Storm Thorgerson

Storm Thorgerson - Taken by Storm

Los Angeles: 31 July - 9 October 2005

An exhibition of some of the work of the most recognisable cover artists of the past 40 years.

~ Introduction ~

Storm Thorgerson How would you describe Storm Thorgerson? Well, let's begin with a description that he gives of himself from one of a number of books that document his artistic output.

"When asked what I personally do I reply in a variety of ways. For Her Majesty's Customs I am a photographer. For the music press - a graphic designer. For film people I'm a director. For my mother an artist! For my loved ones, a pain in the butt. Sarcastic musicians see me as an organising ponce who doesn't do much actual work. True believers, ie employees, however, know I make images. I think of ideas, often in collaboration, and turn them into tangible visuals, be they still photographs or movies""

[ Storm Thorgerson, "Mind of Matter", Published by Sanctuary Publishing Limited, 2003 ]

Storm Thorgerson is the artist behind images synonymous with identifying the pop culture of the 1970's throughout and into the 1980's, 1990's and the Millennium. Creating visually beautiful and interesting art, Storm's work has featured on a variety of singles, album and CD covers, as well as posters. He is the author of several books including "Mind over Matter", "Walk Away Renee", "Album Cover Album" series, "Eye of the Storm" and "100 Best Album Covers".

~ A Bit of History ~

Life began for Storm Thorgerson in 1944 in Potters Bar, Middlesex. He went to school at Summerhill free school and then Brunswick primary Cambridge. His secondary education was at local grammar Cambridge high School for boys. Storm earned a BA Honours in English and Philosophy from Leicester University (63 - 66) and finally an MA in film and TV from the Royal College of Art, London (66 - 69).

In 1968, Storm and Aubrey Powell (Po) formed "Hipgnosis", a graphic design studio specialising in creative photography. This creative company predominately worked within the music business designing the album covers for artists such as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Black Sabbath, 10cc, Paul McCartney, and Peter Gabriel amongst many others.

Applying his creativity to moving images, Storm formed Green Back Films with Po and Peter Christopherson in 1983. Despite producing numerous music videos for the likes of Paul Young, Nik Kershaw, Robert Plant, Big Country and others, the company was not to last and imploded in 1985.

In 1985, undeterred, Storm went solo and continued directing music videos. His direction for the Pink Floyd video "Learning to Fly" won the best director award at the American Billboard Awards. Branching out, Storm began directing commercials too. His direction for the Tennants' Lager commercial "One Great Thing" won The Golden Rose in Scotland. Storm's work extended into documentaries, such as the two-part "Art of Tripping" for Channel 4 in 1993 which explored the connections between artists and drugs and an hour long science documentary "Rubber Universe" for Equinox. The following year, Storm directed for Pink Floyd six short films to be screened through the duration of their world tour.

Storm Thorgerson has continued creating and producing album covers for Pink Floyd, The Cranberries, Thunder and Ween as well as more recent artists such as Muse and The Mars Volta. In addition he has produced logos for bands such as Dream Theater, book covers for various titles by Douglas Adams, T-shirts for Bruce Dickinson and much more.

Storm Thorgerson is now 60. He has one son Bill with his first partner Libby and is now married to Barbie who has two children. They live in North London.

In September and October 2004, Media Contemporary Arts and the John Martin Gallery Chelsea presented an exhibition of the artwork of Storm Thorgerson, encompassing over 40 pieces of artwork, many of which were used for Pink Floyd albums. Images of the complete range of items which formed part of the show, can be found on the Exhibition page at the John Martin website.

At the preview to the show, I was fortunate to get an opportunity to spend 10 minutes or so speaking with Storm himself.

~ The Interview ~

As soon as I had been introduced to Storm, he began to ask me questions. "So why do you want to speak to me?" he asked. After explaining that DPRP was a website that covered many of the bands with whom he had worked in the past and that, speaking personally, I was a big fan of his work, he allowed me to continue.

CHARLIE: What was the reason for the exhibition in the first place? As a retrospective?

STORM: It's not really a retrospective. A retrospective would be rather bigger. A lot more drawing, a lot more detail, it is a retrospective because I've been going for so long.

This is really a show about images, not about graphics. A lot of the stuff we do is about graphics and this show is about images. And the reason for doing it? Because we are egocentric, you know, artists like to show off and it's also because it's a chance to see stuff in a size and a quality that is much truer to the original.

For mass produced items like CD covers, vinyl covers don't really do justice. There's too much loss of quality, in pictures. It's not too bad in loss of sound. There's much greater loss of quality in pictures. These are hand done, silk-screen prints by and large, carefully done, so they are a lot closer to what was intended, also they are much bigger. My view is that music is always 'big', it doesn't matter what form it comes in, it's still big, there's an emotional experience, this is how it should be seen. All album covers should be this size.

Could you say a little bit about your way of working? Do you spend a lot of time on the composition side or the editing? What are the proportions?

I spend a lot of time thinking it up in the first place, and then we spend a lot of time shooting it because often they require quite a staging. Then we spend a lot of time editing or selecting which are best shots that we might have taken - that's quite a lengthy process actually, then we spend a lot time finishing, which requires adding the graphics and text. So it takes a long time.

Where does the motivations for the compositions come from? Are you given an idea or do you listen to the music?

We're trying to represent music, so in the sense that we are trying to represent music I would say that it always comes from the music but it can also come from the title, it can come from the songs, can come from the lyrics, can come from what the band tell me in conversation. So you'd have to choose a specific example and I could tell you. And it would be different.

The cover art for Anthrax - Stomp 442Well one that stands out to me in the "Stomp 442", that's a very different sort of music to...

Storm corrected me as follows:

No. I've done a lot of heavy metal. I've worked with Black Sabbath for Christ sake. Rainbow FFS, and UFO and Audioslave, though maybe there not here, Bruce Dickinson and I worked for lots of hard rock and heavy metal bands. Anthrax was even more paired down metal than usual, but they were great to work for and they dug the idea at the time. I haven't seen them since, so maybe they said it to my face. No I think that they liked it. I think it worked really well.

Its our idea, it's a structure we make, its just a huge great bugger of a ball of metal. You know, it's just a massive ball of metal. Very simple, but also very heavy, but a bastard to do.

That was actually melded together?

No. Built. It was a real fucker. No, seriously, one guy cutting metal, it was just a nightmare but it looked great and it looked great on the day. I've always liked it but its terribly simple but it does you mind in. It did ours in when we built it and then when they saw it. The punters... you see Stomp 442 is real - it's just not all real at the same time. It's still real.

I was reading some of the notes on the wall there and it did make me think because in are a lot of the images there is a merging between nature and machine, the conscious and the subconscious.

That's a bit like it.

and what also struck me, having walked all the way round was that the figures were generally graceful and as images, there were images that produced a sense of peace (for me). I was calmer at the end than at the beginning. The pictures had a calming influence on me.

Really? Glad to hear it. I would say that "Chrome" is very peaceful, the dancers underwater that's very peaceful, but I don't know.

Another thing that struck me was that, in a way, your images are never "out of fashion".

[aside to colleague - this man thinks our work is very peaceful]

Some people tell me that they're always out of fashion. I don't think that anything we do is particularly fashion orientated, particularly. I think we like things to be elegant and I think this is one of the pleasures of Division Bell because the actual sculptures are very elegant and apart from what they are, apart from the idea, I actually think that the shape and as I said, the dancers, I think that the tree head is very elegant and I think that it is also a very elegant idea and its also elegantly done at least I hope that the viewer will think that but I don't think. Fashion is far from our minds on the basis that, I presume that the musicians makes his music to last or hopes it will. We do the same in pictures and also maybe that the person that buys it (or the band), its nice if he can come back to it and not be trapped in fashion. Otherwise in five years time, it's out of fashion. Rather than he may be caught up in wondering what it's all about or why is it like it is. That's the question I'd like people to answer "Why is it like it is?" I don't know whether they do or not. It will lead them back to the music and its nearly always music related, title related or lyric related. In fact, I don't mean "Why is it like it is?" as a simple question, I actually mean it as a very complicated question. There's normally a story or set of thoughts behind the pictures and we try and get you to think about those thoughts.

Looking at many of the pictures, what instantly came to mind were a lyric or something or title. Something that tied in and the other thing I wanted to ask about - the choice of scenery. The deserts and hills and things Do you actually go seeking out these locations.

Yep - you sometimes find locations in books or remember having seen them somewhere else or somebody else will tell you and you look up directories and sometime you just go out hunting. Locations are very important because the things that we stage, because they are very complicated, it would be really boring if we staged them in your local high street. It wouldn't look very good, no disrespect to your local high street.

With that, it was indicated that my time was up and the interview was cut short. I didn't want to push things as Storm was not in the best of health and had already had a strenuous day. He certainly struck me as being quite a character and someone in whose company it would be very interesting to pass some time.



The Storm Thorgerson Website
The John Martin Art Gallery Website
Rockoptic Website


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