Art rock

Rather than my usual morning routine of sitting down and staring blankly at a computer, wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life, today I’m standing up and staring blankly at a wall, wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life. It’s a refreshing change of pace.

The studio needs cheering up, and that blurry wedge of peripheral vision just beyond the frame of my spectacles needs filling. This smudgy boundary of sight is of no use to me whatsoever – it may as well be home to something pretty. So here I am, poised with my finest hammer (far too petite for the task at hand), ready to strike. I’m going to hang a picture.

I’ve got to be certain though. No making holes unless I’m absolutely, completely convinced that I’m correctly hanging the correct thing in the correct place. Getting to this point has taken a lot of deliberation and procrastination. The selection of an appropriately inspirational yet subliminal image to occupy my eye-corner is not a task to be taken lightly.

I have plenty of potential hangees to choose from. Over the years I’ve amassed a great stack of posters, prints and postcards; frozen memories of cities and bands and exhibitions loved. All of these have been considered; all of these will find a home one day; all of these have been ruled out. I’ve made my choice. I’m drawn to something more emotionally resonant, significant. Something squarer. Twelve inches squarer, to be precise. And this is where today’s incredibly minor existential crisis kicks in: when I say “hang a picture”, what I actually mean is “hang a record sleeve, probably New Order’s Power, Corruption & Lies”.

Really? Am I that person who buys a special frame from John Lewis, something specifically designed to pleasantly imprison and display music, to broadcast one’s tastes in the form of inoffensive, quiet wallpaper? Fuck art, let’s decorate? Is that me now?

Every part of me (save perhaps my right arm, which is currently pretending to be Thor) is a bit convinced that this is mostly a terrible, naff, sacrilegious idea. So I pause. Why frame a record? If you love an album so much, why make it incredibly impractical to listen to? This isn’t what records are for! Music is music, not interior design! Respect the intent of the design! Right?

It occurs to me, as I stand here with my mimsical hammer, that this isn’t the first time I’ve done this sort of thing. Oh no, I’ve done far worse in my time. In a cack-handed attempt at turning my little student room into some kind of temple of pop, I adorned the wall with covers of The Face, all torn from the issues and stuck with blue sticky stuff onto cheap woodchip wallpaper. What I’d give to still have those old issues. What a fool I was. But that was the nineties. The nineties were to blame. Ripping up and showing off your influences was what the nineties were all about. Stupid nineties. This isn’t quite as destructive an act. Nothing has been torn apart. The music is still fine. It’s trapped in a groove on some vinyl in a sleeve in another sleeve in a box on a shelf out of sight. Is a frame on a wall such a bad thing?

If any record deserves a good hanging, it’s Power, Corruption & Lies. Forget the music, it’s all about the sleeve. Peter Saville’s design is little more than a re-appropriation of Henri Fantin-Latour 1890 painting, A Basket of Roses; a simple still life of some beautiful, unhappy flowers. Much like the radio waves from pulsar CP 1919 that found themselves on the sleeve of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, these roses have transcended their origins and become something other. Legend has it that he discovered them on a postcard in the National Gallery in London. From flowers to painting to wall to postcard to record sleeve to wall. Who’s to say where they belong?

Saville’s sleeve is fine art disguised as design. Or maybe fine design disguised as art. I can’t pin it down; it misbehaves, demands attention. I will never understand it and I will always love it. Those sad roses challenge everything I know I know and everything I know I don’t know about design.

Uncertainty be damned. I will hang it. My hammer has spoken. When I am lost or lazy, when I am staring blankly, Power, Corruption & Lies will be there. The devil over my shoulder, sitting pleasantly in my periphery. 1

Daniel Benneworth-Gray is a designer based in York. See and @gray