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Vaughan Oliver (born 1957) is a British graphic designer based in Epsom, south of London. Oliver is most noted for his work with graphic design studios 23 Envelope and v23. Both studios maintained a close relationship with record label 4AD between 1982 and 1998 and were to give distinct visual identities for the 4AD releases by many bands, including Mojave 3, Lush, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, The Breeders, This Mortal Coil, Pale Saints, Pixies, and Throwing Muses. Outside of 4AD, Oliver has also done sleeve design for such artists as David Sylvian, The Golden Palominos, and Bush.
Oliver did not get into Graphic Design in the traditional way, the reason he joined the field was because of his interest in music. He had discovered the beauty of art through album covers. Oliver did not really take Graphic Design seriously until he went to college. Oliver studied Graphic Design at the Newcastle upon Tyne Polytechnic in England. After graduating Oliver went to London hoping to find a designing job with a large design group. Oliver soon found out that he wasn't made for working with big corporations or designing for the commercial world. It wasn't until after this that Oliver ran into the owner of the record label 4AD, Ivo Watts Russell. This encounter led to a thirty year long partnership between Vaughan Oliver and 4AD.
23 Envelope consisted of Oliver (graphic design and typography) and Nigel Grierson (photography). Together, they created the artwork for almost all 4AD releases until 1987. Grierson left 23 Envelope in 1988. At that time, Oliver continued to work for 4AD under the studio name v23, collaborating with Chris Bigg, Paul McMenamin, Kees Hubers, Timothy O'Donnell, Tim Vary, Adrian Philpott, Simon Larbalestier, Marc Atkins and others.
In 1994, many of those that had collaborated with Oliver over the previous decade contributed to an illustrated catalogue for the retrospective exhibition of his work held at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, This Rimy River. Recollections of the v23 design experience were provided by individuals such as v23 collaborator Chris Bigg, design writer Rick Poynor, and art critic Ian McKay who frames Oliver's work in a fine art context. Like so many publications produced by v23, the catalogue quickly became a collectors item.
In 2011, Oliver was awarded an honorary Master of Arts from the University for the Creative Arts, where he teaches on the Epsom campus as a Visiting Professor. At the University of the Creative Arts Oliver has a massive archive of all of his work. Luckily Oliver is the type of artist who never throws anything away. The University has pieces from the art work of classic album covers to high school sketch books. Everything has been packaged away in boxes to preserve the art, visitors to the college are allowed to visit the archive by appointment and now fans can purchase the two volume book of Vaughan Oliver's archive.
Oliver's artwork could stand out of a crowd, his art was distinct and recognizable. Usually referred to as "mysterious" and "ambiguous" Oliver's album art really helped shape 4AD's aesthetic. The mysterious qualities in his album art were inspired by Salvador Dalí, a surrealist painter Oliver admired during his college years. 4AD is a cult indie label that was prominent from the 1980s well into the 1990s. Oliver created album art work for bands such as Pixies, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance and The Breeders. Although Oliver worked exclusively with 4AD, occasionally he would do work for a few non-music related clients. By working with 4AD Oliver had really started a revolution within the arts in the 1980s and 1990s. He had impacted the post pop-punk music industry, inspiring hundreds of artist to be different, mysterious and explorative. Oliver's work for 4AD used skewed typography, evocative textures and abstract imagery. During the early years of 4AD the bands didn't have a consistent genre, Oliver's work gave the bands a cohesiveness within their visual language. Oliver not only distinguished a growing catalog for the record label, but he also quietly influenced a generation of graphic designers and visual artists. His art represents an alternate universe that coincides with the bands music.
Oliver's work with the Pixies is probably his most memorable. The Pixies produced five albums Surfer Rosa (1988), Doolitlle (1989), Bossanova (1990), Trompe Le Monde (1991) and Indy Cindy (2014). Oliver designed all of these albums. Oliver had created The Pixies Minotaur boxset in 2009. The box set consists of all five albums and a book, all of which Vaughan Oliver designed. As Oliver was creating the Pixies album covers throughout the years he had managed to keep this kind of consistency within them all, a continuous sort of look. Although Oliver did this he still found ways to make each record or CD cover with a fresh approach. He built and identity for the Pixies, and continued to do so with every other band he designed for.
- "23 Envelope: ambience and inner space". Eye Magazine. Autumn 2000. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
- "interview with graphic designer vaughan oliver". designboom | architecture & design magazine. 2014-12-19. Retrieved 2018-03-10.
- "Vaughan Oliver Archive". Kickstarter. Retrieved 2018-03-10.
- Vulva O'Reighan (ed.), This Rimy River: Vaughan Oliver and Graphic Works 1988–94, Pacific Design Centre, 1994.
- Rick Poynor, Exhibition/Exposition, CRDC, Nantes, 1990/1991; The Graphic Edge, Booth-Clibborn Editions, London, 1993; Design Without Boundaries: Visual Communication in Transition, Booth-Clibborn Editions, London, 1998; Vaughan Oliver: Visceral Pleasures, Booth-Clibborn Editions, London, 2000.
- Ian McKay, Oliver's D-Day, XYZ Design & Technology, May, 1990; Un Dandy de la Pochette, Artline International, Summer, 1990.
- "Ozwald Boateng and Vaughan Oliver honoured". University for the Creative Arts. 19 July 2011.
- "UCA - OLIVER Vaughan". UCA. Retrieved 2016-06-07.
- McBroom, Brock. "Vaughan Oliver". Retrieved 2018-03-10.
- "Vaughan Oliver - Interview Magazine". Interview Magazine. 2015-12-14. Retrieved 2018-03-10.
- "Where Is My Mind? Exploring the work of Vaughan Oliver and the Pixies - Design Week". Design Week. 2016-03-08. Retrieved 2018-03-10.