Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Sixties: BIG IDEAS // small books

by Jenny Diski
BIG IDEAS // small books / A Picador Paperback Original
A brilliant, alternative take on 1960's swinging London, Jenny Diski offers radical reconsiderations of the social, political, and personal meaning of that turbulent era.

What was Jenny Diski doing in the 1960's? A lot: Dropping out, taking drugs, buying clothes, having sex, demonstrating, and spending time in mental hospitals. Now, as Diski herself turns sixty years old, she examines what has been lost in the purple haze of nostalgia and selective memory of that era, what endures, and what has always been the same. From the vantage point of London, she takes stock of the Sexual Revolution, the fashion, the drug culture, and the psychiatric movements and education systems of the day. What she discovers is that the ideas of the sixties often paved the way for their antithesis, and that by confusing liberation and libertarianism, a new kind of radicalism would take over both in the UK and America. Witty, provocative, and gorgeously written, Jenny Diski promises to feed your head with new insights about everything that was, and is, the sixties.

Once you create a series look, you can get handcuffed by it.
For the BIG IDEAS // small books series, photographer Jon Shireman and I had set up a single image conceptual approach, stripped down to its visual essence with a limited color palette around the conceit that the book itself was physically experiencing the BIG IDEA of that book.
This book was not about the 60s as it was experienced in America but in England. So I had to find some way to distinguish this aspect. Without the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War to draw upon, I saw that 60s London was more about external cultural changes. Mod fashion styles, ala Austin Powers. I did some research on Mod culture, Carnaby Street fashions, groovy industrial designs, tie-dye, abstract trippy art and saw that all of those approaches demanded an explosion of colors. Which was a possible problem. This direction might be too colorful to fit in with the established look of the series.

I needed to say UK and the Mod culture of the 60s. I thought of taking the British Flag aka The Union Jack, and tie dyeing it would be a smart combination of the two. Jon had an all-white flag created from cloth and we experimented with just using the flag's blue and red colors. But it wasn't working as well as I thought and there was too much color scattered all around.

Maybe if I tried breaking it into segments to contain the colors. But it still wasn't clicking. BOLLOCKS!

Forget the tie-dye and work in a peace sign instead.

PISS POOR Attempt!

Maybe a more graphic approach. I tried to find relationship patterns between the angles of the peace sign and Union Jack. For a good moment I thought this would be it!


Maybe I should go full out and just commit to using a multi-colored tie-dye pattern to make it recognizable:

BLIMEY! It was too much color and breaking away from the series look. And they all abandoned the simple and original conceit that the books were experiencing the author's idea.

Jon and I brainstormed some more and ended our conversation with absolutely no ideas or direction. We decided to talk again at a later date when minds were fresh. So I hung up and stepped out of my office door and then it hit me. BUTTONS! Growing up in the 80s and hanging out in the East Village of NYC, it was the style to personalize our jackets with objects of our affection/affectation. Our jackets were covered with favorite band logos, bandanas, patches, safety pins, store buttons like CANAL JEANS, FLIP and Trash and Vaudeville and hand-painted back panels and sleeves. I thought that this would allow me to include many of the eclectic ideas of the 60s by representing them in a button and pining it on a clean white Union Jack. e.g. model Jean Shrimpton, peace sign, rock music, drug use, paisley. I saw plenty of 60s political button art but they probably didn't use buttons like this in their 60s fashion. But still, I like that this approach kept the monochromatic color scheme of the series. Maybe the flag could be a white denim jacket. And used colors only as added dashes of accents. I also liked that it was applied onto the flag and removable. Implying that these were fashionable trends of the moment that you can pick and choose and add to yourself and remove when you were over it. I'm not sure if this is the best solution but I was glad I was able to bend the visual closer to the series original intent and tone.


Jason Gabbert said...

I love this series!

craftivore said...

Friggin awesome. Bloody Awful and Bollocks looked pretty good to me too, but the end results beats them all.

Elisabeth said...

Love the finished cover! (And the story of how you got there!) It's always a treat when you update your blog. :)

KN said...

I'm always your big fan.

hope to see more covers, and btw I would die to see all the full wrap of every book cover. since I can't buy the books, keeping them to watch when I need inspiration is such a pleasure!

Simon Willis said...

Nice but have you seen the UK versions of this series?

There's a title called 'Democracy' published last year that uses buttons in a very similar way. The UK sixties cover is also a peace symbol but made up of funky little 60s graphics. Coincidence?