Mod art – Mile A Minute Typography and Ready Steady Go!

Does it make any sense to associate mod culture–ostensibly known as a working-class ethic with strong emphasis on the materialistic- with the elitist and cultured atmosphere that the word “art” usually brings to mind? Direct connections might exist or have existed: ex-art school types who are/were mods, bands like The Creation who fused art school elements into their stage act, or art school types who later became musicians. Realistically, though, it would be excessively flattering to modernism to say that it has had any significant impact on the traditional art world as understood by the average person. However, the reverse certainly isn’t true: anybody who doesn’t understand how tendencies in the world of art have had a significant and catalyzing influence on modernism is certainly missing a good part of the story.

In particular, there are a number of stylistic elements associated with the art (and, by double association, manufactured items and pop-art) of the early 60s that are as important to establishing a “visual modernist look” as any piece of clothing or song you care to choose. Specifically there were during this time very specific recurring themes in several visually-related fields, such as typography, composition, and painting.

The same forces that made artistic output largely focus on simple abstract, geometric and figurative directions was a reflection of societal tendencies that generated and affected modernism in many ways. With an enhanced mobility in the population, afforded by public transportation or alternative methods (e.g. scooters), cities such as London in the early 60s were undergoing a change from the static into the kinetic. Road systems on the West End were being remade into fast-moving routes-these were captured on photographic film by the typographer/graphic designer Herbert Spencer in his Mile A Minute Typography.

Robyn Denny’s Austin Reed Mural of 1959, with its polychrome lettering and permutational style foreshadowed the Ready Steady Go! set decorations of two years later. Optical, aggressive art such as Bridget Riley’s interference patterns caused visual stimulation and the impression of motion by means of abstract colour and form.

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