Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Prints Of Darkness

The record cover has been an artform in its own right ever since the first long-playing phonograph record was produced in 1931. While Beethoven's Fifth Symphony may not have been a prime example of cutting edge graphic design, the possibility for experimentation was evident right from the beginning. Over the past 80 years we have seen this genre of visual art develop a bewildering range of sub genres each packed with their own micro histories.

However, since the introduction of file sharing, the mp3 and i-tunes,  the quality of artwork has diminished. As there is no longer a tangible element to music - no packaging, no inserts containing lyrics, no physical ownership - the album cover is now merely an afterthought, hastily put together with little or no concept before being slapped online.

Back in the 'old days' the packaging played a huge part in the way we consumed music. While we were always told never to judge a book by it's cover, this was never the case when it came to LPs. In fact, you ALWAYS judged the album by its sleeve and nine out of ten times, you were never disappointed.

As the formats shrunk from vinyl to CD to mini-disk and then to mp3 the ability for the album cover art to shock or entice us has become more difficult. Marilyn Manson's Mechanical Animals or The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers  would never have caused as much controversy as they did had they been a 75 x 75 pixel thumbnail on the i-tunes homepage.

While record sales may have fallen dramatically, they still bare a strong visual presence as an iconic object or artefact. Records are now being produced for a niche market and are treated as collectable items with hand-made covers on the increase. It is this current resurgence which has inspired Prints of Darkness.

Curated by Sarah Manning Cordwell, Norman Shaw and Edward Summerton, Prints of Darkness contains over a dozen pieces produced by 11 Scottish artists, each exploring the theme of record cover art. The show contains a healthy mixture of illustrative, photographic and typographic designs each one recalling the golden age of the record cover during the 'post-psychedelia, goth-surrealistic, Art Nouveau, apocalyptic landscape explosion'  of the 1960's and '70's.

Norman Shaw channels Salvador Dali in his surreal landscape Princess of Darkness while Mark Wallace borrows from Pop Art to produce Lordin' It.  Sinister looking crows and intricate spider webs  are the subject matter for Edward Summerton and The Lonely Piper and cats are victimised by Andrew Cranston and Malcy Duff.

The dark imagery and twisted sense of humour which runs throughout the exhibition is continued in This is Light Music, an exclusive full-length picture-disc album produced exclusively for the exhibition. Created by award-winning international multimedia artist Vicki Bennett, the disc/audio installation explores the themes of darkness and joy and the irony of subverted 'light music' in popular culture.

In addition to the original pieces on display, the exhibition concludes with an installation of influential and inspirational vinyl album covers selected by the exhibiting artists. Iconic LPs such as Kate Bush's Never for Ever, the Sex Pistols'  Never Mind the Bollocks plus Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath's self titled debuts are amongst the selection - proof that while the devil may not have all the best tunes, he certainly has the best album covers.

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