The Daily Heller: Clive Piercy’s Epitome of LA Design

Posted inThe Daily Heller

Creating exhibitions based on a designer’s workspace has become a formidable way to frame their personality. How they worked is often reflected in how they lived.

The current exhibition devoted to Clive Piercy is an intimate portal into his life and vividly reveals his passion for graphic and typographic expression.

Piercy moved to Los Angeles from the U.K. in 1988 and co-founded the design firm Ph.D with Michael Hodgson. In 2007, he founded Air-Conditioned and continued to work with a roster of West Coast brands including Nike, Levi’s, Chronicle Books and Roxy/Quicksilver. Piercy was also a creative director and longtime educator at ArtCenter College of Design. His impact derived from a blend of wit, humor and formal virtuosity.

He was California through and through. In 2017, he passed away, leaving behind a diverse array of work. His legacy lives on and can be seen in the restaurant aesthetics of Bestia, Father’s Office and Belcampo.

Hello, LA: Clive Piercy – Inside the Mind of a Designer, now on view through June 24 at ArtCenter, is co-curated by Ann Field. In her words, “Clive spoke through his work, he knew how to make things truly resonate, and I think his spirit is in this.” I’ve asked Field to speak to the legacy he left behind.

Exhibition photographs by Art Gray

What triggered this exhibit of Clive Piercy’s work? 
I think it says a lot about Clive and a lot about America that he was recognized as a Fellow by the AIGA. When Clive died in 2017, I determined that there should be an exhibition about him and his work. The exhibition needed to show who he was and how he wove the things he loved into his design philosophy. I wanted the exhibition to be an insight into the person and not his design process exactly, because it was more complex than that. I wanted students and fellow designers to witness the complexity yet see how this coalesced into something decisive and original (which could be applied to client projects and his self-initiated design projects).

How did Clive distinguish himself, a Brit, from other designers in his American orbit?
In America, Clive stood out because he was schooled in the European tradition. But it didn’t end there. He was incredibly serious and passionate about design. He was equally passionate and cognizant of literature, wit, photography, fashion, art, music and sport. When that expertise collided with his observations of the American spirit, the bright sunlight and its effect on color, the horizontality of the city and the graphic works of Ed Ruscha, this wonderful amalgam formed the crucial element in his work. He took it all very seriously. He was a gifted typographer and his vast knowledge and passions informed his work and were the reasons why he was a brilliant creative director. Ed Ruscha’s “Santa Monica to Olympic” is featured in the exhibition, courtesy of the artist.

Was there an “aha” moment in any piece that you found while curating the show?
Installing “The Positive” series of four prints entitled “Yes, Know*, Maybe, Today” was an “aha” moment. The work needed to be appreciated at scale. You could literally experience the energy of these prints when hung on the monumental Williamson Gallery walls. It was incredibly dynamic. I knew they were good but I could not have predicted this effect.

How would you describe Clive, and by extension, the gestalt of the exhibition itself?
Yes, it is a look “Inside the Mind of the Designer.” Here is a quote from James Biber, architect who flew in for the opening: “What a thrill last night was! The exhibition is truly stunning and such a fantastic tribute to Clive. What’s so nice (and I hope there are newspapers, mags, etc. lined up to review it) is that it is about Clive and not just his work. Those things are hard (maybe impossible) to separate and most exhibitions miss the person in favor of their output. The decision to create his desk/office scene and the table of objects is so, so Clive. And as I was saying, the wall of artifacts was so nice to study in detail to see what he did and what he found/collected.”

Was there anything that you could not fit or find that you miss not being shown?
I had ambitious plans. The logo identity and branding Clive created for Roxy and Quicksilver was applied in unexpected ways. I wanted to include the hull of the Roxy racing yacht, with its after-race battered sail. Clive designed the type and the application of the color blocks. It was a complete design.

Why is it called Hello, LA?
LA is one of those places in the world that you feel you already know through film and television. That said, when you get here it is different. Hello, LA is a phrase every new seeker says when they arrive.

What will happen to the work when you say goodbye?
ArtCenter Archives will house his recordings, presentations, film and graphic catalog. There will also be key printed pieces archived. Denise Gonzalez Crisp will be instrumental in helping to collate this material.

Posted inThe Daily Heller