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A Peter Saville Sample: Meet the man behind your favourite album cover

Written by Arts, Culture, Exhibitions

In Music and Memory: A Peter Saville Sample, a new online exhibition, Newcastle student Charlie Dean tells the story of the legendary graphic designer responsible for some of the most iconic album covers of the 20th century.

In doing so she uncovers the hidden histories of some of his iconic designs, such as Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures art, and what they mean to the fans who bought them.

The exhibition covers Saville’s journey from working with Factory Records and bands including Joy Division, New Order, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Wham! to becoming creative director for the City of Manchester and designing the 2010 England shirt. On the way it provides a comprehensive history of many of the records he designed covers for, forming a treasure trove of information for any fan of Factory Records’ output.

Saville’s iconic design for New Order’s Technique album cover Source: Technique, New Order, 1989, Art direction Peter Saville, Dichromat images Trevor Key and Peter Saville, Design Peter Saville Associates

As well as satisfying New Order obsessives, all of this is contextualised by personal stories contributed by members of the public, recounting their experiences of the records and their covers. These recollections allow us to view these time-worn images with the eyes of a young fan walking into a record store and seeing them for the first time. From listening to OMD’s ‘Enola Gay’ in Cold War era West Germany to taping gigs off the TV onto cassettes, these are the most powerful parts of the exhibition. They convey the thousands of highly personal, ever-changing meanings that a record can hold.

By looking at examples of his work, Dean also unpicks Saville’s creative process, part of which is the wealth of inspiration he took from the art world. The exhibition highlights the Italian Futurism behind the cover of New Order’s Movement and the Dante Gabriel Rossetti painting he borrowed for Roxy Music’s ‘More Than This’ sleeve. The conflict between aesthetic and practical concerns is ever-present, and the story the exhibition tells of Saville and Factory’s commitment to originality and integrity at the expense of profit will be familiar to anyone who has seen 24 Hour Party People.

Music and Memory: A Peter Saville Sample is the third and final of the Cabinet series of exhibitions curated by Newcastle University students. In Stories We Could Tell, Olivia Erodotou explored student life, while Matteo Magazzino’s The Map of Our Lives mapped the places we call home. All three exhibits are available to view here.

Featured image: Unkown Pleasures cover, designed by Peter Saville, source: discog.com, Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division, 1979, Cover design Peter Saville from an image sourced by Bernard Sumner

Last modified: 4th September 2020

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