Vaughan Oliver | Source: Kickstarter
Vaughan Oliver, the British artist and graphic designer who helped create the visual identity of the 4AD record label and so many of the legendary imprint’s best-known bands, including the Pixies, Cocteau Twins, Throwing Muses, The Breeders, This Mortal Coil, Dead Can Dance and more, died Sunday, according to his friend and editor. He was 62.
Adrian Shaughnessy, a graphic designer, writer and publisher who co-edited the 2018 collection “Vaughan Oliver: Archive,” announced on Twitter on Sunday morning that “Vaughan Oliver died peacefully today, with his partner Lee by his side. Great loss of friend and design hero.”
Desperately sad to announce that Vaughan Oliver died peacefully today, with his partner Lee by his side. Great loss of friend and design hero. Vaughan Oliver (1957—2019.
— Adrian Shaughnessy (@AJWShaughnessy) December 29, 2019
Through his design studios 23 Envelope and v23, and his original partner, photographer Nigel Grierson, Oliver began working for 4AD in the early ’80s after meeting the independent label’s owner, Ivo Watts-Russell. Oliver worked on album covers for the label through the ’80s and ’90s, lending his surrealist and often dark vision to famous album sleeves including all of the Pixies’ covers — the sleeves of Surfer Rosa and Doolittle being among the artist’s best-known work.
On the Kickstarter page for his “Archive” book, Oliver described his work: “I like to elevate the banal through surrealism. Mystery and ambiguity are important weapons in a designer’s arsenal. I try to make images where you don’t always get ‘the message’ straight away — but these things leave a hook in you. Leaving some space for interpretation is important.”
Following news of Oliver’s death, 4AD posted a statement on Facebook:
“We are incredibly sad to learn of the passing of Vaughan Oliver; there was no-one else like him. Without Vaughan, 4AD would not be 4AD and it’s no understatement to say that his style also helped to shape graphic design in the late-20th century. In 1980, he was the label’s first employee, designing his first sleeve for the Modern English single ‘Gathering Dust’ before going on to create iconic works for the likes of Pixies, Breeders, Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, Throwing Muses, Lush, Pale Saints, TV On The Radio, Scott Walker and countless others. The Guardian said his designs were “abstract, dreamlike, elegant” and they weren’t wrong; he gave both us as a label and our musicians an identity and a voice. We will miss you Vaughan and our thoughts are with your family and friends. We were blessed to know you and will forever be thankful for all you did.”
Watts-Russell has shared some thoughts on Oliver’s passing on 4AD’s website, writing, “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. … 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.”
Former Cocteau Twins bassist Simon Raymonde posted a tribute to Oliver on Facebook on Sunday morning, saying he was shocked to learn of the visual artist’s death.
“It goes without saying what a hugely influential artist he was, but, more importantly, I know he was a wonderful father and a great man. Very funny with impeccable taste in music, art and cinema as you would expect. … It goes without saying that his work during the ’80s and ’90s changed cover art for ever, and not just albums, but books, too. Thanks for some beautiful memories Vaughan.”
Below, we’ve rounded up more tributes and some of Oliver’s best-known album covers.
Vaughan Oliver RIP pic.twitter.com/EWs62C74P6
— PIXIES (@PIXIES) December 29, 2019
In Memoriam, our friend Vaughan Oliver, 12 Sept, 1957-29 Dec, 2019. “Man’s testicle alone (pushed through a piece of card to ensure it’s loneliness).” You will be missed. @4AD_Official @beggarsgroup #vaughanoliver pic.twitter.com/7mGoHJPnPo
— theBreeders (@thebreeders) December 29, 2019
RIP, VO. 💫 https://t.co/bcp88T1S8X
— Tanya Donelly (@TanyaDonelly) December 29, 2019
Absolutely gutted to hear about Vaughan Oliver.
Someone asked me recently if working with him had been ‘claustrophobic’ as he seemed to thrust his ideas onto the artists and he didn’t seem to care what they felt about his designs.
Well, I’ll tell you what happened.. 1/2 pic.twitter.com/hckA503rbe
— Emma Anderson 🇪🇺 (@evjanderson) December 29, 2019
Vaughan Oliver-designed album covers