Writer, graphic designer, visual artist and photographer, NYC resident James Taylor was kind enough to consent to a Q&A with polpotted about his work, specifically Stadio to Studio. Words by Pat Mellow. Photos courtesy of James Taylor.
Rightly lauded on social media recently for his beautiful series of movie posters, Taylor’s Mundial theme imagines classic moments and football (AKA soccer) matches in football as actual cinematic offerings.
It’s a clever concept but one which is far more than the sum of its parts; with his knowledge of the offside rule plus a good grounding in European culture, the multi-talented and self-styled ‘British Manhattanite’ pays homage to cinematic and sporting history whilst nodding to landmark figures of American graphic design and the arts.
His The Battle of Santiago poster relates to the notorious foul-fest that was the group match at the 1962 World Cup in Chile between the hosts versus Italy. Its gold ochre vertical strip nods to the prominent featuring of said colour in the The Battle of the Bulge one-sheet; the tank facing the viewer replaced by the officious but hapless referee that day, Ken Aston.
The official’s raised right arm is shown with its index finger gesturing pitch-side as the Englishman issued one of the two red cards he was forced to brandish. Given police were required to intervene several times to restore order during the match, Aston appears more spartan than a Sparticus figure, but Taylor’s poster astutely and visually puts the man in black centre stage.
The ‘Directed by’ credit is his alone which seems fitting when the football in that match in question was inconsequential compared to the punches thrown, kicks dished out and the assorted spit and spats which occurred on the unfortunate Aston’s watch.
Black and white period shots of players harassing the English whistle-blower echo the small cropped shots of Bulge stars Telly Savalas, Robert Shaw and Henry Fonda et al which crowd out the bottom of the war movie poster. Similarly, the font used for the title is reminiscent of the work of the great designer Saul Bass, specifically his cover art for the smack-and-Sinatra The Man With The Golden Arm, with its blocked and slightly tilted lettering invoking a sense of unease and anxiety.
The FIFA World Cupseries stretches from 1946 up to 2016 and the Portugese victory at the European Championship. There is comedy (1977’s The Defenders); crime (1982’s Nuit de Saville with the lamentable sight of a prone Patrick Battiston lying on the grass); drama in nearly every poster, and even something approaching an actual romance in the form of Brazil’s jubilant and exuberant group hug of Pele in A Equipe do Século (1970).
With the World Cup upon us, and the grubby hands of Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini, Chuck Blazer and Gianni Infantino visible in the background, does football need beautification via the Mundial series?
I think a lot of my football-related work is definitely rooted in a certain nostalgia to a large extent, and a quiet yearning for a time before the game became the corporate machine it is today. But these projects are also a reflection of changes in music, movies and even design. So I think my work resonates most with people who remember when things were a little bit different. And in evoking the past, I’m hopefully also saying something about the present.
What was the origin of the series? Have there been any seminal moments of football that failed to make the cut?
A few years ago I did a similar project called LPFC, in which I designed record covers featuring footballers as singers and musicians. The Stadio to Studio project was sort of a logical continuation of that, only much more involved since each design required a more interesting concept and was more detailed. Once I had the first few in mind, I just kept going. Unlike the LPFC project, I spent almost a year on the movie posters and dwelled over every typeface decision. Some of the earlier versions bear no resemblance to the finished product. There were definitely other famous moments that I still might do but I had to stop because frankly I was sick of thinking about it. That’s why there are 38 posters and not 40!
You have a great website which succinctly details your background and interest. You describe yourself as a ‘British Manhattanite’ but you lived in Italy for five years. Which country (or whose cultural influences) has had the greatest impact on your work – design, writing or photography?
Since I was a child, there were two places I desperately wanted to live: Italy and New York. It’s perhaps no coincidence that both places have a significant art and design heritage. As a teenager, Italy was closer and easier to live in, so I studied there and ended up working in Florence for several years. I love Italian life and its aesthetic, but it’s quite singular and specific.
Everyone drinks their coffee and dresses well, which is great but confining too. In comparison New York is a place where anything goes and you can live any way you want to. There is no set way of doing things. It’s much tougher to make it here of course, but it’s extremely inspiring on a day-to-day level. Street life is a huge source of inspiration for me.
But even though I left Italy eleven years ago, there are many things I miss about it and it still informs much of my daily life and work. So I’d say both places have been a huge influence on everything I’ve done, creatively and otherwise. Having said that, I always feel energized and inspired to launch into a fresh project whenever I take a trip somewhere else!
To what extent do your British roots show in your work (aside from the focus on football)? For example the lovely front page pieces of collected/curated items of the same hue on your website – is that due to the aesthetic influence of your past in England: 80s packaging, 70s colour schemes?
I’m not sure how much the photograph series you mention owes to England or anywhere else, though there’s certainly an eccentric, obsessive-compulsive quality to it. It’s hard for me to identify the influence of the UK on my work. I didn’t choose to be born there and was powerless to do anything about it until I was old enough.
When you move somewhere else (in my case Italy and then New York), you are actively choosing something, for whatever reason. You are gravitating towards something that appeals to you, whether it’s something real or imagined, something tangible or only a feeling. And inevitably that ‘thing’ becomes part of who you are because you’ve made an important decision based on it, and naturally that then finds its way into your creative work somehow.
Being British, I didn’t have that experience with England; it didn’t need to be coveted or fetishised. I wouldn’t say I’m a typical Brit (whatever that is) but I do exhibit many British qualities, especially to Americans. There were always certain aspects of English life I was fond of, and that’s become more apparent to me since I left. So I suppose I’m doing with England now what I did with Italy and New York years ago, only in reverse. I never thought about that before!
It’s clear you’re a big fan of Saul Bass and Blue Note’s Reid Miles. Are there any other designers who have been formative influences on you in the past or present day?
I am a big fan of those mid-century guys. Paul Rand also. Reid Miles fascinates me because he didn’t even like jazz and never listened to the recordings. Massimo Vignelli is another hero of mine, though his style was very different. I was lucky enough to meet him once — he signed my 1974 New York subway map.
But when it comes to design history I’m less interested in celebrity designers than the broader trends of the most visible commercial work — magazines, records, film posters, food packaging — that’s the stuff that everybody sees that really defines a place and time. Several of my projects have been about the exploration of that. As for the present, there are so many talented people out there whose work I admire — designers, artists, illustrators — I wouldn’t want to single anyone out. Social media, especially Instagram, has proven an invaluable tool for meeting fellow creatives and checking out what others are up to around the world.
I thought of the similarity of Stadio to Studio to the equally imaginative work of Mingering Mike (https://goo.gl/EfNYDR/)
You and him have both produced a substantial body of work that’s a response to outside events and a product of your inner dialogue and wish fulfilment – would that be fair to say?
The Mingering Mike story is incredible! I can see the comparison, though Mike’s project was far more personal and required real commitment. But I think your analysis is fair: it’s definitely a reaction to the world around me and what I can’t control, and at my most productive the urge is almost frantic.
I mentioned nostalgia before, and I think that’s really a technique for dealing with the unknown. In part, my creative work is a means of retreating from the present and entering an alternative space that I can control. I wasn’t conscious of this when I first started out exploring these ideas a few years ago, it was really a technical exercise to try to evoke a time and place through graphic design, which I think for the most part I was able to do. In doing so, I seem to have created another layer which produces a secondary feeling in some people. Maybe they feel a similar way to me, but to know you’ve made somebody feel something is a great feeling in itself!
I think any art, even an iPhone photo, is never just one thought, there’s always something else going on in there whether the artist is aware of it or not.
Do you have a favourite film or film director?
My favorite film is still Back To The Future. I was six when it came out and it had a huge impact on me culturally: the skateboard, the Walkman, the Nikes, Chuck Berry. My first concert was Huey Lewis & The News, mainly because of that film. It’s still the only film I saw at the cinema twice. But generally I love a lot of classic movies. My favorite directors are probably Hitchcock, Fellini and Almodovar.
What’s the last film you saw?
Last weekend I went to the Angelika in SoHo to see Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a documentary about Fred Rogers, a beloved children’s TV personality whose PBS show ran for over thirty years. I didn’t know that much about him since we didn’t get his show in the UK (or if we did at least I never saw it) but my wife was an avid viewer as a child.
Has a recent or current movie poster (or movie itself) made an impression on you visually, creatively?
I loved the posters for Moonlight and Get Out (the films were both memorable as well). In general I think commercial movie poster design has raised its game now that competing streaming services like Netflix have begun creating their own content. Or at least it seems that way by the number of striking, well-executed posters I see these days. I also think viewers and the public are more design-conscious and discerning. That was something I was aware of when designing posters that feel like the past: I didn’t want them to look too slick or sophisticated. I had to adopt a sort of faux-naivete.
Do you collect movie posters?
Not actively, but I do have a Swedish 8 1/2 poster. I bought a giant All About My Mother poster when I was a student in Italy but there currently isn’t room for it in my apartment!
What’s next in terms of work?
I always have several half-ideas swirling around so I’ll see which of those float to the surface next. Though I never really know what’s going to turn into something when I start it. I’ve started many projects that seemed like good ideas and ended up being nothing, which is good because it frees the mind for those that could be something. So I guess working is literally a means of clearing my head!
Lastly, I must ask – as a Burnley fan – which moment would you choose to immortalise from Leicester City’s successful Premiership-winning campaign – and which film would you pay homage to?
As a Leicester fan I couldn’t not include the greatest sporting miracle of all time! I imagined a Roman epic starring Claudio Ranieri (who actually hails from Rome). The title is ‘I, Claudio’, which is a reference to I, Claudius.
The Stadio to Studio series can be viewed at http://www.jamescampbelltaylor.com/
His design work can be bought at https://society6.com/jamescampbelltaylor/s?q=&page=1