Adrian Shaughnessy + Teal Triggs | Exhibitions

GraphicsRCA: Fifty Years

Think graphic design in the UK and you immediately conjure up a set of images which embody radical thinking, experimental expression and cutting-edge production methods, processes, and visual languages. Think of the educational institutions out of which some of the more noteworthy graduates have begun their careers and a handful of colleges come to mind: Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London College of Communication, University of Brighton, Glasgow School of Art and Manchester Metropolitan University. Then there is the world’s oldest postgraduate art and design school in continuous operation, the Royal College of Art. This institution has consistently produced preeminent creative leaders of our profession: for example, David Gentleman, John Pasche, Jonathan Barnbrook, Why Not Associates, FUEL, Phil Baines, Morag Myserscough, Daniel Eatock, James Goggin, Sophie Thomas, Kirsty Matthews, and Marina Willer. 

Jonathan Barnbrook (RCA: 1988–1990), Bastard Typography Experiment

GraphicsRCA: Fifty Years is a celebration of half a century of graphic design, as well as a gesture towards what we might consider to be graphic design’s potential future. There is obviously a rich archive of material, but we also wanted to ask: what happens in the corridors and studios of the Royal College of Art where new talent is nurtured resulting in graduates of such caliber?

John Pasche (RCA: 1967–1970) Tongue and Lip, Rolling Stones logo. 
Reproduced with kind permission of John Pasche © Musidor B.V.
Graphic Design at the RCA began in 1948 when its first Professor, Richard Guyatt, initially used the term within an educational context to reflect the new emerging postwar profession. This was a significant shift from the early days of teaching commercial art and advertising in the 1940s to an academic context that embraced a newfound sense of an internationally emerging profession. With this, new pedagogical challenges emerged as a result of maintaining a “graphic arts” approach to the school’s curriculum while accommodating an increase in focus on the skill-based requirements of professional practice.

The first graphic design exhibition of RCA student work was held at the College in 1963, celebrating that first fifteen years of the School’s founding; it culminated in exploring both the beginnings and possible future directions for graphic design. This was seen and felt through a filter of postgraduate students’ work—work that showed inventiveness, playfulness, and critical engagement. In a similar way today, GraphicsRCA: Fifty Years has attempted to interrogate both the past and the future through the staging of an exhibition, the production of a book, and the hosting of a series of panel discussions. 

Thelma Rosco (RCA: 1961–1964) GraphicsRCA exhibition poster

Our explorations began as a way to understand and articulate what a “typical” graduate of the RCA might be. We asked ourselves: Is it even possible to identify a singular approach, one philosophy or one way of making? And in trying to articulate what we have come to call this “RCA-ness,” our intention isn’t a self-referential or inward-looking act, but rather one of capturing, understanding, and sharing the findings of a living archive. 

When viewed in its entirety, this is a corpus of
 work that forms a vivid portrait of graphic design’s trajectory from its roots in prewar Victorian decoration, through 1960s Pop art, to the ideas-led professionalism of the 1970s; through postmodernist experimentation; through engagement with art theory, social, and political issues and the notion of the designer as author; through the arrival of digital platforms and tools that allow the inclusion of sound and motion into the graphic designer’s repertoire; through the perpetual interest in craft—both traditional (letterpress) and contemporary (coding)—to a recent interest in graphic design as 
an activity without a physical outcome.

Joseph Pochodzaj (RCA: 2009–2011) Analysis of Trade Union and Financial language, installation

Throughout this week we will be showing examples from a range of work created over the last fifty years produced by graduates while they were still students at the RCA, sharing individual reflections from students and staff, while also attempting to speculate what the future of graphic design might be. From the early vision of Richard Guyatt, as the founder of the School of Graphic Design, to that of Professor Neville Brody, today’s Dean of the School of Communication, this has been a fascinating journey that is not yet over.

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