Alan Fletcher: 50 years of graphic work (and play)
Grafik Magazine

Photography: Mat Thornton
Text: Craig Oldham

Last night saw the opening of Alan Fletcher: Fifty years of graphic work and play, a touring exhibition making it’s first pit-stop at Manchester’s Cube gallery, in itself is a serious coup (being north of the village and all). And as it celebrated the most unique figure in graphic design, as expected, the pokey white rooms of the Cube were wall-to-wall with black shirts, man-bags, and free vino, all gathered to peruse a show that needed no introduction.

Nevertheless, it got one.

Peter Savillle—who worked with Alan during his tumultuous tenure at Pentagram—was drafted in to say a few words and open the show, which he did in trademark fashion: late. Mind you, Peter’s punctuality got the Graphics sewing-circle going: “I’ve heard he’s late delivering work too…”, “They say that he’s got a grand entrance planned…”, “I heard he’s going to appear through a hole in the floor, dressed in all-white with a Marlborough parting his lips…”. He didn’t. But, after passing half-an-hour, he did amble in.

Following a few words for Peter, and uncomfortable shuffle with the mic’, Saville passed-on some thoughtful anecdotes, and generally sincere words on both his friendship and working relationship with Alan. “We used to playfully tease one another.” Saville said, “One day I saw him crouched over a piece of paper with a paintbrush. Trying to ignore typesetting, he was putting down a message onto the paper in his handwriting. I stood over him and asked ‘Alan, can you remember typefaces or are you too old now?’ to which Alan smiled and replied ‘Yes I remember them, they’re a crutch for designers like you.’”

But the distinctively recognisable erratic handwriting is only a very small piece to the jigsaw of work on show from Alan the Prolific. Add to it his outstanding professional body of work for clients like Pirelli, Olivetti, Phaidon (and others), then throw in his unforgettable collages, watercolours, doodles, inked-meanderings, ashtrays, sculptures, and box-typography, and you get a truly comprehensive reflection of a man who integrated his life and work to make the two (as Alan himself described it) ‘seamless’.

Alan was known to describe the design process as ‘drunkeness’, that when a project was going well you felt ‘drunk’. I think my drunkeness was down to my partiality for the red on offer, but as you moved through the exhibition, what I did feel was shared by another designer on the evening, as he described it—‘heartbreaking’. The work on show is that good, that you’re overcome with the longing to have done it, and it breaks your heart because you didn’t—Alan did. And Alan did nothing but great work. And although I use his first name intentionally, I mean no disrespect, only that’s how unique a figure he was in graphic design—what John, Paul, George, and Ringo, were to music, Alan was to graphics. “The work is timeless” said Peter Saville “and Alan Fletcher himself, is timeless”.