“It’s a funny thing actually,” Tony Brook tells me, pointing to a series of three posters which have been reprinted especially for design studio Spin’s new exhibition, which opens today. “I was saying this morning to the guys who were putting the show up, when we first made those posters they all just went. 125, bang! Immediately! And we thought that was what would happen every time, because we’d never made anything before. We were disabused of that illusion fairly quickly.”
The trio, which includes the now well known “Action, Time, Vision” poster, has been reprinted for a new exhibition at Magma in London’s Covent Garden to launch Spin 360°, an enormous monograph celebrating 20 years of work by the studio which is now recognised as one of the industry’s leading graphic design voices. “I was quite shocked actually when I walked downstairs and saw them,” Tony says. “They really zing. There’s some serious colour going on down there.”
As we speak, Tony is scribbling all over Magma’s glass shopfront with a thick white marker, in a manner that replicates the monograph’s graphic white cover, whose own design came from a flipchart from the studio. This sense of a physical, handmade process runs through the show; five works from the exhibition were created in this way, using tape, spray paint and craft bits and pieces sourced from a local builders’ merchant.
“It’s important to make something by hand,” Tony explains. “You know, it gets us off our desks. The pen for the windows came from when greengrocers used to write on the windows. I wanted to be able to do that to replicate the immediacy of the cover.”
Interestingly every visitor who walks into the show seems drawn to these handmade works – most noticeably a poster replicating the logo created for Simon Pengelly which was made with glossy tape. “They have that clean Spin thing, but they also have something really quite improvised as well,” Marc Valli, the editor-in-chief of Elephant magazine who was involved with curating the show, says. “The thing about Spin is that it’s not about the process – with Tony there is no such explanation. I shouldn’t say it, but it’s almost like the client is secondary.”
The 360° of Spin 360° refers to the multimedia approach of the monograph, which spans digital and print media, with this exhibition forming the first in a series of physical events which will accompany the mammoth publication. It makes for a compact but fascinating display – a selection of stationery the studio has worked on sits in one corner under a glass pane, while bold poster designs from across Spin’s archive line the walls.
“I remember from the previous exhibition, there was quite a lot of subtle work going on – not much that poked you in the eye,” Tony says. “There’s a lot that pokes you in the eye in here.”
And as for this brave venture into a more tactile world – one where builders’ merchants supply all the tools needed to create new work, rather than InDesign – Tony seems to be enjoying it. “One of my great heroes is Dieter Roth and he made things, physically made things, all the time,” he says. “I don’t know where we sit on that, on the design/art thing, but it felt very good. You always forget how satisfying it is.”
Spin 360° runs at Magma, London until 4 September.