Scott King is a British conceptual artist, graphic designer and art director, who was born in 1969 and grew up in Goole, East Yorkshire.
Prior to meeting Scott, I’d never heard of the name Goole, but I’ve grown to like the way it rolls off your tongue. I’ve learnt that it’s an inland port around 45 miles from the North Sea and according to Google maps, 181 miles from where I meet Scott today, in the Italian establishment Trevi, opposite Highbury Station. Scott is sitting in the corner by the window, munching peanut butter on toast. Covert coat, silk scarf and tan brogues. It’s fair to say that Scott has come a long way, but nowadays he only lives round the corner.
Scott recalls Goole as a backwater on the edge of the Yorkshire coal fields alive with the type of “brilliant characters, loonies and proper nutters,” that you might expect to find in the television series The League of Gentlemen, or the Shane Meadows’ film Dead Man’s Shoes. There was a big scooter scene around there in the 80s and Scott was big into his Lambretta’s:
“The whole scooter scene was a real mish-mash. I think maybe you get that in small towns. You always had scooter boys from the 70s and then there was a mix of casuals, ex-mods and Goths as well, you know. It was just about a love of scooters really and wasn’t like mod scooters it was scooter boy scooters, that were stripped down and tuned up.” Although Scott got his first Lambretta at the age of 14, by the time he was allowed, ‘on the road’, the real peak of the scene had largely past him by. Scott was also too young to see The Jam - who he loved growing up - and describes Goole as a place where, “you always felt like you were missing out on something.”
In a pre-Internet age that’s now almost hard to fathom, the College Library at Hull became a valuable resource for Scott. He enrolled to study Graphic Design in 1988 and early influences including Joy Division and the architectural groups Superstudio and Coop Himmelb(l)au still provide points of reference for his work today.
It was at college that Scott set to work on developing his distinctive and critically acclaimed style by exploring the relationship between, “subject, medium and context.”
One particular early work that stands out in reference to this was a series of fluorescent posters that Scott made, but crucially implied that they were from the college authorities, informing Fine Art students that they could no longer put posters on the foyer doors. “It was kind of like a satirical spoof thing in many ways, but it wasn’t for me. In many ways it was quite serious, because I realised the power of information.”
The project was a breakthrough for Scott. He realised that by putting the college logo at the bottom of these really straightly designed posters, he had caused uproar with the Fine Art students who regularly used this set of doors as a notice board, to advertise their events.
Scott became less interested in following typographic rules and more interested in making “real” work that said exactly what he wanted it to say. When the college got its first computer and swarms of students formed eager queues to play with early inclinations of Photoshop, Scott was more at home cutting letters out of lino, screen printing and discovering the one hundred and one possibilities of a photocopying machine:
“I soon realised that I didn’t have all day to wait to get half an hour on the computer. Lots of people would spend three weeks designing a fake double-page spread that they imagined would go in Elle Decoration and I just had no interest in doing that. I wanted to go and make a punk fanzine of my stuff or a vehicle to project my opinion.”
Upon graduating, Scott moved down to London and after dragging around his, “gigantic, life threateningly oversized portfolio,” he landed a job as a designer at i-D, who were impressed by the originality of his work.
“When I first worked there it was on Earlham Street in Covent Garden. It was this proper old-fashioned 60s, almost underground, publishing set-up. It was the crappy top story of this old warehouse that is obviously worth millions of pounds now, but it was like an open house for loonies really, people just walking in and out. There was no way of not getting in, so you would get all these drug tragedies coming in and telling you about their imaginary new club.”
Scott refers to i-D as his apprenticeship and although he must have found it restricting, in the sense that he couldn’t produce his own work, he maintains a great respect for the magazine’s founder Terry Jones, who gave Scott the job and from whom he learnt an awful lot.
By this point computers were more commonplace and when he first started, Scott had to pretend that he could use one. When they realised that he couldn’t, but noticed his acute skill for working on layouts, the ambitious young King was promoted to art director at the age of 24.
“I made a lot of mistakes, but then again I made a lot of good stuff as well. I mean, you look back now and it’s very young to be an art director of a magazine like that, but I think anyone who has art directed a magazine properly and had that sort of training is always a better art director or a better designer, because I think if you can do it at 4 o’clock in the morning, or around the clock, then you learn to think on your feet and you get good at it.”
Scott’s position as art director meant he was in regular contact with the photographers of his generation; a part of his job that I get the impression he enjoyed the most. His face sparks up like a light when he talks about the strong relationships that he forged with his contemporaries, many of whom he still sees today.
“It was great, because people that I met there have remained great friends, like Wolfgang Tillmans for example, who is still one of my best pals and a bloke called Rowan Chernin, who I met the other day for pie and mash. He was on reception and did advertising, so I made friends for life there really.”
Scott left i-D in July 1996, and was introduced by a mutual friend to the writer and historian Matthew Worley. When they realised they shared a distain for prevailing media attitudes and the ‘new lad’ culture of the time, they began working together on their own project entitled CRASH!
“It was very much against Loaded, because we thought it was like these marketing or PR graduates pretending to be football hooligans. That sort of stupid 70s style sexism and moronic pretending-to-be-thugs by these idiots from Kingston Polytechnic or wherever, I was against that.”
In an old-fashioned Irish pub called The Craic House in Kings Cross, Matt would write Marxist critiques ripping into lad culture, whilst Scott would devise ways of applying them in a pop, fashion or art context, in order to reach as wide an audience as possible. It was this clash of attitudes that they were initially excited about, but when they started to see their work being imitated by the very culture that they were protesting against, it began to dilute their message. Their work as a collective culminated in a solo exhibition at The ICA in 1999.
“I am very proud of what we did and so is Matt, but I think when you put messages out like that, inevitably they become part of the fabric that you’re criticizing. If you carry on doing it, it becomes a style.”
Scott would stay at Sleezenation for the next few years, until a power crazed editor conspired to sack him, because in his eyes the magazine had become more about Scott’s work than his. Inevitably, the magazine would eventually fold, but in the short amount of time that Scott had complete artistic freedom, he was able to put into practice the ideas of ‘subject, medium and context’ that he had developed at college and produce some of the most subversive and iconic magazine covers of a generation:
“The context is not on a computer screen, it’s on a shelf next to dozens of other magazines. That’s how I see it. So, I always see them as posters really, not as magazine covers. I see them as single statements. I think all you try to do is draw someone towards you on a shelf and make them pick it up. That’s it really. After that you can’t do anything else.”
Scott’s work has always occupied, merged and shattered the space between graphic design and visual art. As a young designer his greatest success came when, like an artist, he was given complete creative control.
Since then, he has developed an impressive and diverse body of work that displays his astute ability to find contradictions within the English language and present them in a way that makes you stop and think twice. I believe that it’s in those moments that Scott's genius lies.
“I have come to accept that ‘art’ is one thing I do, as is some graphic design, as is writing. It’s a combination of all these things for me.” Scott was recently appointed Chair of Visual Communication at University of The Arts London and is currently working on the identity for a music festival in Berlin, whilst trying (and failing) to write his imaginary novel.