Vaughan Oliver, the graphic designer behind 4AD, has died at the age of 62.
News of his passing came via Adrian Shaughnessy, Oliver's design collaborator. He passed away with his partner, Lee, by his side.
Oliver arrived in London in the late '70s after studying graphic design at Newcastle Polytechnic. After a chance meeting with 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell, he became the label's sole full-time employee in 1983. Working with the photographer Nigel Grierson as 23 Envelope, Oliver would then design nearly every 4AD cover up to 1987, including key releases from the likes of Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, Modern English and Dead Can Dance.
In defining the visual identity for a soon-to-be-legendary label, Oliver fulfilled a life goal of applying design principles to music. "I was a working class lad from a dull town in County Durham," he told designboom magazine. "There was no real culture, my parents were not really interested in anything unusual–everything I was getting was through record sleeves. It was a democratic way of discovering art. The local record shop was an art gallery for me."
Oliver continued to design artwork for latter-day 4AD artists like Scott Walker and TV On The Radio, while also directing music videos and adverts. His work has been exhibited throughout Europe, Tokyo and LA, and is a part of the permanent collection at the V&A’s 20th Century gallery. Last year, Unit Editions published a limited-edition art book, Vaughan Oliver: Archive.
Read 4AD's statement on Oliver's death.
Watts-Russell posted a note to the 4AD website:
Vaughan Oliver taught me to appreciate quality. He taught me how to look at the physical world. He was a force of nature and I'm having such a hard time processing this.
I have no idea how to define in a few words the enormous impact he had on my life. Two Virgos with a tendency toward being controlling we somehow managed to compliment and bolster each other in our mission to transcend mediocrity. The breadth and scale of work is incomparable, continuously fanned by the inspiration a new collaboration would bring. I'm aware that we each considered the other a bit of an enigma, a contradiction to our own personalities, and I also know that our mutual respect for each other remained intact.
We had drifted apart having less frequent contact as the years passed and I moved to the States. This last year, aware of an unrelated but serious illness gave me cause to bully my way back into his life a little. I was scared for him then so found myself participating in more genuine, heartfelt, conversation than we'd been used to working side by side for years. So some things were said.. words of affection, admiration and eternal gratitude.. that might just have been left unspoken. For this I'm grateful. But I'm so angry that, having made a full recovery, he was still taken. And, of course, I want to have just one more conversation.
It is rare to think of someone in one's life and know that with absolute certainty that the course of both our lives were irrevocably changed for the better as a result. The results, the fruit, is available for all to see.. in pictures at least.
Vaughan William Oliver, quite simply.. thank you for the beauty, the friendship, the work and the madness.
Photo credit: Lucy Johnson