and was once home to steam engine manufacturers; today the complex is home to offices, a brewery and Yorkshire’s official tourist board. The gentrification of this small part of Holbeck has done little to ease poverty in south Leeds as a whole, but it has preserved a part of the district’s history that was previously at risk.
Some wonderful illustrations accompany this melancholic piece, with more on Instagram. Very evocative of the inner-city scrappiness and griminess of the area.
Here’s a link to some more of her writing on a similar theme, how cities deal with their past.
What should cities do with ‘dark sites’, where tragic or sinister events occurred?
It’s unsurprising that communities want to physically erase the sites of violent crimes. In other cases, though, dark sites hold a deeper historic and social significance that can be commemorated. In these cases, redevelopment offers an alternative to demolition. High Royds Hospital was a psychiatric institution in Leeds which closed in 2003 and turned into housing. I remember walking around the site in the early stages of redevelopment. The grounds felt desolate, and it was easy to imagine the abuses that took place there.
Octave Uzanne’s “The End of Books” (1894)
The end of books has been declared many times. Over a century before the invention of the e-reader and the meteoric rise of the audiobook and podcast, ardent French bibliophile Octave Uzanne (1851–1931) wrote a story, inspired by rapid advances in phonographic technology, imagining how printed text might disappear …
One of these men — called the Bibliophile — is asked his opinion on the future of books. He replies as follows:
If by books you are to be understood as referring to our innumerable collections of paper, printed, sewed, and bound in a cover announcing the title of the work, I own to you frankly that I do not believe (and the progress of electricity and modern mechanism forbids me to believe) that Gutenberg’s invention can do otherwise than sooner or later fall into desuetude as a means of current interpretation of our mental products.
“Printing”, he continues, “is…threatened with death by the various devices for registering sound which have lately been invented, and which little by little will go on to perfection.”
Check out these marvellous illustrations or click through for more or to read this yourself from a digitised copy of Scribner’s Magazine.
Every restaurant-table will be provided with its phonographic collection; the public carriages, the waiting-rooms, the state-rooms of steamers, the halls and chambers of hotels will contain phonographotecks for the use of travellers. The railways will replace the parlor car by a sort of Pullman Circulating Library, which will cause travellers to forget the weariness of the way while leaving their eyes free to admire the landscapes through which they are passing.
In style, very different from Edward Gorey, but perhaps not in tone.
Woshibai’s hilariously clever comics explore themes of mundanity and reverie
Born and raised in Shanghai, where he currently resides, artist Woshibai illustrates amusing scenes that, though clearly imaginary and surreal, are often relatable in their tone. Featuring a host of simply drawn figures, his characters frequently find themselves in frustrating, confusing or ridiculous situations that play on notions of mundanity and reverie.
Turner Prize winner Mark Wallinger unveils new public work, The World Turned Upside Down
Forcing the viewer to reconsider their relationship to the traditional Mercator projection of the world (i.e. the one most of us immediately see in our mind’s eye when we’re asked to conjure up an image of the globe) by asking us to consider both the vastness of the oceans and the true size of Africa, The World Turned Upside Down we’re told, reflects “the spirit of progressive enquiry that has characterised the School since its inception.”
Minouche Shafik, LSE Director, is quoted as saying, “this bold new work by Mark Wallinger encapsulates what LSE is all about. We are committed to tackling the biggest global challenges through our research and teaching, and this means seeing the world from different and unfamiliar points of view.”
It’s a simple idea, effectively realised, and sits nicely alongside this magazine cover from Germany.
“It’s interesting, because the European map looks totally strange, even though fundamentally I haven’t changed anything, apart from turning the country labels 180 degrees.” He says the decision was mainly motivated by the team in Berlin’s feelings about Brexit. “Personally, I’m sad about it,” he says. “But like the cover itself, I think it will change everything without changing very much.”
Art, design and politics are more entwined than ever.
Luc Tuymans: ‘People are becoming more and more stupid, insanely stupid’
This is a dark time, Tuymans says. “Think of England, it’s no longer an empire although the English still think it is, which is basically insanity. Think about Brexit, about this narcissistic idiot Trump, the whole constellation of the West is in dire straits.” In the face of this, it is important to study not just our history—“people forget, that’s one thing,” Tuymans says—but the way we construct it and misremember it. At the heart of Tuymans’s project is a central conceit: that images are unreliable, that they can offer us no more than a fragment of reality and that our own memories, personal or collective, mislead us.
Exploring ways of representing the human body has been a mainstay of art for millennia. Here are two examples — one hard as iron, the other soft as paper.
The body as machine: first imagined in 1927, now brought to new, animated life
Originally an interactive installation, this short video from the German animator Henning M Lederer breathes new life into Kahn’s illustration, augmenting the original image with mechanical movements and sounds. Lederer’s update offers a visually and conceptually rich melding of technology, biology and design, echoing a time when machinery permeated the collective consciousness in a manner quite similar to computing technology today.
Paper illustrations and GIFs explore the body and mind in new work by Eiko Ojala
New Zealand and Estonia-based illustrator Eiko Ojala creates cut paper illustrations that present shadow and depth through creative layering of colorful pieces of paper. Recently, his editorial illustrations have been focused on the mind and body, like a cut paper GIF he created for a story on heart attacks in the New York Times. Others, like two Washington Post illustrations, attempt to uncover the thoughts and feelings sequestered in children’s minds by layering images inside the shape of a boy’s profile.
Oh **UK! What next for Brexit?
When historians come to write the tale of Britain’s attempts to leave the European Union, this week may be seen as the moment the country finally grasped the mess it was in. In the campaign, Leavers had promised voters that Brexit would be easy because Britain “holds all the cards”. This week Parliament was so scornful of the exit deal that Theresa May had spent two years negotiating and renegotiating in Brussels that mps threw it out for a second time, by 149 votes—the fourth-biggest government defeat in modern parliamentary history. The next day mps rejected what had once been her back-up plan of simply walking out without a deal. The prime minister has lost control. On Wednesday four cabinet ministers failed to back her in a crucial vote. Both main parties, long divided over Brexit, are seeing their factions splintering into ever-angrier sub-factions. And all this just two weeks before exit day.
Another review of Mark Dery’s biography of the “deadpan Victorian-Surrealist”, Edward Gorey. This one seems more positive than the previous one I found.
Edward Gorey: A highly conjectural man
Hackett would be the first of many people who championed Gorey, who at Parker worked on murals and artist projects for the school paper. It’s with Hackett that we begin to see a defining element of Gorey’s career: the willingness of others to embrace Gorey’s weirdo style.
The New Yorker magazine has a review of an Edward Gorey biography. I don’t think the reviewer cares much for the book, but greatly appreciates the life and work of this strange artist: “It’s nice to have a biography of Gorey, with whatever silliness.”
Edward Gorey’s enigmatic world
These dark territories give the book’s overt themes a place in which to burrow and ripen. Alison Lurie wrote that, in looking at such drawings of Gorey’s, “one of the things you want to remember is what the nineteen-fifties were like. . . . All of a sudden everybody was sort of square and serious, and the whole idea was that America was this wonderful country and everybody was smiling and eating cornflakes and playing with puppies.” Gorey’s hatching and cross-hatching were his answer to that—the shadows inside the sunny hedge.
On the shore a bat, or possibly an umbrella, disengaged itself from the shrubbery, causing those nearby to recollect the miseries of childhood.
The spreadsheet architecture of Emma Stevens
Normally the mere mention of a spreadsheet can bring a distant glaze across the eyes of most creatives – the file format perceived as the antithesis of imagination by those desiring to create rather than tabulate. But Australian landscape architect Emma Stevens imagined the mundane Excel spreadsheet as an opportunity rather than an impediment to exploring art, using a tried and true technique of type as a medium to create a vast skyline out of text and cells.
It’s hard to believe that it’s the same tool, but used in a very different way, as the one this Japanese artist uses.
Meet Tatsuo Horiuchi, the 77-year-old artist who ‘paints’ Japanese landscapes with Excel
For over 15 years, Japanese artist Tatsuo Horiuchi has rendered the subtle details of mountains, cherry blossoms, and dense forests with the most unlikely tool: Microsoft Excel. The 77-year-old illustrator shunned the idea of paying for expensive painting supplies or even a basic drawing program for his computer, saying that he prefers Excel even over Microsoft Paint because it has “more functions and is easier to use.” Using simple vector drawing tools developed primarily for graphs and simple shapes, Horiuchi instead draws panoramic scenes of life in rural Japan.
Sadly, all the spreadsheets I create are far more conventional.
Buffalo Bill Gates makes celebrity portraits like you’ve never seen
Buffalo Bill Gates, aka Swedish artist Kalle Mattsson, a creator whose work is very much perfect for the part of the web made up of memes, idol irreverence and anarchic art. His weirdo celebrity portraits mash up famous faces with other celebrity identities or even fictional entities to create offbeat hybrid personalities like Putintin featured here.
As well as being really funny, I love how perfectly these faces line up. It must have taken ages to find photos with just the right angle.
In support of Mental Health Awareness Week earlier this month, several freelance illustrators discussed their own experiences with anxiety, depression and a range of other mental health issues, with the aim of supporting and encouraging others that may be facing similar issues.
“This is, of course, nonsense. Though it’s an attitude that I see changing in the culture, it still bears repeating that developing healthy social habits is as important for a freelancer as their technique, professional practices or work ethic.”
There are links to a range of resources and suggestions, but I think the interviews with the dozen or so artists on their issues and successes is most inspiring.
Tobias Hall on how mindfulness helped with insomnia and anxiety What did you find helped your situation? “Mindfulness was and is the single biggest reason behind my recovery. It taught me a completely new way of looking at what happens in the mind. Over time I have learnt to identify the ‘my mind’ and ‘me’ as two separate things – I accept that I’m not always in control of the noise which goes on up there. I understand that behind all of that noise, my mind is only ever looking out for danger, as it’s evolved to do. And as such, it means I buy into thoughts and feelings a lot less than I did in the past. For sure, I still get caught up in negative thought and anxiety is still a part of my life, but my relationship with it has fundamentally changed and it’s no longer a big problem for me day-to-day.
Illustrator Sharmelan Murugiah on coping with depression How have these experiences stemmed from, or been tied to, the life of being a freelance illustrator? “I do feel the life of being an illustrator can be quite lonely. I am set up in a solitary home studio. I made my way into this profession via architecture and then design so I have not had those early connections with folks in the industry. The growing effect of social media on my work can also make you feel pressured. Seeing work pour out of other artists social accounts even though I know we use social media generally to present the best of ourselves online.”