Aubrey Powell's concept for The Later Years box set cover was embraced with a strong focus on Hipgnosis' style - but also a willingness to capitalize on advanced design technology: a composite of six separate visuals, its evolution is an interesting, recent piece of Pink Floyd history. On the box set's one year anniversary we take a brief look at how the cover came together.
The evolution of the cover for The Later Years. Images courtesy of Johnson Banks.
Across the Pink Floyd catalog, album cover artwork has been nearly as important as the music - and that art history is closely associated with Storm Thorgerson: although the band’s catalog also featured the artwork of Vic Singh, Gerald Scarfe, and Willie Christie, Thorgerson became the true custodian of the band’s visuals.
As music journalist Matt Everitt states in the podcast The Lost Art of Conversation - A Pink Floyd Podcast, “the visual language of Pink Floyd has always been a very potent thing.”
Accordingly, “before Storm died in 2013 there had been conversations with David [Gilmour] and Nick [Mason] about who would carry on the legacy of the artwork,” says Thorgerson’s partner in Hipgnosis, Aubrey Powell... “and my name was put forward by Storm; Storm said ‘I want you to carry on the tradition.’”
Powell would carry the legacy on with Thorgerson's attention to realism and detail in mind: “Hipgnosis always believed in doing things for real.”
David Gilmour tells Everitt that even when you already had the technology to cut and paste, Storm wouldn’t have it: he insisted that all designs be done ‘for real.’ Gilmour feels that vibe always came across thanks to Thorgerson’s persistence and discipline: “Storm always would find a way of doing something iconic.”
When Thorgerson passed away, Mason and Gilmour continued the discussion of legacy with Powell and decided to re-establish a relationship with him. The first project was designing the Pink Floyd exhibition, which was a great success, from an artistic standpoint (in addition to commercial success). But the first album artwork designed after Thorgerson’s death was the cover for The Endless River. Powell had to approach the work for that album cover with this large historical context in mind.
Powell tells Everitt that with The Endless River ‘there was a sense of looking back to music and work done before - an emotional time in which there was a great deal of reflection on Richard Wright's life.' Powell's team presented about 20 ideas to the band for the album cover and ultimately settled on an image Egyptian digital artist Ahmed Emad Eldin had created, which Powell had found online. Powell felt it conveyed Hipgnosis’ style and also fit visually, evoking the end of a journey.
The next challenge was The Later Years.
Powell decided the album cover had to be in the ‘vein of Hipgnosis work’: with elements of ‘surrealism and other-worldliness.’ He assembled a team including Michael Johnson, Beth Johnson, and Alice Tosey of Johnson Banks - better known for their work on designs for brands such as Duolingo and Mozilla, according to Jenny Brewer of It’s Nice That, who wrote a piece on The Later Years cover last year. Six parts of a design would emerge, to be converged later through digital tools: but the parts were all real life photography, done by photographer Rupert Truman, who already had a history of work with Thorgerson and Powell.
Johnson Banks: "In parallel we enlisted production studio Happy Finish to sculpt the contorting lamps and help us composite the whole scene together."
The six parts that came together include: twisted lamp posts (each shot separately), each a shot of landscape for the foreground and a shot of a road in California's Joshua Tree National Park, a shot of the Mojave Desert for the background, a shot of the sky, and a shot of a girl in London's Richmond Park. The parts were digitally compiled and composed into one piece.
Image courtesy of Johnson Banks.
The back cover included a different concept altogether. According to Johnson Banks' website: "The back cover took its inspiration from completely different sources: a black hole, and the final lyrics of each song in the boxed set. Set in circles the lyrics appear to ‘flow’ into and across the event horizon, eventually disappearing into the black hole itself."
Michael Johnson's team assembled all of the first six pieces into the tones and colors that Powell wanted. "Very sunset and moody - almost Martian - giving it a sci-fi flavor," explains Powell, "the logic is representative of a person walking through of a landscape and the power of that person, creating these twisted shapes out of metal. I’m trying to express something about Pink Floyd, the power of Pink Floyd over these last few years; the power still goes on - they still go on, they still transform people’s thoughts about Pink Floyd.”
For the original resources for this article, please see "Johnson Banks designs 'suitably surreal' Pink Floyd album cover for The Later Years," by Jenny Brewer, "Pink Floyd: The Later Years," at Johnson Banks, and see "The Lost Art of Conversation - a Pink Floyd Podcast" on all major streaming services.