Tom Hingston on His New Exhibition and Working with Nick Cave

Having designed record sleeves for Nick Cave, The Chemical Brothers and Massive Attack among others, the creative director reflects on his latest projects: an exhibition and a collaboration with Paul Smith

Creative director Tom Hingston’s new exhibition, celebrating 20 years of his studio realising iconic imagery for the likes of long-term collaborators Nick Cave, The Chemical Brothers and Massive Attack, is not just a survey of work over the past two decades, it’s emblematic of the 00s shift in the way we experience music imagery. 

In Progress, running at Paul Smith’s Albemarle flagship until 20th May, the past is signalled firmly in the present, with eyes toward the future. Rethinking time? No big deal. It’s entirely apt for a studio where idea is king.

“The thing that became apparent quite quickly was that if we were going to do this, it had to be interesting both to us as a design studio but also to an audience who have seen a lot of these emblematic sleeves over and over again – emblematic because the albums themselves are so brilliant,” explains Hingston. “There’s a lot of familiar iconography there, it needed to be re-presented in a new way.”

Hingston’s works on paper have been selectively reimagined as lenticular artworks, the frozen square gone kinetic and backlit to evoke the glow of a phone, tablet or computer screen, more often the way we interact with iconography now. Artists featured include Massive Attack, Nick Cave, The Chemical Brothers and Grace Jones, right up to Young Fathers’ new release Cocoa Sugar.

“Working with lenticular allows us in some instances to reimagine [the sleeves], bringing another depth and dimension to the audience experience that they didn’t have in their original, printed form,” says Hingston. “There’s a synergy with what has happened in the way that music is presented and consumed in the 20 years that we've been working.”

There’s also a secret element of triumph: when the first iPod – the cigarette packet jukebox that changed everything – arrived in 2001 with a mono screen, it separated records from all their visual context. Now, the iPod as an entity doesn’t even exist, it’s a concept accessed through an icon on a smartphone homescreen. A disc’s cover is respected again during playback, whether saved to hard drive or streaming. Music needs the ambition of being art directed, propelling ideas and signifiers as well as drum breaks and chord changes. No great band lacks style or image. It’s been that way since Elvis.

“We’ve always tried to challenge ourselves,” continues Hingston. “If you look at [Massive Attack’s] 100th Window, it’s a moment in time, a millisecond of this glass figure exploding. And although I love the sleeve and it makes for a very powerful cover, my favourite moment of that campaign is still the films that we created. Being able to revisit this in lenticular form, means it does now move. Which really harnesses what that original idea was about.”

Photography by Nick Knight, another of Hingston’s collaborators, makes not only 100th Window but also features on Massive Attack’s Mezzanine, a work so renowned it is held in the permanent collection of MoMA, New York. 

While Progress also features a series of vintage leather jackets customised by Robert Del Naja, Hingston has collaborated with Nick Cave and The Chemical Brothers to offer limited edition Paul Smith clothing you can buy – an after-dark velour bomber jacket and a mohair knit that collides punk with acid house. It’s merch in an ideal world, with all the rigour of the names it’s associated with, coded with references to their music sleeves. The mermaids on Cave’s bomber are taken from the Lovely Creatures artwork (nominated earlier this year for a Grammy), symbolising the track Mermaids. Whilst the zig-zags on The Chemical Brothers’ knitwear are blown-up from the Born in the Echoes sleeve.

“Nick was very clear from the outset, ‘Let’s do a midnight blue bomber jacket’,” recalls Hingston. “We’ve worked together for over 15 years and worked on more than 14 albums, film poster campaigns, book projects and even exhibition catalogues. Both of us care enormously about every single detail – we can spend an hour talking about the colour of linen that a book jacket should be bound in!” 

Putting together Progress has also thrown light on predilections Hingston wasn’t aware of himself – namely rejecting standard black vinyl to design an arsenal of coloured, patterned and translucent records over the years. (Collected here exclusively for Another Man.)

“20 years ago when we first started the studio, it was hard to get production people to deviate from the norm,” he shares. “Now vinyl pressing is a lot more specialist and it’s therefore easier to have conversations about ideas which require an unconventional approach to printing, or use of materials. There’s a greater level of enthusiasm there.”

And the Paul Smith connection? It’s a subtle homecoming of sorts – the two have known each other since Tom’s early days at art college.

“Paul’s such an inspirational character and doesn't stand still for a moment,” he says. “If you go and have a meeting at his office, he's the most generous host, pulling books from shelves, sharing things discovered on his travels or an odd curiosity that a fan might have sent him. He’s a brilliant energy to be around.”

Hingston is also proud to support Teenage Cancer Trust, given their long-term relationship with music and musicians. Profits from the sale of Del Naja’s customised vintage leathers and selected artworks in the exhibition will be donated to the charity.

Hingston Studio: Progress runs May 3-20, 2018 at Paul Smith, No.9 Albemarle Street, Mayfair, London, W1. The limited-edition Nick Cave/Chemical Brothers collaboration is available at Albemarle Street and