Back to the playground

Text: Mike Dempsey

From 1992 you’d find Alan sitting in his well-worn Eames office chair amidst an array of his colourful work set out in his pristine, white-walled, immaculate mews studio. Here he unleashed a torrent of highly personal work. For a while he virtually abandoned conventional typesetting in favour of his own scratchy handwriting, along with simple, primary-coloured paper. He set about amusing himself, rather than others. He also decided that he would say ‘no’ to uninteresting work and people for the rest of his life.

He also embarked on two highly successful books: Beware Wet Paint and The Art of Looking Sideways. Around that time I interviewed Alan for a magazine and was taken by a menagerie of highly coloured animals made from loo rolls, card, cork and string displayed in his studio. He’d actually made them for his grandson, Tobia, to amuse him while on holiday. But Tobia never got to play with them because Alan liked them so much. They ended up in the 2001 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. 
His final years saw him as busy as ever: consultant art director of Phaidon Press; Domus magazine cover designer; and creative advisor to Novartis, a pharmaceutical conglomerate, for their new research and resource complex in Basel. The latter was an ambitious project that would have taken Alan 30 years to complete. 'I’ll be 101 by then,' he told me dryly. 
Well, he never reached that grand old age. On 21 September 2006 he left us, far too early. The image of him that stays in my mind is of Alan on his hands and knees in the gutter, surreptitiously cutting out a choice piece of discarded cardboard to take back to his creative lair to add to one of his many collage pieces.
Alan Fletcher leaves behind an astonishing body of work: work that helped form the foundation of 20th-century British graphics. And much of it is here on this site for all to see.