Vaughan Oliver

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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.[1] 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 take Graphic Design seriously until he went to college.[2] Oliver studied Graphic Design at the Newcastle upon Tyne Polytechnic. 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.[3]

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.[1] At that time, Oliver continued to work for 4AD under the studio name v23, collaborating 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.[4] Recollections of the v23 design experience were provided by individuals such as design writer Rick Poynor,[5] and art critic Ian McKay who frames Oliver's work in a fine art context.[6] Like so many publications produced by v23, the catalogue[4] quickly became a collectors item.[citation needed]

In 2011, Oliver was awarded an honorary Master of Arts from the University for the Creative Arts,[7] where he teaches on the Epsom campus as a Visiting Professor.[8] Two book of work have been published.Vaughan Oliver's archive.[3]


Usually referred to[by whom?] 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.[3] He had an influence on the post pop-punk music industry, inspiring hundreds of artist to be different, mysterious and explorative.[9] 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.

the Pixies[edit]

Oliver's work with the Pixies is probably his most memorable. The Pixies produced five albums Surfer Rosa (1988), Doolittle (1989), Bossanova (1990), Trompe Le Monde (1991) and Indie 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 a consistency within them all, a continuous look.[10]


  1. ^ a b "23 Envelope: ambience and inner space". Eye Magazine. Autumn 2000. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  2. ^ "interview with graphic designer vaughan oliver". designboom | architecture & design magazine. 19 December 2014. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  3. ^ a b c "Vaughan Oliver Archive". Kickstarter. Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  4. ^ a b Vulva O'Reighan (ed.), This Rimy River: Vaughan Oliver and Graphic Works 1988–94, Pacific Design Centre, 1994.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Ian McKay, Oliver's D-Day, XYZ Design & Technology, May, 1990; Un Dandy de la Pochette, Artline International, Summer, 1990.
  7. ^ "Ozwald Boateng and Vaughan Oliver honoured". University for the Creative Arts. 19 July 2011.
  8. ^ "UCA – OLIVER Vaughan". UCA. Retrieved 7 June 2016.
  9. ^ McBroom, Brock. "Vaughan Oliver". Retrieved 10 March 2018.
  10. ^ "Where Is My Mind? Exploring the work of Vaughan Oliver and the Pixies – Design Week". Design Week. 8 March 2016. Retrieved 10 March 2018.