Monday, 19 October 2009

Visual Language Research: Rob Sheridan

Not too long ago I mentioned the design work of Rob Sheridan, an American graphic designer who for the last nine years has been the designer who has been creating visuals for the industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails. Something about Sheridan's work really strikes a chord with me with it's minimalistic look yet fascinating depth, what I want to do is try add an influence of Sheridan's work into my "About Me" poster as it will represent both my interest in both the design work of Rob Sheridan and music written by Nine Inch Nails. With nine years of design work to select from I'm going to focus on the artwork featured within the album The Slip as it has a large collection of work to analyse and it's also one of my favourite albums.

(Artwork By Sheridan for the opening track "999,999")

One of the interesting aspects of The Slip is that each track has it's own unique art work all with a theme running through it. Looking at the piece "999,999" it uses two shades of grey one for the foreground and the other is the background, the foreground is a collection of shapes that represent the number 999,999 but mirrored against each other. The shapes are all very angular and cold cut giving a sterile, metallic look. Whilst it gives of a cold look it also has a weird warmth and because of the contrast it looks as though the foreground is coming forward off the image. One main theme that is present through out seven of the ten images that make up The Slip is "a red string" but it is oddly missing on three of the tracks.

These next four pieces are titled "1,000,000" (top left), "Letting You" (top right), "Discipline" (bottom left), "Echoplex" (bottom right). You can see the theme running through the designs and all feature the various shades of grey backgrounds. The geometric shapes are a strong presense on each piece and are all placed in the centre of the image, again the "red string" is present on three of them. I'm still unsure as to why the "1,ooo,ooo" doesn't feature the string, but I have a feeling it's either the designers choice or that it relates to a musical feature that is absent from that track. "1,ooo,ooo" literally is the number one million layed out in a particular way, "Letting you" is a parody of the American flag and relates to an earlier project "Year Zero" where it was used in the context of resistance where as letting someone go is the very opposite of resistance. "Discipline" features five small squares to create an image of an incomplete rectangle which could be considered the form of a person, the discipline in the image seems to be the red string wrapping around one of the squares. "Echoplex" features a single shape surrounded by barriers, this could relate to the actual lyrics of the song; "nice and high and far apart" and "my voice just echoes off these walls, I don't need anything at all". It's clear that the single shape represents a person and the barriers are the walls.

These four are title "Head Down" (top left), "Lights in the Sky" (top right), "Corona Radiata" (bottom left), "The Four of Us are Dying" (bottom right). The piece "Head Down" looks very much like a figure hanging it's head down, the song relates to overpowerment by another force be it people or corporations, the shades of grey here relate to the mood of the song aswell. "Lights in the Sky" is another curious track that doesn't feature the "red string" it's also the firt of the pieces that features round edges, probably because the musical features are more somber and features less elements (the main being a piano), the lighter background grey might also denote it's more melocholy subject. "Corona Radiata" features the same rounded edges as the track follows on directly after "Lights in the Sky" originally I thought that the "red string" represented lyric parts within the tracks but this therory fell apart as "1,000,000" features lyrics and "Corona Radiata" doesn't. The darker shade of grey in the background contrasts with the lighter one in "Lights in the Sky" most likely to show the contrast between the simular songs.
"The Four of Us are Dying" features four figures composed of exactly the same components in a line, again the "string" is missing from the piece. The accompanying track is another instrumental and the image certainly suits the 4/4 time signature that the song follows, with its slow and rythmic beat it really represents the song well.

The final track and piece is "Demon Seed". Here the design breaks free from it's uniformed predecessors and the "red string" is now taking over the main design motif. The song it's self deals with revelations and sudden realisation, which could be represented as a seed ready to grow. In the piece the "seed" is shown as the white scratching within the last complete square, where as the others have decayed. The raw energy behind the red lines braking loose and decaying of the previously sterile shapes are clearly a comparison to the musical elements within the track, as it is the finale it should be something that the album and it's artwork was building up to. It's probably because of this final piece that makes all the others seem even more visually impressive.

There are other elements such as overlays and effects that Sheridan has added to give a worn look to the designs but after looking into these ten pieces I feel I understand his work a little better and want to try emulate it within my own work, but try use it as an influence.

For more work by Rob Sheridan check out his website:

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