Storm Thorgerson, the man behind some of the most iconic images in the history of Rock and Roll, has died aged 69 after suffering from cancer. He was the genius sleeve designer behind the weird and wonderful images of Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Ian Dury and the Mars Volta. He will be remembered for his crucial role in creating Pink Floyd’s progressive aesthetic.
Storm Thorgerson was an English artist, graphic designer, film maker and tennis fiend. He was born in Potters Bar, Middlesex on 28 February 1944 and attended Cambridgeshire High School for Boys. He graduated in English and Philosophy from Leicester University (1966) and went on to study an MA in Film and Television at the Royal College of Art (1969).
Whilst at the Royal College of Art in London, Thorgerson shared a flat in South Kensington with his friend Aubrey Powell. It soon became a swinging sixties hub for a fascinating variety of artistic and musical characters. Together Aubrey and Thorgerson formed Hipgnosis, the preeminent and most visionary album art design firm in the world.
Hipgnosis’ client list included Genesis, Yes, 10cc, Bad Company and Paul McCartney & Wings. Their visual mystique was behind T Rex’s ‘Electric Warrior’ (1971) and Wishbone Ash’s ‘Argue’ (1972). Jimmy Page invited the pair to create the artwork for Led Zepplin’s ‘House of Holy’ (1973), for which they created the iconic image of eerie naked children crawling over rocks. The photograph was inspired by the Arthur C Clarke novel ‘Childhood’s End’ and was constructed from collaged photographs taken at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
In 1987, following the dissolution of Hipgnosis, Thorgerson formed his own design studio called Storm Studios. He went into video directing and made TV documentaries, including ‘The Art of Tripping’ (1993), which investigated the effect of drugs on creativity, and a science documentary called ‘Rubber Universe’ (1994). He designed album artwork for more recent artists such as the Cranberries, Anthrax, Audioslave and Biffy Clyro and continued to work on Pink Floyd projects.
Storm Thorgerson and Pink Floyd members came from Cambridge and went to the same high school. Roger Water’s mum and Thorgerson’s mum were best friends. Roger was in the year above him and Syd Barrett the year below, “So we all knew each other, and Syd and I were in the same kind of peer group when we were kids, about 17.” Thorgerson didn’t have much to do with them for three or four years; it wasn’t until the band’s second album that Thorgerson got involved, “I did volunteer my services to the cover for ‘Saucerful’, when a mutual friend who had been previously asked, declined.” That was at the beginning of 1968. Little did Thorgerson know that he was entering into a collaboration which would continue for over thirty years…
With ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’, his first artwork for Floyd, Thorgerson believed the band didn’t want the record company to handle it. These were the days when Floyd, the Stones and the Beatles were beginning to take power back to themselves, especially artistic power, and away from the record companies. Thorgerson explained, “I think they realised that, along with the music, sleeves are things that last, and that maybe they’re important in their own way.”
In March 1973 one of the most successful albums of all time was released: Pink Floyd’s ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’. Originally released in the UK on March 24, 1973, 'The Dark Side of the Moon' became Pink Floyd’s first number 1 album in the US, remaining on the chart for 741 weeks between 1973 and 1988. Since its UK release, the album has spent an astonishing 30 years in the UK album charts. The artwork for the album, which was designed by Storm Thorgerson, has become as famous and iconic as the music. The simple and bold prism design was a reference to the light shows that the band used in their concerts. The triangular shape, a symbol of thought and ambition, echoes the shape of a pyramid and touched on themes in the lyrics of the album.
Storm Thorgerson designed sixteen album covers for Pink Floyd; there are three he didn’t do. Beyond the albums, there were videos and concert films, as well as covers for solo projects by Gilmour and Barrett. Thorgerson would have blanched at any reference to him as the band’s fifth member, but he was responsible for the visual face of Pink Floyd. In the foreword to Thorgerson’s book ‘Mind Over Matter: The Images of Pink Floyd’, Gilmour wrote, “He has been my friend, my conscience, my therapist and of course my artistic advisor.”
Throughout the majority of his career, Thorgerson created his iconic artwork using photography, “I like photography because it is a reality medium, unlike drawing which is unreal. I like to mess with reality… to bend reality. Some of my works beg the question of is it real or not?” He used applied techniques such as multiple exposures to create surreal dislocations and disturbing juxtapositions. He cited artists and photographers including Man Ray, Rene Magritte, Pablo Picasso, Wassily Kandinsky, and Juan Gris as influences behind his work.
In his designs, Thorgerson eschewed computer manipulation in favour of building massive sets and tableaus, staging performances and actions and “doing it for real” in what he called “mind movies” and “photo paintings”. His photograph ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’ involved dragging 700 wrought iron beds onto a beach. In an interview, Thorgerson confirmed, “Yeah, that is what we did. And we had to drag them all back again because of the God-damn English weather. It rained.” Sometimes Thorgerson would shoot his sets in bits, but it would always be shot for real, “I prefer the computer in my head to the one on my desk.”
Storm Thorgerson died 18 April 2013. His family released a statement saying he died peacefully surrounded by family and friends. “He is survived by his mother Vanji, his son Bill, his wife Barbie Antonis and her two children Adam and Georgina,” it said. Thorgerson has left an unforgettable legacy of images which have changed the face of Rock and Roll and found a permanent place in our visual history.