Andy Vella sums up the attitude that he has towards Foruli’s distinctive, exquisitely realised bespoke editions: “We want things to look dead on. Design is about putting different hats on and. I think you have to live and breathe it and really get into it. If you were writing a specific book you would put yourself through the pain to understand what it’s about, wouldn’t you? I think maybe life would be easier if I didn’t take it to the levels that I do or look into it the way I do.” It’s an attitude, a blend of free-wheeling creative energy and perfectionism, that has been honed over the 30 years that Vella has been working as a prolific, boundlessly inventive designer in the worlds of music and publishing. It all began when Andy, then a teenage student in Worthing, had a chance encounter on a train with Porl Thompson, some-time guitarist in the Cure. The pair would go on to form the Parched Art design company, but not before Andy’s photographs had caught the eye of the Cure’s front man Robert Smith who asked him to design the covers of the album Faith and its single Primary. So before he’d even left Portsmouth let alone completed his MA at the Royal College of Art, Andy was an established designer, and had forged creative partnerships with Thompson and Smith that continue to this day. As he recalls of his work with Smith: “I haven’t been involved with every cover but it would be easier to mention the ones which I haven’t done, which is nice.”
His diverse work with the Cure led to commissions from and collaborations with many other bands and artists, notably Swervedriver, Gene, Pavement, The Warm Jets, The God Machine, Jeff Buckley, Arthur Baker and Vincent Gallo. In the mid 1980s he was taken under the wing of Chris Parry and was put in charge of the creative side of Parry’s Fiction records, before going on to work with the Chicago-based acid house label Desire, where his personal favourite among his many commissions was the cover for the 1988 compilation In the Key of E, which was, it turns out, also a particular favourite of Roger Dean, the artist and designer famed for his own work with Yes and Uriah Heep.
Although he finds inspiration and a degree of influence “from the colours, from the textures and obviously the composition” from certain artists – naming Picasso, Miro and Saul Steinberg, and being particularly drawn to the “beautiful anger” of Georges Grosz – designers – Saul Bass, Storm Thorgerson – and photographers - Man Ray, Georges Hugnet, Brassaï, André Kertész, Germaine Krull, “really serious people” – he is wary of copying his idols: “This is why it works with Foruli, because what we’re doing – and this is really important – if someone asks me to design a book for Brassaï or Picasso or Chagall or Miró, I wouldn’t suddenly start getting my pastels out and start designing a cover like Miró. What I would actually be thinking is ‘What’s he about? What’s the main ingredient here? What can I exploit? What can I do something with?’ I don’t know why you’d pander to the public – you should open people’s eyes a bit.”
Opening the eyes of readers and record-buyers is what Andy has been doing for years now, finding inspiration in the unlikeliest places: “Go out and experience the world and you never know you might just see the way that two bits of metal have been joined on the quayside somewhere and the way they’re rusting and you’re looking at that thinking, ‘There’s a bit of type.’ I do really think it’s all around you.”
Andy’s openness to inspiration and the diverse opportunities that have come his way over the years have seen him work extensively as a photographer, often on his own design commissions, conducting and overseeing fashion shoots, supervising and commissioning the work of other photographers, Rankin, Perou and Matthew Donaldson among others, and branding the likes of Xfm and Planet Rock.
In the mid 1990s a commission to create six covers for Bloomsbury Publishing launched Andy’s career as a leading book designer. He has created eye-catching covers for the likes of John Berger, Tobias Wolff, Susan Irvine, Nadine Gordimer, Stieg Larsson and Margaret Atwood, working for many major publishers, including Harvill books, Maclehose Press, Penguin, Abacus, Flamingo, Bloomsbury, John Murray, Quercus and of course Foruli, a publishing house that shares his passion, his vision for how books could and should be. The results of this collaboration are already impressive, with the almost architectural designs for the bespoke edition of Peter Hook’s The Hacienda: How Not to Run a Club and Glenn Hughes’s Deep Purple and Beyond, the production of which required 100 pieces of fabric each hand-cut by Andy himself.
In Foruli Andy has found the perfect environment for his creative drive: “I like the fact that we’ve got a nice positive energy about books. With today’s publishing world it’s important to be doing this because this is something you’re not going to see necessarily on a screen - this is all about touching and feeling and stroking and holding. There are so many books out there that just look great, but it’s so self-indulgent that you can’t read it. But at the end of the day if you’re putting type on paper it’s got to be read. What I want to do is to create beautiful books, beautiful objects - and as an object each one could stand on a plinth in a gallery, but better than that you can open it up and read a fantastically designed, beautiful book.”
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