Saturday, December 4, 2010

Paul Gorman talks about Barny Bubbles


The late Barney Bubbles is an artist I greatly admire, so when Paul Gorman came to give a talk about him I was keen to hear more.

Barny Bubbles, born Colin Fulcher, was only really recognised for his fantastic music graphic design after the release of Paul Gorman's book, Reasons to be Cheerful. Tragically, Bubbles suffered from depression and in 1983 he took his own life. He had never taken ownership of his work and refused interviews, and still to this day his work is being discovered. Today, due to Gorman's book, he is being given the recognition he should have received in his working life.

His music graphic design of the 1970's and early 1980's is truly wonderful. He created over 150 fantastic record sleeve designs for artists such as Hawkwind, The Damned, Elvis Costello and Ian Dury and the Blockheads. Other projects included: concert posters for the Rolling Stones and The Muleskinners, a psychedelic light show for Pink Floyd, logos, set designs, music press ads and music videos. His work varies greatly; he took inspiration from artists such as Kandinsky, Roy Litchenstein and Jackson Pollock. Such as a cover Barney designed in 1978 for The Damned, Music For Pleasure, was inspired by Kandinsky, where Bubbles spelled out the group’s name playfully with abstract shapes.

One of Barney's most famous works was the Blockhead logo he designed for Ian Dury & the Blockheads which demonstrates simple, but brilliant visual thinking. It is playful and witty, it looks stylish and the message is strong.

Barney went on to do further design work for the band, creating the cover design for the album Do It Yourself in 1979. The sleeve was printed in twelve different versions onto real sheets of wallpaper. The design was based upon the theme of home improvement suggested in the title as well as then giving the purchaser a choice of their own as to which of the different designs they would like. These are some of my favourite designs, purely for the conceptual thinking.

Barney designed covers for the early Elvis Costello albums. The cover for This Year's Model was deliberately designed to look like a misprint. He built in mistakes; he cut off the first letters of the artist and album name and it has the CMYK printer test marks to the right hand side. It was subtle yet quirky. I love the idea of incorporating mistakes into work; something unpredictable and unexpected is exciting and something that cannot be recreated.

The many cover designs Barney did for the band Hawkwind were lively and magical. The block colours of red, black, grey and orange on one of the covers make it look imperial and almost fascist, like a piece of propaganda. It looks striking and powerful, and if it was on a shelf it would definitely catch my attention.

I love the varying style of Bubbles' work which was always quirky and eye catching. There is always a strong concept that is presented well visually.


  1. I have recently stumbled up on Barney Bubbles as part of research for a CTS brief about the IT and OZ counte cultue mags. I am absolutely fascinated by this talented designer. Lucky you on getting Paul Gorman in. How did they manage this? I am studying BA Graphic Design at Leeds College of Art (as a very mature student!) Like your blog

  2. Oh thanks, well Manchester Met School of Art is a pretty reputable university, but no more so than Leeds College of Art, I'm sure if you asked a tutor they may be able to arrange for him to give a talk.