Acknowledging the influence of Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte, Storm said: “I probably first came across Magritte via my mother, and I think my mother rather indirectly encouraged my interest in art, particularly in painting. Magritte was probably an early interest, I think because he dealt not with technique so much as with ideas, and some of them are quite funny. I like to look, because it makes me smile.
“I think I took away from Magritte a sort of love of oddity, or oddness, or rather, juxtaposition or contrariness. He used to play with the reality, you know, so in a sense I have to set it up as a real thing which has been slightly twisted – that’s the contrariness, the oddness. We often stage these things for real and don’t do them in a computer because the reality has its own attributes. What you see is what you get.”
Another element that set Hipgnosis apart from their contemporaries was their use of English puns to create a pictorial counterpart to an album’s title: Wishbone Ash’s Live Dates recreated the imagery of an ornately illustrated box of dates; There’s The Rub by Wishbone Ash depicted a cricketer, showing evidence of him having shined the cricket ball against his trousers to add spin when bowling; 10cc’s Sheet Music showed the four band members holding a giant bedsheet that engulfed the lens; UFO’s Force It utilised bathroom imagery, as a pun on the US use of ‘faucet’ rather than the English ‘tap’ – and so on.
Hipgnosis weren’t afraid to use multiple visual techniques to effect their designs; over the years their sleeves used hyperreal photography, pencil illustration, airbrushing, photo montage, Polaroid manipulation and colour photocopying, while their design for The Dark Side Of The Moon was entirely graphic (with Hipgnosis associate George Hardie). In spite of that, their most celebrated images are still probably the ones using Storm’s favoured method of grotesquely oversizing everyday objects like balls of wool, lightbulbs and sculpted heads and then placing them in an otherworldly landscape.
By the early 1980s the studio had diversified into advertising, designing and shooting campaigns for Peugeot, Kronenbourg 1664, Levi Jeans, Volvo, Gillette, Stella Artois, Rank Xerox, and The Beatles. Moving from photo design into moving pictures, Powell, Thorgerson and Peter Christopherson started Green Back Films in 1982, shooting many music videos including Big Log for Robert Plant, Wherever I Lay My Hat for Paul Young, Owner of A Lonely Heartfor Yes, and Blue Light for David Gilmour. The trio wrote, produced and directed three feature films: Incident at Channel Q starring Al Corley (Sony),Train of Thought with Yumi Matsutoya (Toshiba EMI), and Now Voyagerstarring Sir Michael Hordern and Barry Gibb (Universal). Green Back Films closed in 1984, with Storm and Po each striking out on their own, Storm forming successively STd (Storm Thorgerson Design), then StormStudios.
StormStudios’ loose group of freelancers currently includes Peter Curzon, Rupert Truman, Daniel Abbott, Lee Baker, Jerry Sweet, Laura Truman, Silvia Ruga, and Charlotte Barnes, some combinations of whom have been working with several newer artists, including Muse. In the foreword to ‘Taken By Storm’ (2007), a book dedicated to Storm’s album art, Muse’s Matt Bellamy said: “When we first met it occurred to me that he is one of the most bloody minded and stubborn grumpy sods I have ever met! He speaks his mind and has a stoic disposition, which is bold and a rarity in this fickle industry, but one which garners respect. The pursuit of his own vision, which on occasion bypasses all external input can be difficult for some to handle. However his reasoning, delivered with a mordant, even waspish, wit and a dogged attitude, ensures you come round to his point of view.”
Storm explained his approach: “I’m very interested in intentional ambiguity. You know what it is, but not why it is. You might know what it is, but not how it is. There was one particular cover that was very consciously about Magritte. It was a sort of homage. It was Wish You Were Here for Pink Floyd, and we did four pictures, including a man on fire, a man diving into a lake, a veil floating in the air in Norfolk, and the man in a desert who had no features. The one that was on the back cover, which was the man in the desert, is very obviously, and was supposed to be, a Magritte thing. So I think there is a certain Magritte feeling to the cover. It does confound you a bit, because you look at it and think, well, is this real?
“I mean, I am predominantly an image-maker, so I try and come up with images that will suit the music. In the contemporary world, rather than in a gallery, I’m trying to persuade the viewer to look again, to give the album cover a second look, as they will give them in a gallery, so partly you look at it and say, ‘Well, that’s pretty silly, or strange, or weird – what does it mean?'”
In 2010, the UK’s Royal Mail paid tribute to several classic album covers by issuing them on First Class postage stamps. Included in the release was Storm’s striking image for Pink Floyd’s 1994 album The Division Bell, which featured two massive 9-feet high heads (drawn by Keith Breedon and sculpted by John Robertson) sited in a corn field in front of a distant Ely Cathedral.
Several books have been devoted to surveying Storm Thorgerson’s work, spanning the more than four decades that he had been creatively active. He famously never stopped working, and at the time of his death was pursuing various projects, including a documentary on the life and work of Pink Floyd co-founder Syd Barrett.
Speaking of his work in 2012, Storm said: “I think it’s always a very difficult thing for commercial artists and designers to pursue, against either circumstance or financial restrictions, that which you believe. So I’ve been very lucky, really. I was working for the [Pink] Floyd, who couldn’t think of anything better to do than to hire me, and fortunately what we did worked, quite early on.
“I always thought, and I still think, thatUmmagumma is a great design. I probably shouldn’t, as an artist, like my own work (heavens, us artists are supposed to suffer dreadfully), but I quite like it.
“Film school definitely had an effect on my love of landscape. The humour, which I hope is there occasionally, like the cow [on the sleeve of Atom Heart Mother] I think just comes from the background I emerged from.”
He died on 18th April, 2013. His family said: “Yes, Storm has died. He passed away, on Thursday 18th April in the afternoon. His ending was peaceful and he was surrounded by family and friends. He had been ill for some time with cancer though he had made a remarkable recovery from his stroke in 2003. He was in his 70th year.”
David Gilmour said: “We first met in our early teens. 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.
“The artworks that he created for Pink Floyd from 1968 to the present day have been an inseparable part of our work.
“I will miss him.”
Nick Mason said: “Scourge of management, record companies and album sleeve printers; champion of bands, music, great ideas and high, sometimes infuriatingly high, standards.
“Defender of art over commerce at all times, and tireless worker right up to the end. Two days before he passed away, and by then completely exhausted he was still demanding approval for art work and haranguing his loyal assistants.
“Dear friend to all of us, our children, our wives (and the exes), endlessly intellectual and questioning. Breathtakingly late for appointments and meetings, but once there, invaluable for his ideas, humour, and friendship.
“Irreplaceable and unforgettable, but leaving a wonderful legacy of ideas, film, writings and art work, Hipgnosis and Storm have contributed to so many musicians to engineer sums immeasurably greater than their parts.”
He is survived by his mother Vanji, his son Bill, his wife Barbie Antonis and her two children Adam and Georgia.