2 Mar 2005
Factory designer Trevor Johnson Q&A 
The beautiful work of Trevor Johnson and Johnson/Panas (Trevor's company with fellow graphic designer Tony Panas) has adorned the sleeves of record releases on Factory Records by (amongst others) Stockholm Monsters, Kalima, A Certain Ratio, Biting Tongues, The Royal Family and the Poor, The Durutti Column and Electronic. More recently, Trevor designed the artwork for the Rob Gretton tribute Fac 511 And You Forgotten. His work post-Factory included the establishment of the multi-disciplinary venture Object 57 (more of which below). He now works with Via Design & Communications Ltd in Manchester's Northern Quarter.

Cerysmatic Factory posed Trevor Johnson a few questions about his career.

[Cerysmatic Factory] What happened to your project Object 57?

[Trevor Johnson] Object was an idea at the time to introduce the disciplines of commercial visual exchange into a gallery environment with a commercial remit. We attempted to display several disciplines at the same time, and presented fine art, graphics, illustration, photography, new media and 3d together, with original pieces for sale, in a gallery space to be accessible by the public.

Because of my experience and connections in our industry and my relationship with regional colleges I was able to provide an opportunity for talented graduates to display work alongside high profile established professionals such as Peter Saville, Ben Cook, Philip Diggle, Martin Parr, Elaine Constantine and such. It was important that we did this from Manchester and from the northern quarter and all exhibitors had a Manc connection, and an attitude to their work which was a result of their connections with the city.

This was operated by my wife Michelle and myself. Michelle's skills and experience are in finance and customer services. Object 57 was very successful very quickly and we achieved all our planned objectives within the 1st twelve months. We became a specialist consultancy for contemporary art sales and creative commercial projects, and as well as providing art for private collectors, Object 57 became successful in facilitating the requirements of institutions, businesses and cultural industries.

Object 57 as an exercise was intended to operate as an Artboutique for a specific period to see how things went and was entirely self funded, therefore did not have to operate as a gallery putting on shows every 2 months for the sake of fulfilling a calendar. Object is a thought process, a state of mind or attitude to approach certain ideas, and will continue to evolve. 57 was the physical manifestation of output at the time - 57 Thomas Street. Object's basic principles have foundations in Existentialism - "a term covering a number of related philosophical doctrines denying objective universal values and holding that people, as moral free agents, must create values for themselves through actions and must accept the ultimate responsibility for those actions in a seemingly meaningless universe."

Well, you did ask!

Are you going to do a Peter Saville and sell posters of your work?

The current official merchandise which Saville sells is an extension of the promotion of his book, which supported an exhibition of his life's work at the Design Museum and is touring the world, and which was at Urbis a year ago for a period. This includes official copies of some old poster designs.

Saville is a big admirer of the work of Andy Warhol. The work he created and which we displayed in the gallery were 'waste paintings' and were very specifically intended as purely pieces of art using commercial (computer programme) processes.

I don't really have the necessity or means to sell old pieces of design, and we didn't actually do that many posters, although this may happen with some of the projects we have in planning. We are definitely going to continue the process of Object and look at how the disciplines of graphic design can transcend the principles of fine art, and create new saleable works for the gallery environment.

What happened to the Panas in Johnson/Panas?

Because of the stupidity of the demands of this industry at the time - continuously busy, unreasonable clients, ridiculous operational hours, bad diet etc., (all of which was manual production, pre-computer) - Tony Panas became very ill and was out of the loop for 12 months in the early 90's. When he was well enough to return to work, he decided he'd had enough and that was it. We parted on good terms although I haven't spoken to him since. Tony lived in Todmorden. I have heard that he was teaching graphics for a period at Salford, and also doing some id design over his way.

What is your favourite piece of Factory work? (Yours or someone elses)

I have been lucky enough to work with all of Factory designers, and have the greatest respect and admiration for them all. I enjoyed a good working relationship with Ben Kelly and I am a great admirer of all of his work. The Gay Traitor cocktail bar at The Hacienda was my favourite place on earth for a period.

I suppose my favourite Factory graphic designs were Central Station's Happy Mondays cover which typified the culture of the city and the vibe of a generation for me at the time, Saville's 10th Summer numbers, and New Order titanium sleeve and conch shells photography, and all of 8vo's designs - for Durutti and Hacienda were delightful.

The most enjoyable pieces of my own work were probably for independent identities we created for such nights as Flesh, Hot, Zumbar and Void at the Hacienda.

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Many thanks to Trevor for taking the time to answer the questions in so much detail. Additional thanks to AJ.

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Peter Saville colour wheel
A Certain Ratio

"Manchester, 1978. In the beginning there were four: Jez Kerr (bass), Martin Moscrop (guitar/trumpet), Peter Terrel (guitar/effects) and Simon Topping (vocals/trumpet). Four thin boys with a name borrowed from a Brian Eno record, the intense, drummerless quartet initially drew influence from Wire, Eno, the Velvets and Kraftwerk, and gained a manager in Anthony Wilson of Factory Records.

"May 1979 saw the release of their first ACR single, the dark All Night Party, although the sound and musicianship of the band would be transformed by the arrival of funky drummer Donald Johnson (DoJo) in August. Over the next few months the band gigged widely, often with Joy Division as part of Factory packages, and recorded demos with producer Martin Hannett as well as a Peel session. Their support slot with Talking Heads on their UK tour in December 1979 set David Byrne on a new course, and provided the compelling live half of their chic cassette package The Graveyard and the Ballroom. Post-punk, ACR now reflected the influence of Funkadelic, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, The Bar Kays and James Brown."

- intro to ACR Biography by James Nice (LTM)

The Durutti Column