A designer of genius
RSA Journal
June 1996

Beware Wet Paint
By Alan Alan Fletcher
by Jeremy Myerson, Rick Poyner & David Gibbs

A poster is needed to announce a design seminar at which there are to be six keynote speakers. The single image on the poster is of a hand painted in blue with the fingers outstretched. Guess how many fingers.

This striking and witty poster is one of the more than three hundred visual images in a book which is a remarkable retrospective of 35 years work by alan Fletcher, whose repotation as one of the world's leading graphic designers is triumphantly confirmed by its publication.

Alan Fletcher RDI is well known to the RSA for which he has undertaken many projects over the years, the most recent being the design of the emblem for the PROJECT 2001. He is a founding member of Pentagram, the international design consultancy, and in the course of his career has won nearly every international accolade going. In 1992 he left Pentagram to open his own studio and is currently a consultant to DOMUS, the italian magazine and Phaidon, the publishers of this book.

Gathered here are the posters, calenders, corporate identities, magazine and book covers commissioned by others. There are also many examples of his astonishing and fertile visual application in mind.

The pictures are accompanied by a perceptive commentary by Myerson who has also provided two of the four essays about Fletcher and his work. The other two are by David Gibbs and Rick Poynor respectively.

The words provide a useful context for the pitcures but many of the pictures are as verbal as they are visual. The words 'A typeface is an alphabet in a strait jacket' are written with Fletcher's idiosyncratic pen across a page which introduces one of the 17 sections of the book. He has many ways to reshape words into pictures: for example, drawing  the word MANHATTAN to suggest a clutch of New York skyscrapers, or interpreting REUTERS as a series of tickertape dots; or a poster which superimposes a photograph of a speaker over his lengthy and impressive curriculum vitae to announce his lecture.

A blending of visual and verbal wit is at the heart of everything he undertakes. It is the creative impulse behind his powerful use of colour, his juxtapositioning of simple cut-out shapes, his economic use of his pen. A wine glass created from three circles and two lines; a seascape from a series of pen strokes; and a visual interpretation of Ireland seen from Wales.

This last drawing is one of a number of a number reproduced from a 1992 calendar comprising images of the twelve countries in the European Community. It alone is a good reason for buying this book for which a written review can scarcely do justice. Alan Fletcher trained at the Royal College of Art, which has produced a number of fine artists of genius but it is primarily a college of design and amongst its graphic designers there have been a number who also deserve that description. There is no doubt that Alan Fletcher is one of them.

Written by Peter Gorb
Former member of the RSA Council,
Associate Professor of Design Management at the London Business School