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Alan Fletcher: Fifty years of graphic work (and play), Manchester, UK

A retrospective of 50 years of design work by Alan Fletcher

Alan Fletcher, graphic magus and founder of design firm Pentagram, is the subject of a retrospective exhibition at Manchester’s Centre for the Urban Built Environment (CUBE). It’s a timely reprise of the 2006 show at London’s Design Museum, which opened just six weeks after his death.

In 1959, Fletcher set up Fletcher/Forbes/Gill with Colin Forbes and American ad man Bob Gill. Their work for Pirelli mixed clean modernist design with visual puns. At CUBE, videos accompany vignettes of the human stories behind the early work, which cover the importance of a good dinner, commercial ambitions (‘We wanted to make as much money as possible’) and the role of the inaugural D&AD exhibition (1962) in raising UK fees. ‘From then on, creativity started to have value.’

’As well as his commissioned work, the exhibition gives generous space to Fletcher’s doodles - colour-coordinated seaside flotsam and pencils made into trees’

But some of the work can be cloying, such as illustrations for popular sayings ‘No man is an island’ and ‘Love is a hole in the heart’. By contrast, a Chinese zodiac calendar, made for fun but to an exacting brief (each animal must only be represented by its head, formed from paper), is far stronger.

Fletcher even brought a sense of play to his work as graphics consultant for Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis. Its HQ is a campus masterplanned by Vittorio Lampugnani, with buildings by Frank Gehry and Peter Märkli. The brief specified an ‘invisible fence’ to enclose the campus, but Fletcher dispensed with invisibility, having thousands of icons (animal, vegetable and mineral) cut out of the 2.5m-tall, 21m-long, black metal fence.
The curators have had to contend with CUBE’s tricksy floor plan and several changes in levels. Accordingly, circulation falters when it comes to the basement. But this is a minor niggle. The work itself is outstanding - a fusion of sharp, modernist sensibility and gentle, teasing wit. And it’s hard not to warm to a man whose doorbell-cum-burglar alarm is a hybrid of bells and pink feather duster.

Alan Fletcher: Fifty years of graphic work (and play)

Where: CUBE, Manchester, UK

When: Until 3 April

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