Interview with Michael English, designer (along with Nigel Waymouth) on the Pink Floyd poster entitled CIA UFO by Muthu Dissanayake
Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, CIA UFO, London, 1967
Q: So Michael, pleasure being able to meet you, it’s unfortunate that Nigel wasn’t able to make it to this interview – but hey, let’s look at the bright side, all the more spotlight for you, eh? I’ve got to tell you, that CIA UFO poster was a great hit, I mean Pink Floyd is brilliant in itself but many forget to credit the artists behind their visual image I believe.
You know when I think of Pink Floyd or any artists for that matter I think of the posters, the CD covers and what not that mold a visual image in my mind, and for a whole lot of other people I believe, so tell me Michael, how did this project begin? Did you know Pink Floyd personally at the time?
Oh no *laughter* well, Nigel and I knew of Pink Floyd, a fascinating take on music I must say, but the connection to the project came from our work under the alias Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, where Nigel and I took on work in very expressionistic and psychedelic manner. I can’t really get my head to which one of our pieces caught the director’s eye but one of the surely did, and just like that, we had the job! We got the opportunity to meet Pink Floyd subsequently, so it unfolded in reverse actually.
Q: Now that’s without a doubt one hell of an opportunity, the pseudonym though–can you tell us about that, why Hapshash and the Colored Coat? Was it to separate the expressionism and the representational, the clientele?
Well certainly, you know how it goes in the art world, it doesn’t matter where you stand–there’s always going to be critics. I mean, it is a burden having to live two different lives, or four for that matter inclusive of Nigel, but at the same time, we’re not losing too much of our clientele at the same time, think of it as expanding into a different niche market, with the only change being our customers reporting to two different recipients who are unknowingly the same.
Moreover, it was a personal reason that we decided to go under the alias. Sometimes you want to let your creativity flow and not be restricted to the bounds of representation; and we though well, if we can make an earning of our experimentation, why the hell not? Our concept was to plaster the streets of London with this brightly colored and beautiful poster work at a time when most of the posters in the streets were rather drab and wordy. I never did think it would take us to Pink Floyd though.
Q: Make use of everything and follow your mind, I agree. So CIA UFO, take us through the project, did they give you any concept or boundaries whatsoever? Or did they let you do your own take on things?
It was a very cooperative project to be honest, although we were pretty much free to do it in our own way, or well you could say they had their faith in us from our previous work. If there was any requirement at all, it was mainly to incorporate the psychedelic vibe to the design in as many aspects as possible, you know? The composition, the color scheme, the text, the symbolism, I could keep going.
We worked on a Jimi Hendrix poster on the same year actually, and it was pretty clear that’s what they wanted, psychedelics-the directors, the musicians themselves, society–everyone!
Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, 1967
Q: It definitely is intriguing to see how the psychedelic movement wasn’t bound to San Francisco or just America overall for that matter, so how did you and Nigel approach this style artistically?
This was a bizarre movement in comparison to anything we’d ever seen before, so of course we were intent on making a new take on this artistically. Nonetheless, the past is always the best source of reference for anything so we skimmed through history and landed not too far back, on Art Nouveau! It was as we saw it, a close relative of the psychedelic movement itself – the curvilinear rhythm, the sexuality, the colors, it certainly had that dreamy atmosphere to it. Alphonse Mucha was one of our favorites: if you look closely at the female figure, you’ll see we had our own version of the le style Mucha. Of course the psychedelic movement didn’t follow the same French Symbolist principles, but it seems psychedelic drugs and music could take you to a dreamlike parallel. Then came our own added twist, refrain me from delving too deep, but-
Q: Oh please, do tell!
Well, first off we thought a lot of Art Nouveau was too clustered, we wanted the opposite of horror vacui, the castle floats in empty space in the composition, which was our own way of conveying that psychedelic atmosphere through space, freedom, and peace of mind. We played with the typography too. It’s a tad bit more fluid and experimental if you compare it with a lot of Art Nouveau work.
Q: Did it work out? I mean I loved it, but how was it received by the Floyd group? Do you see it having any influence on future generations as well?
Well, it did get published and Pink Floyd hired us again for a few other posters, so I think it grooved well with the lads. It’s one of my favorites to be honest, both in terms of its composition and the fact that we had the honor of doing it for the music group. History does repeat itself as they say, as Art Nouveau influenced us in our making of this poster, perhaps someday in the future CIA UFO will inspire another youngster in his own movement.
Q: Well that is a wise take on the subject Michael, I hope it will too. Thanks again for being with us, all the best in your career.
Appreciate it mate.
Coulthart, John. “Michael English, 1941–2009.” Feuilleton, 6 Feb. 2012, www.johncoulthart.com/feuilleton/2009/10/03/michael-english-1941–2009/.
Council, British. “Hapshash & The Coloured Coat.” Visit Visual Arts, visualarts.britishcouncil.org/collection/artists/hapshash-the-coloured-coat.
Eskilson, Stephen J. Graphic Design: A New History. Yale University Press, 2012.