23 Envelope

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23 Envelope was the name given to the graphic design partnership of graphic designer Vaughan Oliver and photographer/filmmaker Nigel Grierson from 1980–1988. During this time, they created a distinct visual identity for the British independent music label 4AD through their record sleeve designs for bands such as Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, and This Mortal Coil.

As 23 Envelope, Oliver primarily designed, while Grierson primarily photographed (occasionally, however, duties would be exchanged and/or overlap). With Grierson's departure in 1988,[1] Oliver saw fit to retire the 23 Envelope moniker, and continue working under the name v23 with new partner Chris Bigg, and various design associates that would come to include Paul McMenamin, Timothy O'Donnell, Martin Andersen and others.[2] Meanwhile, Grierson focused more on the moving image, directing music videos and TV commercials, both in London and the USA.

A quote from a 2000 article on Grierson by Rick Poynor explains some of the early history of Oliver and Grierson:

Oliver and Grierson met in their late teens, as school boys, at Ferryhill Comprehensive, County Durham. Their friendship began in the art room, chatting about their mutual passions for art and rock music. For both of them, designing album covers — the medium was then still a twelve-inch mini-canvas — was a natural ambition. "Record sleeves," says Grierson, "seemed like the greatest thing you could possibly do." In 1976, Oliver began a graphic design degree at Newcastle Polytechnic and, a year later, at Oliver's suggestion — as Grierson recalls it — his friend decided to join him. Both came under the spell of Terry Dowling, a Royal College of Art illustration graduate, who ran the second-year design course. They still speak of him as their mentor.[3]

Publications featuring the work of 23 Envelope[edit]

The work of 23 Envelope has been well-published in books and design magazines especially under Vaughan Oliver's name.

  • Emigre, No. 9, edited by Rudy Vanderlans, 1988.
  • Eye, No. 10, Vol. 3, edited by Rick Poynor, Wordsearch Ltd, 1993.
  • Eye, No. 37, Vol. 10, edited by John L. Walters, Quantum Publishing, 2000.
  • This Rimy River: Vaughn Oliver and Graphic Works 1988–94, by Vaughan Oliver and Vulva O'Reighan. (ISBN 978-0-9524216-0-3)
  • Vaughan Oliver: Visceral Pleasure, by Rick Poynor, 2000. (ISBN 978-1-86154-072-0)
  • BBC Television Documentary Programme on 23 Envelope entitled 23 Envelope Presents. 1 hour.
  • Photographs by Nigel Grierson, Dewi Lewis Publishing 2014. (ISBN 978-1-907893-64-3)
  • Passing Through by Nigel Grierson, Lost Press, 2020 (ISBN 978-1-9162373-0-8)
  • Lightstream by Nigel Grierson, Lost Press publishing, 2020 (ISBN 978-1-9162373-1-5)


  1. ^ Vit, Armin; Palacio, Bryony (2009-07-01). Graphic Design, Referenced: A Visual Guide to the Language, Applications, and History of Graphic Design. Rockport Publishers. p. 301.
  2. ^ "4AD-L FAQ: Artwork and Design". Archived from the original on 2003-04-27. Retrieved 2007-07-27.
  3. ^ Eye, Number 37, Volume 10, Autumn 2000.