Interview: Designer Storm Thorgerson Reflects on Pink Floyd and 30 Years of Landmark Album Art
Visionary designer Storm Thorgerson looks back at 30 years of landmark album art.
“Guitar World?” What kind of magazine is that?” The questioner is Storm Thorgerson. He doesn’t play guitar. In fact, he claims he doesn’t even know “one end of the guitar from another.”
So what’s he doing here? As one of the three partners in Hipgnosis, once the preeminent and most visionary album art design firm in the world, Thorgerson has put his stamp on rock and roll history via photographs, illustrations and ambitious packaging for some of rock’s landmark albums. Works by Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney, Yes, Wishbone Ash, John McLaughlin, Genesis and many others bear the stamp of Thorgerson and Hipgnosis, which disbanded in 1983.
Thorgerson has continued to work as an in demand album designer—two of his most recent clients have been Dream Theater and Phish — and video director. That he remains so highly sought-after is hardly surprising. Any working musician who once sorted seeds from weed in the gatefold of one of his classic creations would probably be thrilled to see Thorgerson have his ethereal way with an album of theirs.
“He’s awesome,” says John Petrucci of Dream Theater, for whom Thorgerson designed the cover of Falling Into Infinity. “We’ve always wanted to work with him. In the past we would actually sketch our album covers ourselves, then get together with the people who would execute them. This time around, Storm insisted on doing the whole thing, and we just deferred. When you’re working with someone of that caliber, you can trust his professional instincts.”
No band has trusted Thorgerson more during the past 30 years than Pink Floyd, whose relationship with the designer dates back nearly five decades to Cambridge, England, where Thorgerson grew up with Floyd’s original band leader Syd Barrett, who was a year behind him in school, and former bassist Roger Waters, who was a year ahead. Thorgerson and Waters played rugby together.
They went their separate ways in college, but everyone wound up in swinging London during the mid Sixties, as rock and roll culture took over the city. Starting with A Saucerful of Secrets in 1968, Thorgerson became Pink Floyd’s chief album designer, crafting a series of indelible images—the picture-within-a-picture cover of Ummagumma, the cow of Atom Heart Mother, the prism of Dark Side of the Moon, the Easter Island–style totems of The Division Bell.
Beyond the albums, there were videos and concert films, as well as covers for solo projects by Gilmour and Barrett. With the notable exceptions of The Wall, The Final Cut and a handful of other releases, Thorgerson was responsible for the visual face of Pink Floyd. He’d blanch at any reference to him as the band’s fifth member, but in Floyd’s extra-musical domain, it was Thorgerson’s vision that set the controls for the heart of the sun.
“He has been my friend, my conscience, my therapist and of course my artistic advisor…,” Gilmour writes in the foreword of Mind Over Matter: The Images of Pink Floyd (Sanctuary Music Library), a 176-page tour of the incredible graphic world Thorgerson has created for the band. “Storm’s ideas are not linked to anyone’s ideas of marketing: that they are atmospherically linked to the music is a bonus. I consider what he does to be art.”