Emblematic signs of our times and the artist who made them

To most, the name Alan Fletcher probably mean nothing at all, but his graphic design work has become a highly visible part of our lives. The British artist, who was born in 1931, has designed book and magazine covers, as well as company logos that have grown to ubiquitous proportions. The Reuters news agency’s logo ranks as a distinctive example of Fletcher’s work. Another is that of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The now-classic «Art Book» by Phaidon Press, where Fletcher is its design consultant, features Fletcher’s highly recognizable work on its cover. He has also offered his skills to Penguin Books and the magazine Domus, which ranks as one of the world’s most significant architecture and design reviews. In a career stretching four decades, Fletcher has collaborated with corporate giants such as IBM, Pirelli, BP, Lloyds of London, Shell and Toyota, as well as major cultural institutions. The artist is often described as the man who applied the less-is-more and form-follows-function philosophies in design in the coolest of ways. A master of irony and ambiguity, Fletcher has consistently worked with a playful touch – even today, at the age of 75. Nowadays a free-roaming artist without ongoing business obligations with many major companies – the activity is confined to Phaidon and the Swiss pharmaceutical group Novartis – Fletcher works just for pleasure, which still keeps him relatively busy. Even so, the celebrated artist found the time to visit Athens for last week’s opening of an exhibition featuring his posters. The show was organized by the Modern Design Museum of Thessaloniki, which remains a homeless but active institution. The museum found a home in Greek artist Michalis Katzourakis’s new studio in the capital’s inner district of Kerameikos (Salaminos 11B, next to the Bios venue). A friend of Fletcher’s, Katzourakis has also proven to be a prolific graphic designer. The Modern Design Museum of Thessaloniki owns the single largest collection of work by Fletcher – 35 posters donated by the man himself. Fletcher likes Greece and has many friends here. He has been associated with Katzourakis and Freddy Karabot since the days when they were this country’s only members of Alliance Graphique Internationale, a world-renowned design association. Two years ago, a third Greek artist, Dimitris Arvanitis also joined. Fletcher credits Stergios Delialis, head curator at the Modern Design Museum of Thessaloniki, for making the exhibition possible. Numerous critics have described Fletcher’s work as being heavily influenced by a period he had spent in the USA. Fletcher, who began his career in New York City but returned to Europe at his Italian wife’s insistence, rejects the claims of an American influence on his work with a flat «no.» This laconic response, though, could be linked to the artist’s slightly reticent nature. Following decades of collaboration in the world of conglomerates, the aging Fletcher says he is glad to no longer be associated. «It was trench warfare,» said Fletcher, once again laconically. But, despite his more relaxed approach to work these days, Fletcher could not imagine giving up graphic design. He is not lured by the thought of long holiday breaks and could not bear a life of nothingness at home. Design is a way of life for Fletcher. Even when he is dining with friends, he often sketches ideas on paper napkins. The exhibition is being held under the auspices of the Development Ministry in collaboration with the PRC Group and the British Council. Last Friday, Fletcher followed up the show’s launch with a discussion about his significant body of work at the Benaki Museum’s new wing on Pireos Street. Sketch of an artist The Modern Design Museum of Thessaloniki’s head curator Stergios Delialis offers a bit of insight into the renowned British graphic designer: c He likes to get up early in the morning. c When he smoked – and he smoked plenty – Fletcher designed his «clam» ashtray, which opened and closed and could hold as many as 60 butts. Just two months later, it was copied without end, but Fletcher never received copyright money for his popular gadget. c He acknowledges being influenced by many things around him. Fletcher collects items such as letters from newspapers, pieces of wood from beaches, tickets, and bags, which help guide his working ideas. c He writes by hand, not on a computer. He prefers communicating by fax – usually short and sharp messages signed «A.» c He requests sketches on paper napkins from friends when they get together for dinner. Fletcher has a large collection. c Fletcher is proud of «Feed Back,» a guide book for the designer world he puts out with Pentagram every four to five years. Graphic designers from all over the world offer suggestions about where to go and what to see. The latest edition’s section on Greece includes information on the Modern Design Museum of Thessaloniki. c He believes and declares that design is not a business, but a way of life. c «We met on Crete,« Delialis said. «He has spent many holidays at a small village above Hania with his family. That’s where I went and found him. That’s how the party for the Design Museum’s 10th anniversary began, with 10 artists from all over the world designing one poster each with the number 10 on it. Alan was the first.»