ReDiscover: Storm Thorgerson


One of the most influential artists and designers within the music scene Storm Thorgerson passed away after a battle with illness.

In his 40 year design career he created some truly iconic album covers and was part of the creative group Hipgnosis which he helped set up along with Aubrey Powellin the 1960s.

Of course he is probably associated more than anything with the album artwork for Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, but produced equally as great covers for the rest of their output, which stretches on until today with covers for Muse and Biffy Clyro.

Dave Gilmour, vocalist and guitarist of Pink Floyd said in a statement:

“We first met in our early teens,” he recalled. “We would gather at Sheep’s Green, a spot by the river in Cambridge and Storm would always be there holding forth, making the most noise, bursting with ideas and enthusiasm. Nothing has ever really changed.

“He has been a constant force in my life, both at work and in private, a shoulder to cry on and a great friend. I will miss him.”

I took a group of upcoming designers to his exhibition at the Ideas Generation Gallery in Shoreditch, in 2010 which really hit home for me the level of creative detail and pure imagination the man has. It was a defining moment for me in my creative journey.

As much as I’d like to write a piece of my own on him, another of my design heroes Adrian Shaughnessy has already done him a great service with an essay for his forthcoming book ‘Essays: Scratching the Surface’ by Adrian Shaughnessy (Unit Editions, May 2013).

Below is an extract that was featured on the Creative Review site (which I urge you to read as I won’t reproduce the article here)

“Storm Thorgerson, along with Aubrey (Po) Powell, and a floating army of brilliant collaborators, perfected the enactment of highly-charged, photorealist psychodramas on a 12” cardboard square. With their lavish artwork for the gods of millionaire rock – Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and a dozen others – Hipgnosis did something new in sleeve design: they brought the meticulousness and technical perfection of advertising to the world of album covers for the first time. Prior to Hipgnosis, record covers were often graphically (and typographically) crude; the great psychedelic covers of 60s America, and the garish fantasies of Krautrock, had introduced outré imagery into music packaging, but it was Hipgnosis who combined startling imagery with the presentation standards of the best commercial art and design.

But who is Storm Thorgerson – this Dorian Gray of album cover art – and what does he do? Let’s deal with the ‘who’ question first. For the purposes of writing this essay, I went in search of the real Storm Thorgerson. I talked to him on the phone a few weeks before the publication deadline (he was having acupuncture at the time); I read his extensive writings on his own work (the book Eye of the Storm,1999, is especially revealing in this respect); I pored over his extensive back catalogue of well-known and less well-known album covers. But the only thing I learned about Storm Thorgerson was that the more you look at his work, the further he recedes.


“Today, much of the evocative sleeve art we see is made on a computer by one person working without external ingredients. The reason for this? Money. To do what Thorgerson does costs money, and as the traditional record business stares into the abyss of oblivion, budgets are melting like an ice sculpture in Death Valley. ‘I have budgetary struggles,’ Thorgerson confirms, ‘but it just means I have to box clever. I’m not in the mood to give up.’

Clearly he’s not. He continues to work for bands – young bands like the Scottish group Biffy Clyro, and older bands in thrall to the great rock mythos of which Thorgerson is part of. How long the record business can accommodate his Cecil B de Mille-like aspirations is an interesting question, especially since he has always been quick to bite the hand that fed him. As he tells me, one of his most famous covers, Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother, which uses a photograph of a cow in a field, was in fact a ‘serious critique of the record business. Pink Floyd liked the idea, I think they liked the cover more than the record,’ he chuckles.

So, I offer you ‘Storm Thorgerson – Performance Artist’; a man with the drive, ego and vision to render his interior life visible through collaboration and negotiation. As you browse through his work, you will inevitably find yourself drawn into the search for Storm Thorgerson: his work is too full of psychology and strange quirks for us not to want to know more about him. But watch out, just as you think you’ve nailed him, he bursts into flames and recedes into the desert.”

Below is a video of Storm himself, at the BAFTA Lecture Series 5

Storm Thorgerson – BAFTA Lecture Series 5 from Howard Smith Paper on Vimeo.