Vaughan Oliver

Vaughan Oliver is a British graphic designer, best known for his work for The Pixies, Lush, The Breeders and many others. His work is extremely interesting and provocative. He combines a diversity of styles – typography, photography, collages, using of different lights, illustrations… Revealing the beauty of vinyl, he shows how strong inspiration music can be.

Vaughan started his lecture telling us about the time of the music revolution. At this time bands had an independent philosophy. They tried to do something different to the stream, to break the limits. During the years  he worked with some of these groups, made album covers for them, posters and as he said “music fill his life”. I believe that because I can see how emotional are his creations, their strong meaning and provocative character.

Some of his memorable album covers are made for The Pixies. The image for their first edition “Come On Pilgrim” is very expressive – a man whose body is covered with hairs and a bold head. The second one “Surfer Rosa”, released in march 1988, changed the mood completely. It portrays a naked spanish dancer on a street and the subject matter includes references to mutilation and voyeurism. Although it is a still picture, there are a lot of emotions in this photo like passion, proud and anger. For the third album Oliver used three different colours and the golden section. “Doolittle” and “Bossanova” are incredibly intriguing. It looks like as he started treating the audience with more respect, managing with two main instruments – ambiguity and mystery.

Vaughan Oliver created also some identical things for Xmal Deutschland. He was inspired by black mail lettering. Lush are another group, he made many of their album sleeves. Their style is  definitely not so provocative than these for the Pixies. The Breeders is a girl band and Oliver designed music covers for them. He used an interesting technique for their sleeve “POD” – coloured paper and took pictures with a polaroid.

It is necessary to mention that he designed for the famous American filmmaker David Lynch as well. I admire that, because personally I consider David Lynch for an absolute genius and the person who can express dark sense of humor the best.

There are also many, many examples of Vaughan Oliver’s work, some of them genuine artistic and inspirational. Personally, I like mostly his work for The Pixies and especially album sleeves “Minotaur” and “Bossanova”. They look extremely modern and creative. In addition I remember “Albino Alligator” of Michael Brooke – an amazing composition of colours, images and types.

Vaughan’s inspiration had some interesting roots. He is an admirer of Salvador Dali and surrealism as a whole. He admited that during the lecture, but in my opinion this can be seen also from his work. There can be noticed Rotsko’s influence in some of his pieces. On the other hand the author took advantage of a few very simple sources of material as Japanese pictograms and postcards. However, the most impressive part of his work is as he called it “collaboration” or the sensible connection between music and design, because “it is easy to make a cover but without link to the music, it is worthless”. The music has to be the biggest inspiration and, in my view, Oliver achieved a huge success here. His work is like a spontaneous respond to the bands wishes and style and  their music.

Although all this bands are not very fashionable at present and I don’t like particularly their songs, I still can evaluate Vaughan Oliver’s design as impressive. Provocative, related to sex and church, surrealistic, dark, exciting, in some pieces even grotesque, his work reveals successfully a big part of the music independency. In my opinion, his creations are maybe a little bit more aggressive and powerfull, but I can’t deny this so visible connection with the music and philosophy of this musicians.


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