Tag 4 Corners

4 Corners: An Interview with Lewis Williams

As we approach the close of the US Black History Month celebrations,
am extremely proud to celebrate our 2nd anniversary as a regular monthly column with you.

This month we pay tribute to both occasions with a profile interview with the Chief Creative Officer of one America’s oldest Black advertising agencies and one of the largest multi-cultural marketing firms in the world.

Founded in 1971 by Tom Burrell and then Partner, Emmett McBain, with the principle of forging an authentic and respectful relationship with the African American consumer; tapping into how the Black Aesthetic could also appeal to the general market consumer; and recognizing that there were inherent cultural differences that drove patterns of consumption, provided the launchpad for all Burrell’s communications. Principles, most succinctly phrased at the time by its founder Tom Burrell who stated, “Black people are not dark-skinned white people.”

Now, as part of the Publicis Groupe with over 100 employees, the company’s is steered by two dynamic women of colour, Fay Ferguson and McGhee Williams Osse. And it’s creative legacy remains resolutely intact and as relevant as ever (as its current Black = Human campaign in the wake of #BlackLivesMatter will testify) under the watchful creative direction of Lewis Williams, whose work and life story I have the great pleasure of introducing you to today.

Williams_Lewis_02

Lewis Williams, Executive Vice President / Chief Creative Officer, Burrell Communications

What’s your background?

I’m a southern boy to the core. Born and raised in Macon, Georgia, the home of such musical greats like Little Richard, Otis Redding, Lena Horne and the Allman Brothers Band.

As a kid I always loved to draw and got a lot of encouragement from my community and schools. My first dream was to become an architect, but quickly abandoned that idea for math was not my favorite subject. So I concentrated on the fine art side of things. I had no idea there was an industry called advertising.

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I graduated from Kent State University with a BFA degree in Graphic Design. Since most design shops were small without many positions open my break came when hired by a San Diego, CA ad agency as a production designer. Which later turned into an art director’s role and my ad career was born.

You can see more at by website and my profile on LinkedIn.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/93108785″>Late Nite Final</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user26991593″>lewforhire</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

What challenges did you face/overcome in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

There’s a few. The first was being born black. The second access and just lacking or knowing anyone or anything about it. This was amplified even more since I am a minority. African Americans were hardly represented in any roles in agencies especially in the creative department. So there was this need to go hard 24/7.

But with a strong work ethic, mentors, faith I’ve made a pretty good go

at it so far. But make no mistake the challenges are still there and always will be.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/92098050″>ToyotaAvalonOnlyTheName3.m4v</a&gt; from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user26991593″>lewforhire</a&gt; on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

Being black and proud has always been my inspiration. But the primary foundation will always be my parents. My father, a welder helper and my mom a domestic worker. They gave me great values and support that gave me the ability to believe in myself.

One winter day my father once came home, cold and dirty from a hard days work. He looked at me and said…”Son, do good in school so you can get a job working inside.” I never forgot that.

What is your best piece of work or project you are most proud of?

We’ll hopefully I haven’t done it yet. But a pro-bono work I did for the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio some years ago rises to the top. Its mission is to abolish modern day slavery and oppression around the world.

Underground Railroad

What would be your dream job or project?

My dream project would be to open an ad school/agency for kids who lack access through the “normal” channels and kick butt.

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

I have to start at the beginning; my parents and family; my church family; my grade and high school teachers. Upward Bound. Bob Kwait was my first boss to see I had a knack for doing ads. Tom Burrell, gave me a shot when others wouldn’t.

Cheryl Berman who gave me the break into the big time at Leo Burnett and mentored me throughout my career there.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Love what you do. Work hard. Find mentors and listen to them. And never let up. Never.

What’s next for you?

I don’t know. I just know I’m not done.

For more information visit:
http://www.lewforhire.com and http://www.burrell.com

Network:

 

EUROPE:

V&A ART & EXISTENCE | Lecture Series:

The Seamstress, Designer and the Model explore the role of the seamstress in black cultural life in the Caribbean, the results of emigration and displacement, and compare patterns of production in the Caribbean and Britain. Thursday 5 March 2015 14:30 – 16:00 in The Clore Study Room. For more information click here

The Rise and Development of Black Print Culture uses the work of Joel Augustus Rogers (1880- 1966) as a case study, examine the role of the journalist, political activist, artist, and publisher in countering racist stereotypes, by creating a black led perspective on print media, collected on people from the African Diaspora within books, newspapers, hand bills and pamphlets. Thursday 12 March 2015 14:30 – 16:00 in The Clore Study Room. For more information click here

Calypso and the Black British Experience. The lyrics of Calypso were highly political as they were contentious, and dealt with a variety of topics such as poor housing; gaining Independence and the Commonwealth; African, Caribbean and British affairs; the wars and economic status. Consider the changes that have occurred since these decades, and revisit “London is the Place for Me” through Alexander’s “Windrush” song, that contrasts with Kitchener’s rather rose tinted view of Britain in 1948. Talk led by Alexander D. Great, Musician and Educator. Thursday 19 March 2015 14:30 – 16:00 in The Clore Study Room. For more information click here


THE CARIBBEAN:

The New Waves! Institute was established in 2011 and has since gathered 200 dance artists, teachers, and scholars in the Caribbean. Each year, participants, staff and a renowned faculty of international artists form a supportive and inspiring community that has created a unique space for dialogue, networking, experimentation and collaboration. The program has been made possible through a major partnership with and held at the University of Trinidad & Tobago / Academy for Performing Arts, within the National Academy for Performing Arts in Port of Spain in 2011, 2012, and 2013. In 2014, the New Waves! Institute was held in Jacmel & Port au Prince, Haiti. New Waves! returns to UTT/APA for its 5th Anniversary, from 22 July to 1 August 2015. Applications due from April 3rd click here for details

 

THE U.S:

TITUS KAPHAR: THE JEROME PROJECT is composed of small-scale works that engage with contemporary social issues, particularly the criminal justice system. In 2011, Kaphar began searching for his father’s prison records. When he visited a website containing photographs of people who have recently been arrested, he found dozens of men who shared his father’s first name, Jerome, and last name. The artist was influenced by the writings of Michelle Alexander and William Julius Wilson on the prison-industrial complex and the use of policing and imprisonment by the US government as a means to address economic, social and political problems. The panels are based on police portraits of the men named Jerome that Kaphar found online, which represent only a portion of each man’s identity yet are preserved in the public record. Although each work depicts an individual, this series represents a community of people, particularly African American men, who are overrepresented in the prison population. Runs until 8 March 2015 at the Studio Museum of Harlem

 

AFRICA:

DESIGN INDABA has become a respected institution on the global creative landscape, based on the foundation of our annual Festival that has attracted and showcased the world’s brightest talent since 1995. The annual Design Indaba Festival in Cape Town now also includes the highly popular Design Indaba ExpoFilmFestMusic Circuit, multiple Simulcast versions of the Conference in cities around South Africa, and other special events. Go to our Festival page for the latest programme or download our Festival App for updates. Festival runs until 1 March 2015.

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

 

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4 Corners: An Interview with Gabrielle Smith

Happy New Year! Or “Nu-Year”, as is often said between people across the African diaspora.

For those of you who may not be familiar with this terminology and referencing of the “Nu”, it has found its way into the cultural vernacular primarily through Afrocentric movements in the 80s and 90s and draws its inspiration from the ancient African civilizations such as the Nubian kingdoms, which were located in northern Sudan and southern Egypt.

Certainly, our profiled designer for this month is extremely fluent in the language and culture of the African diaspora. Her website, Thenublk.com is a highly regarded digital arts and cultural platform that is an invaluable resource to many people out there, including this very column.

And professionally, working for ITV, one of the world’s leading news and multimedia broadcasters, she has excelled in her chosen field of motion graphics and new media  (or is that nu-media?). Let’s read all about it from this talented young woman herself. Over to you Gabrielle Smith.Gabrielle Smith

Gabrielle Smith, motion graphics designer/founder Thenublk

What’s your background?

I was born in West London to Grenadian parents. They did as much as they could to expose to me to art and culture from a young age. I also attended a Montessori school which focuses on allowing a child to learn through play and discovery – something I feel also had an impact on my interest in exploring the creative world.  For the past six years I’ve been working as a motion graphic designer for ITV News, one of the world’s leading news and multimedia broadcasters. I’m responsible for creating the on-screen graphics broadcasted duringboth the 6:30pm bulletin and the award-winning flagship News At Ten programme. I’m also the founder of Thenublk, a digital arts and culture platform which celebrates the work of creatives from Africa and the diaspora. In recent years we’ve expanded into the offline space and have produced a number of events including film screenings, talks, and exhibitions both in the UK and abroad. 

America+Decides

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I studied Graphic Design: New Media at the University of Creative Arts, a course which had only recently been introduced. The degree programme allowed me to explore the mediums of illustration, print design, 3D and photography. It wasn’t until two years after graduating from UCA that I joined ITV News as a trainee. Broadcast news is incredibly fast-paced and the majority of the work gets completed on the day so that took some getting used to. While there’s a set structure to a daily news programme, anything can happen, which at times can call for graphics to be created in a short turnaround time – it can get pretty manic! It’s always funny hearing different people’s reactions when I tell them what I do and actually speaks to how seamlessly a news programme looks when you watch it at home. I started Thenublk as it was important for me to create a space where the creative efforts of people from my generation could be seen. It also serves as a space for people to connect and discuss new ways in which we’re able to make the connection between our identity as creatives and children of African and Caribbean heritage, something which I know has been a challenge especially as choosing a role as a creative is seen as a big risk by parents from those backgrounds. 

Nublk

What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions? 

One of the challenges I faced and I know many recent graduates face is that even though you’re applying for entry-level positions, you’re constantly told you don’t have enough experience. It can become frustrating but it’s something you initially have to go through when starting out. It definitely helps in building the tough skin you’ll need when you do eventually start working in the industry.

More than XY

Who are your greatest inspirations and influences? 

The people who’ve I had the opportunity to connect with through Thenublkare a constant inspiration to me. I’ve had the chance to not just be able to feature the work of some of my favourite established creatives, but also follow the progression of a number of emerging creatives who’ve gone on to do great things. Outside of this, the works of the following visual storytellers are an inspiration to me: production and lighting designer Leroy Bennett. Pop artist Nicholas Krushenick. Filmmakers: Wes Anderson, Melina Matsoukas, Ollan Collardy, and Terrence Nance. Photographers: Rog Walker and Agelica Dass. Illustrators: Le Quartier Général, Coralie Bickford-Smith and Brianna McCarthy. 

Liberated People

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

I’m a huge Spike Lee fan, so being able to put on a 25th anniversary celebration in London for Do The Right Thing was definitely a proud moment. The film has so many striking visual elements, so having the opportunity to replicate that visually and create an experience which took people back to that time was really fun for me to work on. In 2012 I worked on a project called More Than XY: A visual tribute to Black fathers and positive male role models. It was a collaborative project with forFATHERS and our aim was to tell an alternative narrative about the relationships black men have with their children which often focuses on how many are absent. We held the exhibition opening on Father’s Day and displayed the work of a number of artists as well as having invited guests and a message wall where people were able to share their thoughts on the project. It was, and still is, one of the projects I’m most proud of because we executed it exactly how we’d originally imagined and the impact it had on those who saw it was extremely positive. 

Spike+Lee

What would be your dream job or project?

I’d love to work on a project looking at the connection between folklore and traditional customs between the Caribbean and Africa. There seems to be so much that could be represented in a visually exciting way that could make for an interesting project. 

Grenada

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

Having seen the way, in which an increasing number of creatives from Africa are redefining the image of the continent through their work has been incredibly refreshing, especially in light of the clichéd images we’re constantly shown. In the same way I believe that Caribbean creatives who have been and still are producing work which widens the parameters of what “Caribbean art” looks like deserve more recognition. I definitely think with platforms such as the Jamaica Biennale, Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival as well as online platforms such as ARC Magazine and Fresh Milk Barbados – creativity from the Caribbean is being showcased on a global scale.

Viv and Clair

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

1. Be prepared to take an unconventional route to get to your destination. You’ll come across situations in your journey as a creative that, on first look, seem as though they bear no correlation to what your dream job looks like – but it all adds to your experience as an aspiring creative.

2. Whether it’s a sketchbook, phone or a Post-it note, document what inspires you.

3. Create your own projects. If you’re just starting out you’ll need to have something to show to potential clients/employers. There are many more platforms around to help you display your work than before so use them to your advantage.

Nublk

What’s next for you?

I’m looking forward to working on some exciting creative projects in my personal work and also building on what Thenublkhas become thus far. We celebrated our sixth anniversary in October so I’m looking forward to producing more experiences and connecting with amazing creative talent.

For more information visit heygabi.com and www.thenublk.com.

Network:

EUROPE:

VIRGINIA CHIHOTA: A THORN IN MY FLESH Until 7 February 2015. Tiwani Contemporary presents Virginia Chihota’s first solo exhibition in Europe, A Thorn in my FleshChihota represented Zimbabwe at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 and was awarded the Prix Canson in the same year, which recognises an international emerging artist working with paper. For more information visit the Tiwani Contemporary Art website

THE CARIBBEAN:

BEQUIA MOUNT GAY MUSIC FEST 2015 is a yearly event happening in January on the small Grenadine island of Bequia, part of the island state of St. Vincent & the Grenadines. Caribbean and international musicians join the stage for a four-day event on the “Big Little Island” in the Caribbean. Highlights of the event include a one-night-only show of the world-famous Mustique Blues Festival on Friday Night @ De Reef, led by Dana Gillespie and the London Blues Band; a multi-genre Saturday Night Show @ De Reef with local and regional artistes; and a laid back Saturday Afternoon Jazz’ N’ Blues Jam by the beach @ Bequia Beach Hotel in Friendship. Festival runs from 22 – 25 January 2015. For more information visit the festival website.

THE US:

CHRIS OFILI: NIGHT & DAY. The New Museum presents the first major solo museum exhibition in the United States of the work of artist Chris Ofili. Occupying the Museum’s three main galleries, “Chris Ofili: Night and Day” spans the artist’s influential career, encompassing his paintings, drawings, and sculptures. Over the past two decades, Ofili’s practice has become identified with vibrant and meticulously executed artworks that meld figuration, abstraction, and decoration. The artist’s diverse oeuvre has taken imagery and inspiration from such disparate, history-spanning sources as the Bible, hip-hop music, Zimbabwean cave paintings, Blaxploitation films, and the works of William Blake. As the title of the exhibition suggests, Ofili’s practice has undergone constant changes, moving from boldly expressive to deeply introspective across an experimental and prodigious body of work. The exhibition features over thirty of Ofili’s major paintings, a vast quantity of drawings, and a selection of sculptures from over the course of his career. Runs until 25 January at The New Museum.

AFRICA:

THE ZIMBABWE ANNUAL EXHIBITION 2014 is an annual celebration of the National Gallery of Zimbabwe’s pursuit of the excellence of visual arts of Zimbabwe and the encouragement of artistic talents inherent in the people of Zimbabwe. The National Annual exhibition was founded by 1958 and contributed indirectly to the creation of the Zimbabwean Sculpture movement in the 1960s. It survived until 1973 growing in stature and number of submissions with each year. When the Zimbabwe Heritage was launched in 1986 to coincide with the non-aligned movement meeting in September 1986, it was to celebrate the pinnacles of Zimbabwean achievements in the visual arts taking off where the National Annual exhibition had left off. The mandate was to collect contemporary masterpieces of Zimbabwean artwork, which reflect the enthusiasm, history, identity and soul of the people. Exhibition runs  until 20 January. For more info visit the NGZ website.

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: An Interview with Gareth Jenkins

This month we find ourselves back in the Caribbean on the region’s fifth largest island, Trinidad or “The Rainbow Island” as it sometimes known due to its wide range of ethnicity, religion and culture. I’m proud to say that I have close family living here, most notably the relations of Karl Hudson-Phillips ORTT, QC, who was one of the island’s most celebrated figures, serving as a Queen’s Counsel, former Attorney-General and Judge of the International Criminal Court in a career spanning over 55 years. Our profiled designer, although still relatively young, is carving out an extremely distinguished career already, which has seen him, his business partners and their company, Abovegroup establish an enviable reputation for creative excellence, innovation and entrepreneurship in the business of branding, design and communications. A beacon for the emerging creativity that is coming out of the Caribbean, it is my absolute pleasure to be able to shine a light today on Gareth Jenkins.

Gareth Jenkins

Gareth Jenkins, designer and managing partner Abovegroup

What’s your background?

I am an Anglo-Trinidadian with a quintessentially Welsh name. My mother was born in Trinidad & Tobago, my father in England – both coming from diverse backgrounds themselves. They met at university in Wales before moving back to Trinidad – I think they thought it would be a bit more welcoming to mixed race children than the UK was in the 70s and 80s! So I spent most of my childhood in Trinidad, though I don’t particularly identify with any one culture or place to be honest – I feel like I belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Education-wise, I was a science and maths student at school in Trinidad (I was academically inclined, and as such wasn’t allowed to do subjects like art or design, which were considered the domain of those who weren’t going to amount to much) and then went on to study politics in the UK.  That was followed by a decade of living and working in London, mainly in the financial sector, until one day I woke up.

Fernandes

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I was working at JP Morgan at the time (1998) and was fairly settled into a self-satisfied, vacuous kind of existence. One lunch break, I decided to take a rest from the usual fare, walked across the bridge and randomly into the Hayward Gallery. Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima happened to be exhibiting at the time. I stood there, absolutely transfixed. Here were these familiar, functional objects – alarm clock-type red LCDs, attached to small motorised cars, zooming around the floor. It was enchanting. Now this may seem pedestrian to someone with a background in the arts, but to me at the time it was explosive – the notion that an object so utterly mundane could be transformed into something so beautiful, so layered, by adding nothing more than an idea. After that nothing ever looked quite the same. Within a month I had quit my job and moved first to Los Angeles and then to Barbados where I began to experiment with graphic design. A good friend convinced me to move back to London where I began working in magazines in the late ’90s, before finally returning to Trinidad and starting my own design studio in 2001. In 2006 I joined forces with photographer Alex Smailes as the practice became more and more focused on what was now my core area of interest: the world of identity.

Beacon

What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

Trinidad is blessed with a bounty of natural resources, which makes it quite wealthy by Caribbean standards. It’s a very entrepreneurial environment – at times it seems like everyone is on some hustle or another! It’s also one of those rare places where if you have an idea, and you know how to execute it, you’ve got a better chance of succeeding than not. That makes it a very creative place, certainly in what people do, but perhaps less so in the way they go about doing it. So we have some brilliant examples of creatives who have done well globally – writers, designers, musicians, artists, architects, film-makers and so on; but no real structure or systems in place which allow these successes to be built upon. It’s exciting, chaotic, and ultimately frustrating. It feels as if each generation has to start from scratch, tearing down the half-finished edifices of the previous one, only to eventually get bogged down in the Technicolor mess themselves. As you might imagine, our consultancy isn’t really a part of that culture. Our main challenge was, and still remains, educating clients. Often I first have to sell the importance of design, then the idea of branding and identity, before finally getting around to suggesting that working with me might be a good idea. When I first moved back, there weren’t many people around who were interested in design as a stand-alone profession, other than how it could be used in advertising. That’s not to say that there aren’t good designers in Trinidad & Tobago – far from it. You see, we have this carnival that is amazing – and all absorbing. It’s the tree that hides the forest. So it felt like most of the really talented people were being sucked either into advertising booze, or designing costumes in which to drink said booze. Unfortunately with it came a pallor of mediocrity. This created a paradox – if you knew what you were doing it was easy enough to get started and win new work, but once the business grew beyond a particular point, it was impossible to find anyone to hire. We couldn’t pay what the advertising agencies were offering.  And the agencies, flush on decades of huge accounts and sharing clients among the old boys’ network, weren’t letting us in. We turned to our culture instead.  We created this beautiful studio in a warehouse in East Port of Spain within what was then CCA, an international artists’ residency programme. Within a few months we had doubled in size, and then again a year later. I started a series of talks called Show & Tell (of course!) – as a way to get our team exposed to new ideas. When 100 people turned up to the first one I figured we were on to something. We would pack up our studio, deck out the warehouse, invite a mix of seemingly unrelated speakers, give them 15 minutes each, and then throw a huge afterparty.  Watching diverse audiences interact – young artists mixing – and getting on with – beekeepers , cocoa farmers and curious onlookers was really special. We blended local and international – people like photographer Martin Parr and DJ Diplo gave talks along with a growing crew of talented locals, including Keshav “Jus Now” Singh (musician), Laura Ferriera (photographer), Robert Young (fashion designer) and Wendel McShine (artist).  It was fun, fulfilling and ultimately successful in carving out our own space. I think the greatest challenge was our two-and-a-half year partnership with the regional Ogilvy office, from 2011-2013 (Abovegroup Ogilvy). Their challenge was creativity and culture; ours was access to the big multinational clients and steady cashflow (branding is a fickle beast, especially in the Caribbean). So we merged – a design studio with an advertising agency. People said it couldn’t be done, but why not? At first we were so enthusiastic – anything was possible, and indeed it was. But slowly but surely people returned to their old ways. I learnt the hard way that saying that you want change is easy (who doesn’t like new! shiny!); but actually changing the way people see themselves and their business proved impossible. Until then, I don’t think I had ever truly failed at something. Our best people began to drift away, disenchanted. Eventually we too had to give up – we picked up our stuff and walked out, taking our company and reputation with us. We are back on track now and I think our greatest challenge at the moment is staying small. The pressure to grow is always there, but for now, our plan is to keep focused on working with only a few clients at a time, trying to make things that make a difference.

Miquel

Who and/or what are your greatest inspirations and influences?

I’m largely self-taught, so knowledge of the greats came late in life to me. From a distance – Otl Aicher, Piet Mondrian, Michael Bierut, Peter Zumthor. I’ve always been inspired by the blend of strategy and design that Wolff Olins have mastered. Or the peculiar model of Pentagram. Closer to home, Jamaican magazine First was brilliant; locally Steve Ouditt, Eddie Bowen and Illya Furlong-Walker brought their own brand of genius to the generation before me. Architect Mark Raymond was a great guide and mentor at the beginning. Last but not least my business partners Alex Smailes and Marlon Darbeau and my family have been an endless source of ideas and strength. 

Atlantic

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

I don’t think there’s any one project, but I’m proud of a few for different reasons. Rebranding Atlantic LNG (the biggest company in the region by revenue) was a real milestone in that it was the first time that a local agency was selected to work on something of that scale. Convincing a sceptical board – the heads of BP Trinidad and Tobago, British Gas and so on – that our solution was the right one – was the hardest, and most satisfying part for me. The Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival was a big success, done quickly, and has so far stood the test of time. Beacon Insurance was interesting in that in working with them on their branding, we began to unearth other aspects of their business that needed to change as well. It stalled the project for ages, but in the end something really meaningful emerged. To be honest though, I think the thing that I’m most proud of is how successful the people who have passed through Abovegroup have become. I’m not trying to steal the credit for that – they were well on their way before we met – but it’s rewarding to think that, in some way, we have helped shape the way they see the world by providing a kind of sanctuary for people with big ideas.

Film Festival

What would be your dream job or project?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and it’s to set up a Department of Design in Trinidad & Tobago, working across ministries to bring clarity in communications to what government does and how it goes about doing it. That would include all aspects of internal and external interfaces, workflows and digital; to things like signage, passports, currency and so on. Pie in the sky, right? Maybe not. You see I have this belief that us up-and-coming nations don’t need to wait until we have “arrived” to begin to focus on expressing ourselves clearly. We don’t need the GDP of Norway to appreciate how much better a beautifully designed passport is, or an easy interface to renewing a drivers’ permit. We don’t need a long history of type design to benefit from a unified system of road signage or an intuitive website. We can appreciate what we have without dampening our ambitions – our significant places and monuments aren’t properly identified, their stories buried or misunderstood. It’s no wonder that they are routinely torn down or paved over. I think sophistication in design doesn’t have to be merely an indicator of a nation’s success; it can be a driver towards that success as well. It works for emerging products, brands and corporations – why not nations?

Film fest

Who in your field do you think deserves credit or recognition?

Ossie Glean Chase is an absolute gem of a man who has had a phenomenal career. He’s a fantastic designer, artist, architect and social thinker. He’s quite well known in certain circles, but barely known in Trinidad, certainly among the younger design community. I have been lucky to meet with him on a few occasions and I always leave feeling that I’ve been speaking with someone much younger than me (he’s in his 80s).

Show Tell

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

The other day the head of one of our associate companies remarked that the problem with us was that we were dreamers, and that Trinidad didn’t like dreamers. If you hear that, you know that you are on the right track. Emerging nations need dreamers. Our problems can’t be solely solved by parroting what has happened in Singapore or in Switzerland. We need to have the self-belief to find appropriate solutions ourselves. As designers we have a responsibility to participate in this development. Design is not a natural priority – we have to push ourselves to the front, and insist that our way of thinking should be included in the process.

Casa

What’s next for you?

We recently launched HOME, the region’s first multi-purpose co-working space, in partnership with fashion designer Anya Ayoung-Chee in this beautiful house in Port of Spain. We’re looking to begin replicating this model in other regional cities later on in 2015. I’ve got a personal photography project that I’ve just started, recording the massive cultural shift that Trinidad and Tobago has seen by retaking a series of photographs my father took of beautiful colonial-era buildings in the 1980s. On top of that I’m shifting my centre of gravity back towards the UK at the end of 2015 to be closer to my family and explore new avenues. It’s an exciting time…

For more information visit http://abovegroup.com 

Network

EUROPE:

THE V&A PRESENTS ART AND EXISTENCE: AFRICAN AND ASIAN DIASPORA EXPLORED. An informal series of talks led by external practitioners and specialists in their field, who through art, design, media and technology, unpack the cultural and social landscape, exploring race and representation, often provocative, sometime challenging assumptions and perceptions of Africans and Asians and their Diaspora. All six talks are free, booking essential. The first two talks in January are as follows:

Recent Developments in Contemporary Art in Barbados Thursday 8 January, 14.00 – 15.30pm. By Dr Allison Thompson, Lecturer in Art History at Barbados Community College 

4 CORNERS: Designers from the African Diaspora (Africa, Caribbean, Europe & USA) Thursday 22 January, 14.30 – 16.00pm Jon Daniel, Independent Creative Director 

For booking information visit the V&A website

THE CARIBBEAN:

TVE (TRANSOCEANIC VISUAL EXCHANGE) is making an open call in search of recent artists’ films and videos to be included in an exchange between Fresh Milk (Barbados), RM, (Auckland) and VAN Lagos (Nigeria). Submitted works must have been completed in the last five years and must be made by artists practicing in the Caribbean, Africa or Polynesia. Subission deadline 16 February 2015. For more information visit the Arc magazinewebsite

THE US:

BEYOND THE SUPERSQUARE explores the indelible influence of Latin American and Caribbean Modernist architecture on contemporary art. The exhibition features more than 30 artists and more than 60 artworks, including photography, video, sculpture, installation, and drawing, that respond to major Modernist architectural projects constructed in Latin America and the Caribbean from the 1920s through the 1960s. Runs until 11 January 2015 at The Bronx Museum of the Arts, 1040 Grand Concourse, Bronx, New York 10456 T: 718-681-6000. For more information visit the Bronx Museum website. 

AFRICA:

UNCERTAIN TERMS is a group exhibition showcasing the work of 14 artists from across four continents. The exhibition brings together a group of artists who engage with changing dynamics, either in response to formal issues of materiality within their practice, or as a reaction to broader socio-political themes. In all cases the work is a reaction to dominant hegemonic structures. Whether it be through the direct questioning of western depictions of history, colonialism –and its attendant capitalist enterprises, as in the work of artist Frowhawk Two Feathers, or as in Nico Krijno’s work: which destabilizes the primacy of certain modes of production and the objects through which they manifest. Runs until 24 January 2015. For more information visit the What If The World website

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: An Interview with Lowell Thompson

Advertising or Adland’, used to be a home to a plethora of interesting and dynamic characters. I’m not talking about the smooth, elegant types that grace our TV screens in shows such as Mad Men;but the weird, wonderful and downright eccentric ones that featured at the heart of many a tale and legend told in industry pubs, clubs and awards ceremonies. I guess it was a symptom of the (less politically correct) times of the ‘50s and ‘60s and the nature of the job and the people it attracted. But as the civil rights era kicked in, what about the black creatives working in the industry? Tales of black art directors and copywriters tend to be few and far between. This may be again symptomatic of the times. But also possibly I suspect due to a desire to blend in and get their head down and do the job, rather than be loud, extrovert and stand out in the crowd. Our featured creative this month is no such wallflower and is a genuine character. He has successfully managed to navigate a career in the turbulent waters of American advertising, creating some uncompromising work in his inimitable style, winning awards along the way and lived to tell the tale. So here it is in his own words. Over to you Lowell Thompson…

Lowell

Lowell Thompson, advertising executive, author and artist

What’s your background?

Background? What background? I got into the ad game the old- fashioned way: luck, pure luck. Just like most of the “white” folks. But seriously, the only thing I had that, in hindsight, made me a future ad man was a little talent for drawing and painting and even smaller one for writing. I’m from a poor family of 11 kids, but luckily, two parents, and spent most of my young years just barely making it in school, although I was told I had an above average IQ and read well for my age. I also liked to draw. Having 10 brothers and sisters gave me lots of folks to practice my portrait drawing on. It took me forever to finally get out of Wendell Phillips High School (on Chicago’s Southside) and only then because a few art teachers took pity on me and literally put me in a class by myself so that I could gain enough credits to graduate. I had won a scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. But I dropped out after six months because I needed to make money to help the family (and I didn’t feel particularly at home in the fine art world). After about a dozen jobs, I lucked into the ad game at age 20 (in 1968).

King

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I happened to be in the right place, at the right time with a little talent. If I remember right, I got into the big-time ad biz almost exactly three months after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on 4 April 1968. And after the nationwide riots that followed. Corporate America suddenly got interested in colored folks in anything but menial positions. I would have been lucky to have gotten a job in the mail room before that. Just a decade or so before, these giant ad agencies were still getting used to the idea of hiring Italians and Jews. I was actually working at the Chicago Tribune newspaper at the time, as an office boy in the creative services department. I’d been promised a promotion to be a keyline/pasteup artist.  They had already let me draw black and white fashion drawings for their Muriel Mundy account. (I’m amazed I still remember the name. I haven’t thought about this stuff in over 45 years). Anyway, when I got knocked out of the promotion because of a merger with Chicago’s American, another Trib-owned paper, I went looking for a new job during my vacation. On the very last day, I went to the Urban League, a social service agency focusing on civil rights and helping “Negroes” get into corporate America, The guy there told me about a summer intern position at Foote, Cone & Belding Advertising agency. I didn’t really know what an ad agency did, but I went to the interview. Luckily their offices were in a sleek, Mies Van Der Rohe knockoff skyscraper right next to the classic, gothic Tribune building, so I could sneak out to an interview during my lunch break. The personnel man at FCB was a guy who made Don Draper and his boss on Mad Men look like plumbers. Slicked back silvery white hair and even whiter teeth. He was so smooth, he could sell fins to sharks. He welcomed me into his big, wood paneled corner office overlooking the Chicago River as if I was his long lost runaway slave son. After I found out exactly what FCB did, I knew I’d found a career. 

Sears

What challenges did you face/overcome in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

Funny thing, I don’t remember ever having any blatant, racist incidents. But by that time in the USA, “whites” up north had learned to keep their racist training in check, only bringing it out around friends and family. For about eight years in the US, being a card-carrying racist wasn’t cool. Of course, I’m sure there was talk behind the scenes, in the meetings, bars and clubs where I wasn’t invited, where they decided just how high they wanted me to go… and how close to any client they wanted me to get. I never really realised the extent of this until I was way beyond the business and started reading and thinking about the sea-change that happened in America between 1960 and 1970. But now I remember one seemingly harmless, even personally positive, incident. A very respected, award-winning veteran art director at Needham, Harper & Steers told me when we were working on a creative gang-bang, “you know Lowell, you think like a white guy” (or words to that effect). I took it as the compliment I think he meant. But looking back, it shows just how conditioned “whites” were to think of er…ummm… “colored” folks as lacking in… er… uh… cognitive skills. I was probably one of the first and few “blacks” he’d ever been in a room with who wasn’t sweeping the floor or freshening his drink.

Sears

Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

1. My uncle Raymond, whom my mother always said was where I most likely got my artistic talent, although I don’t remember seeing anything he did. She told the often told African American story of him sending his drawings to apply for a job and being enthusiastically hired until he was stopped at the receptionist’s desk when he showed up in “black” skin.
2. My mother would also mention the only African American artist she’d heard of, E. Simms Campbell, a cartoonist extraordinaire who went to school in Chicago and whose work was appearing in Esquire, a leading men’s mag.
3. Henry Ossawa Tanner, the great African American artist.
4. Vince Cullers and Emmett McBain. They were the first two African American admen who were doing ground-breaking work in the late ‘60s, when I first got into the biz. Vince Cullers had started his agency in the mid-‘50s and by the time I heard of him, he claimed to have the oldest continuously operating African American ad agency in the USA. Emmett was an amazing art director and creative character. Together they did the first “conceptually black” ads I’d seen. They also did a poster promoting the agency that ranks with the boldest, most elegant pieces of communication art ever executed by man – in my humble opinion.
5. Georg Olden, as an example of great talent, the pitfalls of believing your own press releases and of becoming a pseudo-EurAm.
6. Harry Belafonte, the singer/actor/activist who put his money and his life where his mouth is. He shows that just because you’re personally successful, you don’t have to abandon your people or your principles.

Sing

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

At the risk of sounding like a big-headed, pompous, self-promoting egomaniac, I think my best piece of work is me. Looking back to where I came from, I see gradually creating this character I’ve become at 67. The project of staying (relatively) sane, positive and optimistic in this insane, negative and pessimistic nation and world ain’t easy. It’s not for wimps. Although I’ve done work that has won the Clio (the “Oscar” of advertising in the USA), Cebas (the “Oscar” of “black” advertising), been featured in Print and Communications Arts and that I was pretty happy with at the time, little of my ad work for the big agencies lived up to my loftiest expectations. In fact, the stuff I like the best was almost all done for freelance, personal or not-for-profit projects where I made little or no money.  The work I did for Partnership Against Racism (PAR) is an example. I created this not-for-profit in the mid 1990s to be a communications agency creating ads and commercials designed to counteract the effect of 400 years of white supremacy. Later, I was joined by Father Derek Simons, a “white”, British-born Catholic priest and we created the “Diversity is Beautiful” poster and we co-hosted a radio show titled, “The Race Question” where we argued about the issue and hosted guests. It was fun.  But even more fun was when I wrote my first book, ‘“WHITE FOLKS”: Seeing America Through Black Eyes’. The title was tailor-made for advertising and controversy. My “I Love White Folks*” poster here is one of my favorite pieces. The radio spot I wrote was so hot, they refused to run it on WVON, the legendary African American-owned  station. It began with a brotha shouting “White Folks for sale! White Folks for sale!”. I still don’t fully understand why they were afraid to run it it…

WF

What would be your dream job or project?

I’m actually working my dream job right now. I’m retired from the day-to-day business, so I can spend my time, energy, talent and experience to save the world – starting right here in the USA in Chicago.  In fact, I just completed one example of what I want to do on a bigger stage. I call it my AllMericans Portrait Project. I’ve attached an example of the portrait, which I began in a “pop-up” studio on a corner in Buena Park, the southern portion of the neighborhood I live in, Uptown, Chicago. My purpose is to document a neighborhood in Chicago (still considered by many to be the most segregated big city in the USA) where people of many different “races”, ethnicities, incomes, gender choices, mental and physical abilities, etc. live in relative harmony.  This is just one small example of my dream job. I plan to create a communications company I’ve named Humane Communications that promotes humane ideals and values. My theme line is the kicker, “It’s like an ad agency… for the human race”. It basically takes my old Partnership Against Racism idea and expands and twists it to be a positive force for the future instead of just a corrective of the USA’s heinous racial history.

Kemper

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

Vince Cullers, who started one of the first successful African American ad agencies, which was based in Chicago for about 40 years, until his death. Emmett McBain, who was one of the first art directors at a major ad agency, J. Walter Thompson, in the early 60s. By the time I got into the business, he was the head art director at Vince Cullers Advertising and helped create some of the classic ads of the day. He later co-founded Burrell-McBain (now Burrell Communications), which was for decades the largest African American-owned agency in the USA. Joey Randall, who worked in New York and Chicago and was the creator of “Street Song” the TV commercial Burrell advertising did for Coca Cola that put the agency on the creative map. Harry Webber, an art director/copywriter, and a legend in his own mind, but deservingly so. Many of his claims of creative stardom would be unbelievable if they weren’t largely backed up by fact. He worked mostly in New York in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He won many creative awards and gets credit for co-creating the “I’m Stuckon BandAids” and the “Thanks, I Needed That” campaign for Mennen in the 80s.  I met him when I took his office at Leo Burnett in Chicago in 1978. Alma Hopkins was a copywriter who started in the business about the same time as I did. She worked at a few EurAm agencies before I convinced her to come to Burrell in 1979. Although I left by January 1980, she stayed, becoming senior VP and creative chief. James Glover is a copywriter who wrote and helped produce so great commercials for McDonald’s, United Airlines and other big clients. He’s still working at a creative director. Phil Gant was a copywriter who became one of the few AfrAmerican top creative executives at a major ad agency. He ran the creative department of BBDO Chicago for years.

Miller

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

1. Find out what you’re good at.
2. Decide if you want to do it for a living.
3. Develop your skill, whether you see immediate job prospects or not.
4. Find out as much as you can about the realities of the business.
5. Keep your fingers crossed. Luck is real.

Top Dog

What’s next for you?

My next book, “Mad Invisible Men”, then world creative domination. I have so many “save the world” projects I can’t even list them all. But one that I hope will incorporate many of them is my Humane Communications project. I bought the domain about a year ago, Humanecom.com and I think the theme line explains what I want to do pretty well, “It’s like an ad agency…for the human race”. Please stay tuned.

For more information visit madinvisiblemen.com

Network:

EUROPE:

GLENN LIGON ‘CALL AND RESPONSE’ Camden Arts Centre until 11 January 2015. For his exhibition at Camden Arts Centre, the first in a UK public gallery for the celebrated American artist, Ligon presents a new series of large paintings based on the 1966 seminal taped-speech work, Come Out, by Minimalist composer Steve Reich. Come Out is drawn from the testimony of six black youths arrested for committing a murder during the Harlem Race Riot of 1964. Known as the ‘Harlem Six’, the case galvanised civil rights activists for a generation, bringing to attention police brutality against black citizens. Echoing Reich’s overlapping repetition of words and phrases, Ligon’s silkscreen paintings overlay the words to create slowly shifting and rhythmic effects. For more info visit the website

WANGECHI MUTU is on a formidable tear. After presentations in Durham, N.C., Brooklyn, N.Y., Miami and currently Evanston, Ill., her first U.S. survey remains underway as her second solo exhibition at Victoria Miro opens in London. Based in Brooklyn, educated in Britain and born Nairobi, Kenya, Mutu’s international pedigree is reflected in her otherworldly collage works, drawing on African mythology, colonialism, feminism and contemporary perceptions of black women and their bodies. ‘Nguva na Nyoka’ is at Victoria Miro Gallery, London until 19 December 2014. For more information visit the website

THE U.S:

Speaking of People: Ebony, Jet and Contemporary Art explores the ways contemporary artists use Ebony and Jet as a resource and as inspiration in their practices. Published by Johnson Publishing Company for over sixty years, both magazines are cultural touchstones for many African Americans and often represent a commonality between people of diverse backgrounds. Exhibition runs til Mar 8, 2015 at Studio Museum of Harlem.

For more information visit the website

THE CARIBBEAN:

The Martinique Jazz Festival 2014, now in it’s 20th year, features an array of jazz and world music artists from the Caribbean and around the world. For more information visit the website

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: US | Interview with Charles ‘Chuck’ Harrison

In February, the U.S. celebrates Black History Month. Therefore it seems very apt that we should try to make a little history of our own by introducing what is, as far as I know, the first regular column of its kind anywhere in the world, highlighting the historical and contemporary creative contribution of designers from the African diaspora. Each month we will focus on four key regions, with a view to expanding both culturally and geographically over time. The U.S. has a rich legacy of black designers encompassing all areas of the design spectrum. Pioneering admen such as Georg Olden, Emmett McBain, Leroy Winbush and Archie Boston; Graphic artists and illustrators such as Aaron Douglas and Charles Dawson; and designers such as Eugene Winslow and Charles ‘Chuck’ Harrison who I have the pleasure of introducing to you as our first featured profile designer. I sincerely hope you like the column and find it engaging, informative and insightful. And if you do, please help support it by sharing it with your networks, subscribing or posting comments via the design week site.

Charles ‘Chuck’ Harrison, African American Industrial Designer. Born on 23 September 1931, Charles ‘Chuck’ Harrison was the first African-American executive to work at Sears Roebuck&Company, starting as a designer in 1961 and eventually becoming manager of the company’s entire design group. Among his 750+ consumer product designs is the first ever plastic trash can. He also led the team that updated the View-Master in 1958. This iconic product sold with only minor colour changes for over 40 years and could be found in almost every US household and households throughout the world.

What’s your background?

I spent my early developmental years on a rural segregated college campus in Texas (Prairie View A&M). My father taught on that campus and I had an opportunity to be exposed to almost all aspects of life there.

How did you get started in design?

I was directed by an instructor at college to turn my attention to design in my first year of school. I had a little success academically and stayed with it. I gave it 90 per cent of my energy and interest and that carried me through school. I then continued to pursue the profession after school as there weren’t many other options open to me. Joe Palmer and Henry Glass taught me. They were both high-profile industrial designers who I was really energised to be associated with. They recognised and rewarded me with good grades and the opportunity to visit their studios. They were very accommodating and passionate.Chuck Harrison working for Sears Roebuck in the 1960sChuck Harrison working for Sears Roebuck in the 1960s

What challenges did you face/overcome in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

Getting through the segregated system in the United States and finding employment. Once I made my way through that I was able to proceed to develop a lifetime career. Other challenges were trying to live and pursue a professional career as a black person in America, which were really no different from those of any other black professionals. [For my design work] I needed drawing and model-making skills to perform and take a design concept forward to a client who would then accept it as an item that they would embrace, put it into their product list and support in their company. You had to be able to present what you’re thinking and convince a client that it’s worthy as a serious part of their company. Much like today. I had to rely on manual skills that people use the computer for today. You had to be able to draw well in order for your ideas to be accepted with little resistance and readily embraced and adopted.

Who are your greatest inspirations and influences?

I’d have to say Charles Eames for his chairs and furniture design. Elliot Noyes for his product designs, primarily typewriters for IBM. The directness, the images that they would put the products in. Simple, uncomplicated, clean forms with no superfluous decoration. I would adopt this in my work by keeping my designs as clean and pure as I could and keep the decorative components to the minimum; allow the form itself to be a strong image of the product – not decoration.

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

A plastic garbage can. A very strong form with a minimum of decoration, limited to texture, which is secondary to the form of the product. I enhanced the shape of the product, which allowed it the capability to nest, which gave it an advantage in shipping; it didn’t occupy a great volume and could be shipped in a small vehicle. It also didn’t require much warehouse space. The lid and the handle were moulded at the same time, which cut down on the tooling and moulding process. These considerations reduced the cost to the end user.The plastic garbage can

The plastic garbage can

What would be your dream job or project?

To connect with a manufacturer or company that could produce a product for public consumption with little consideration for profit margin but to give the the customer the best they could have in that design. To develop products for the severely disabled who need low-cost products to be able to live more independently; the need is there. That would be something I’d like to do, if the company shared my vision.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Follow this path for a life endeavour only if it’s sincerely for the love of it and you can survive mentally and physically and can distance yourself from the greed of financial gain.

What’s next for you?

Continue to be an ambassador for good design.Chuck Harrison with the updated Viewmaster

Chuck Harrison with the updated Viewmaster

This month’s network of events

THE US

Marvelous Color: An exhibition celebrating Black comic book super heroes can be seen through February 26 at the Caribbean Cultural Center, which is located at 1825 Park Av. Suite 602 New York, NY 10035. For more information, go to MarvelousColor.com.

THE CARIBBEAN

The 2nd International Reggae Poster Contest 2013 Call for Entries. Closing date: 30 March. Celebrating Great Jamaican Music with an overarching aim of establishing a Frank Gehry-designed Reggae Hall of Fame Performance center in Kingston, Jamaica. Visit www.reggaepostercontest.com for details.

AFRICA

Design Indaba Conference 2013. The best of global creativity all on one stage. Hosted at Cape Town International Convention Centre. with live Simulcast is hosted at the same time at various venues around Southern Africa. From 27 Feb – March 1: www.designindaba.com.

EUROPE

In Seven Days: The story of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign told in seven iconic silkscreen prints by Nicola Green, who followed Obama and his campaign team across America as this historic journey unfolded. Runs until 14 April 2013. Walker Art Gallery, William Brown Street, St. George’s Quarter, Liverpool. UK. www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk.

Special thanks to Joeffrey Trimmingham for his assistance with this interview.