Designer Gone to Heaven
December 29, 2019 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Vaughan Oliver has passed away. As longtime designer for 4AD, Oliver created record covers for Cocteau Twins, Colourbox, Dead Can Dance, Throwing Muses, Pixies, the Breeders, Lush, Red House Painters, His Name Is Alive, the Mountain Goats, TV on the Radio, and many more. Rest in peace.

Vaughan Oliver Remembered By Ivo Watts-Russell, co-founder of 4AD who oversaw the label’s classic era.
Vaughan Oliver: Archive from Unit Editions, a two-volume career retrospective published in 2018.
Remembrances on Twitter: John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats), Emma Anderson (Lush), Warren Defever (His Name Is Alive).
posted by shortfuse (25 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I had no idea one person designed the covers of so many of my favorite albums over the years. Even 12 Rounds' My Big Hero, which is an album criminally mostly lost to history despite Atticus Ross having his highest profile ever this past decade.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:08 PM on December 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

I received a very modernist graphic design education in the 70s, and took a job with an extremely modernist graphic design firm in the early 80s. The first time I saw Vaughan Oliver's work, it was like a message from another universe: dense, emotional and mysterious. What a loss.
posted by How the runs scored at 2:24 PM on December 29, 2019 [11 favorites]

That’s a … surprising percentage of my collection.

posted by adamsc at 2:32 PM on December 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


Like jason_steakums said, I had no idea one person did so many of the covers I knew and loved . . . He shaped a huge part of my imagination, decorating grand rooms in my memory palaces. Back when I still listened to whole albums and lost myself in the cover art and lyrics, wow!
His work was full of infinities.
posted by pt68 at 2:34 PM on December 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

What's cool is how obviously it's the work of one designer when you know. As soon as I read Mountain Goats in the post I knew it was Tallahassee and We Shall All be Healed without looking because of course there's a visual connection to those Pixies and Breeders covers.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:55 PM on December 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

Back in the day when being able to listen to independent music was a lot harder than gazing at their covers in the record stores, albums from 4AD not only stood out because of their incredible designs, but because those covers looked like they sounded. The Pixies did sound like a big hairy beast. The Cocteau Twins did sound gauzy and ephemeral. These were masterpieces of design.
posted by ardgedee at 3:00 PM on December 29, 2019 [14 favorites]

I’m very sad about the news. Oliver had as much as influence as anyone on my personal preferences and ideals about music and visuals, starting with buying the first This Mortal Coil LP because, as it happened to many people, I found the cover cool and mysterious. The sync between the music and his imagery was wonderful, esp with vinyl dimensions.

The John Darnielle tweet thread I linked in the post is well worth reading. He got to work with Oliver after being a longtime fan.

Also, everyone who knew him seems to agree that Oliver was a man of singular vision and craftsmanship, and at the same time we can also note that he made most of his famous covers as 23 Envelope (then v23) together with talented designers and photographers like Nigel Grierson, Chris Bigg, and Simon Larbalestier whom I believe did the photos for Doolittle by Pixies.

I heard Oliver speak at two diff events. At one Q&A, someone asked him which band he wishes he could have designed a cover for. He said the Sundays. I can only dream.
posted by shortfuse at 3:16 PM on December 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

posted by the painkiller at 3:24 PM on December 29, 2019

posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:00 PM on December 29, 2019

Oliver's work will be a large percentage of hip people's record collections. Hipgnosis probably designed the majority of the remainder.

RIP indeed.

posted by dobbs at 4:47 PM on December 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

posted by detachd at 5:13 PM on December 29, 2019

posted by Chocomog at 5:29 PM on December 29, 2019

posted by jzb at 5:35 PM on December 29, 2019

posted by mustard seeds at 5:57 PM on December 29, 2019

posted by evilDoug at 6:50 PM on December 29, 2019

Double dipping in here to say that for teenaged me, Vaughan Oliver/23 Envelope turned 4AD albums from music into multimedia. He somehow always managed to give me the feeling of reading along with an album via the picture on the cover, of *understanding* the music visually down to the choice of font. IMO, the apotheosis of which is the surprisingly generous booklet of liner notes from the Lonely Is An Eyesore CD, if you have the means I highly recommend it.
posted by the painkiller at 7:16 PM on December 29, 2019 [7 favorites]

posted by aneel at 8:41 PM on December 29, 2019

posted by jabo at 9:35 PM on December 29, 2019

posted by drinkyclown at 9:56 PM on December 29, 2019

posted by filtergik at 4:55 AM on December 30, 2019

Turns out I seem to have a small shrine to Oliver's work in my living room. Right next to the stereo.

posted by Thorzdad at 5:16 AM on December 30, 2019

A couple of months ago, while waiting for a very late Massive Attack show to start, I was catching up with a friend who was telling me about watching the WaxTrax documentary, Industrial Accident, and how good it was. I mused "do you think they'll ever do a 4AD documentary?"

"4AD and v23, I would hope."


And we both went quiet for a moment as we both dreamed about what that would be like.


Now I am a little sad that if anyone were to make that documentary, they wouldn't get a chance to interview Vaughn Oliver directly; but now I just hope that they'll do it before we lose Ivo and, say, Kristin Hersh or Liz Fraser.
posted by bl1nk at 7:28 AM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

4AD was a huge part of my adolescence and the album covers contributed tremendously to that. For me personally that includes work by The Pixies, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance, Cocteau Twins...and more I'm forgetting. In fact just thinking about This Mortal Coil makes the covers of "Blood" and "It'll End in Tears" pop into my mind, part and parcel with the entire mood those albums evoked.

RIP Vaughan Oliver.
posted by dubitable at 12:45 PM on December 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by oneironaut at 9:13 PM on December 30, 2019

More remembrances:

The Breeders, with Oliver’s sketch of “a man’s testicle alone” for the Cannonball back cover. (Twitter)
Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins). (Facebook)
Nigel Grierson, Oliver’s former best friend and partner in 23 Envelope. (Facebook)
posted by shortfuse at 5:18 AM on December 31, 2019

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