CoviDiaries: Finding the Printed Past in Neville Brody’s Lockdown London
The biggest gifts are often those buried in adversity. In my case, the ones concealed in lockdown have been essentially those of time and space—time to declutter, review and organize, and space to breathe, observe and reflect.
London in lockdown is, I imagine, pretty much similar to anywhere else: largely desolate streets, clearer air, and a mix of anger and fear, the intensity of which is continually adjusted based on the ever-varied extent of interpersonal distance. There are people who do care, and some who definitely don’t. As the stringent rules have started to relax, I have simply shifted from a state of indoor isolation to open-air recluse.
My studio is about a 30-minute walk from my central-London home, and the journey between the two allows me to take a path through a number of green spaces sheltered among the streets and houses. Like Charlton Heston in The Swimmer, I wend my way through around seven small parks en route, all allowing me to absorb the brightly colored oxygen of early summer and the accompanying optimism of nature.
The local park in early summer bloom.
Park irony, wry humor in lockdown.
Canal-side cherry trees in blossom against the backdrop of Google’s new European headquarters under construction at Kings Cross.
London was built over time from villages which all expanded to meet each other in one continuous sprawl. The studio itself is located in an old Georgian house in an area of the city replete with its original winding streets, small coffee shops and boutique stores. The smell in the street today comes from those that remain open: the fresh fish from the fishmongers a few doors away, and the small coffee shop in between. The handmade perfumery further down, normally adding to this heady, crazy circus of fragrance, is as yet un-reopened, a luxury for now.
Nature is returning more confidently to the inner city, in this case taking a midday nap on our roof.
The studio is empty; everyone is on WFH and spending the day zooming in and out of reality. This gift of time and space has, in a sense, disrupted some of the disruption and destressed some of the continual stress of working life. I am taking advantage of this and, after many years of neglect, diving into the locked archive room to explore and reconnect with its dusty contents. Once structured, and now disheveled and disordered from years of tumultuous transition between numerous studio locations, it is now significantly extended by the addition of no-longer-functioning fan heaters and endless boxes of obsolete business correspondence.
Trying to establish order among the chaos.
Somewhere between a safari and an archaeological dig, I have been prising open drawers and folders and pulling everything out into the light again. In doing so, I have rediscovered many objects and ideas I’d completely forgotten about, and two main thoughts have struck me.
One: We used to make so much stuff with our hands. Hand-drawn lettering, physical artworks, stuff to photograph, painted stuff; all slightly imperfect, glued together and cleaned up with scalpels and ink and gouache and Rotring pen. And two: We used to make so much stuff for print. There are reams and reams of printed material here—posters, record sleeves, brochures, magazines—and I realize in our digitally sanitized lives we miss this human touch. The only print material I seem to receive these days is local food delivery menus.
An early example of physical artwork, in this case for an advert for Cabaret Voltaire. Everything was made and constructed by hand and placed on layers with an instruction overlay for the printer. You had to imagine how the printed thing would look and then work backwards to ensure everything worked, and then pray.
Original drawings and corrections overlay for Arcadia typeface, around 1986.
Industria Italic—1984 drawings for a font that has never been produced.
Art school work in 1978 imagining what would happen if El Lissitzky was designing record covers (1/2).
NB1 Brody type—the original artwork drawing from 1987. I was amazed to see I’d drawn it so small. Alongside this, a frisbee for Men’s Bigi, the Tokyo-based fashion company.
Using the font I designed for FUSE 14, this poster from 1994 accompanied the publication of the second book.
Proposed sketch for Parliament’s greatest hits album, 1985.
Typeface Six—original drawings from 1986 before digitization, making it the first font I drew in Fontographer.
Popaganda—I’m currently working on this, originally designed for Arena Homme + magazine, now to be published as a full family of weights this summer. We are looking at final correction notes. It’s all on screen now.
This gift of time and space is rare and I fear won’t last much longer. It’s not finished, it’ll never be finished—I’ve so much diving still to do, but what a joy to illuminate these unsure days.
Build back better.
Empty central London. What’s remarkable is the almost complete lack of vapor trails and the clear blue of the sky.
I’m blessed to have such a view, with windows that open like a balcony to reveal amazing skies.
Our restricted view.