Monday, 10:59am
8 November 2021

Silent sound

Chris Bigg. Unseen Sketchbooks. Analogue Process 1987 – 2019

Chris Bigg’s ‘sketchbook’, Analogue Process 1987 – 2019, is a hymn of praise to ink on paper

The meaning and mood of the word ‘analogue’ depends on its relationship to ‘digital’, which evolves all the time, writes John L. Walters.

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Early analogue synthesizers were seen as cold and alienating until digital synthesis came along and enthusiasts began to praise old Moogs and Oberheims for their restrospective ‘analogue warmth’.

Deluxe version of Chris Bigg’s Analogue Process 1987 – 2019, which includes a folded silkscreen poster as a jacket.
Above: Spread from
Analogue Process 1987 – 2019.

Chris Bigg has enjoyed a close relationship with many musicians and music labels over his substantial career, first working with Vaughan Oliver, and later under his own name with distinctive and individualistic artists such as David Sylvian, Lush and Tanya Donelly, who have been loyal clients over the years.

Cover of the 4AD compilation Bills & Aches & Blues, 2021. Design and calligraphy: Chris Bigg. Image concepts and photography: Shanti Bell.

Analogue Process 1987 – 2019, released a few months before the pandemic, is the first publication in a series of ‘Unseen Sketchbooks’ published by Gavin Ambrose and Bigg himself. The large format (A3) 64-page stapled booklet is printed in two colours (black and metallic orange) on heavy Munken stock. The ‘deluxe’ edition comes wrapped in a folded outer jacket that doubles as a two-sided silkscreened poster, each one different, and with a signed print (screen and ink) enclosed.

Spread from Analogue Process 1987 – 2019, which features various analogue explorations, including experimental printing and overlaying techniques.

The publication embraces accidents and juxtapositions within its large-format layouts, in which familiar musicians’ names can be glimpsed.

You see little of Bigg’s finished work in Analogue Process. Inside, we get a series of two-colour images filled with overlapping photos and type and textures that demand the viewer’s immediate attention, a mix of scrapbook material and work for album covers, flyers and posters for artists such as Kim Deal and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry at different stages of completion.

There’s lettering for Diaghilev, the exhibition Bigg designed for the V&A in 2010-11, found objects such as a cinema ticket and a solitary glove (perhaps a tribute to Oliver) and work using photographs by Martin Anderson, Polly Borland, Yuka Fujii, David Sylvian and others. The sequence feels improvised. Lettering for the words ‘silent sound’ appears on several pages, a good clue to what Bigg is aiming to create.

Orange poster by Chris Bigg. Printed in 2 colour litho, Black and Metallic Orange, on a flat, uncut running sheet from the Analogue Process book.

The appeal and effectiveness of Bigg’s work lies in something more than fetishism for the increasingly archaic methods of the 1980s design studio, with its film, projectors, cutting boards, sticky tape and Cow Gum. There’s a constant strain of what photographer Simon Larbalastier (a frequent collaborator) described on Instagram as ‘drop dead gorgeous design’ – the sheer beauty of mark-making by whatever means are at hand in the studio. ‘I only really engage with a computer at the final stage of a project’s final development,’ writes Bigg. Analogue Process is a hymn of praise to ink on paper.

Bigg’s unmistakable touch resonates long and deep with musicians and music lovers and can be seen throughout 4AD’s catalogue. In projects, such as his recent covers for the label’s compilation Bills & Aches & Blues (using images by Shanti Bell), there’s a consistent ‘rightness’ of graphic tone that can take the breath away, combined with a freedom of spirit that excites fellow designers of all generations. Analogue Process pulls back the curtain a little to revel in the messy slowness of his methods.

All Nerve (4AD) by The Breeders, 2018. Artwork by Chris Bigg, who has worked with the band since their first album Pod (1999), when he was working with the late Vaughan Oliver.

This month (November 2021) the 4AD label has announced a competition to win a guitar decorated with the artwork for Bills & Aches & Blues, a not-so-silent opportunity to make sound with Bigg’s particular vision.

Each of the ‘deluxe’ editions of Analogue Process features a unique, one-of-a-kind cover, 100 in total.

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John L. Walters, editor of Eye, London

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.