Claire Colnot and Amish Shah have curated a retrospective exhibition for illustrator, graphic designer and former lecturer Professor George Hardie – whose work includes renowned cover artwork for Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.
Hosted by Le Bel Ordinaire in the French south-western city of Pau, Claire and Amish have pulled together 217 pieces of Professor Hardie’s work, spread across 13 sections which the pair say “allow one to discover the great variety, thoroughness and facetiousness thanks to an abundant graphic vocabulary that George has developed for more than 50 years”.
Claire and Amish are business partners who studied under Professor Hardie while undertaking the Sequential Design/Illustration MA course between 2007-2009.
Best known for producing the cover artwork for Led Zeppelin’s self-titled debut album in 1969 and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) and Wish You Were Here (1975) albums, Professor Hardie spent three decades at the University of Brighton.
We spent time with Claire and Amish to discuss their motivation behind putting on the exhibition:
What was the original inspiration for honouring Professor Hardie’s work?
Amish: We’ve been wanting to do an exhibition on George’s work for years. We always thought that it was a shame that the only work people knew of him were the famous album covers for Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd etc. We wanted people to know about everything else that he has done. His work is full of wit, intelligence and detail.
Claire: George’s work is a perfect example of both craftsmanship and clever thinking. Where we work in the South West of France there is an exhibition space that focuses on fine arts and graphic design called Le Bel Ordinaire. When they invited us to curate an exhibition on graphic design, we thought it was the opportunity to do this monographic exhibition on George Hardie.
What are your memories of learning from Professor Hardie?
Amish: George was a tutor with a great curiosity for trying solutions or asking questions that weren’t obvious. He wasn’t there to give direct answers or to tell you what is the solution to take, but was more someone who aroused imagination, thinking up original ideas, creating content and working out ways of drawing, constructing, composing and exploring. He built up close relationships with us as students by creating a space where there was mutual trust and understanding, encouraging development of ideas that were unique and enabling us to have frank discussions.
Claire: Learning from George was also about quantity. George likes to collect, the more you’d give him the better. I remember I made a collection of four books for the MA – but he suggested I do 10! He encouraged collecting as a design tool which I found really helpful. George would change or question the way you look at things.
What does Professor Hardie think of the exhibition?
Amish: We spoke to George as soon as we got the green light from the gallery space director that our proposal was accepted. We worked collaboratively with him and his family over a year discussing the themes, looking at what was shown in the University of Brighton exhibition, through his archives and choosing the appropriate content.
Claire: George came to see the exhibition before lockdown happened in France, and he was very flattered and pleased with the curation and its scenography.
Professor Hardie is known for his iconic album covers – what can visitors to the exhibition expect?
Claire: Visitors will be able to see the vast variety of work George has done over 51 years. These include: self-publishing, stamp designs illustrations for clients as well as non-commissioned work that utilised a variety of colouring and printing techniques, original drawing and sketches, designs for restaurants, large work for the music industry, previously unseen album covers for Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, furniture designs and also his vast collections of rulers, objects that resemble trees and objects with holes in them.
Are there any plans to bring the exhibition to the UK?
Amish: So far no, but we would love to host the exhibition in London. We have inquired at several places in other European countries, too.
What have you both done since leaving the university?
Claire: We both realised we enjoy working with each other and so began a design studio called work in process. We work for a range of different clients in both France and UK mainly on visual identities but also book design, posters, photography, web design. We are on the verge of beginning to develop some products too.
Finally, what was it like to study at the University of Brighton and under Professor Hardie?
Amish: We were at the university during the financial crisis of 2008, and so it was a luxury to be studying at such a time. It was a very important stage in my life, where I met Claire, but also it brought focus on design having the ability to reach broader spectrums. The most important thing was to think in a unique way and to solve problems with an inquisitive and curious mind. Design shouldn’t be taken too seriously but should have the ability to enrich things and bring some sense of joy.
Claire: The facilities that the university provided were wonderful for me. I used mainly the bookbinding and letterpress workshops and the photo lab. George and Margaret Huber would never say if what we were doing was right or wrong, nor good or bad, and I was not used to this way of learning/teaching.
It was ideal, as they would rather question some aspects of our projects and point out problems without telling us what to do, letting us find solutions, showing us some amazing references and examples to look at for help. Sharing work with the other students was also very enriching and like Amish said, meeting each other was an important stage in our lives.
The exhibition resumes on 26 August 2020 and runs until 12 September 2020 at Le Bel Ordinaire, Pau.