Storm Thorgerson, 1944–2013

By Oliver Basciano

Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon, 1973. Photo: Storm Thorgerson/Taken By Storm  The Cranberries, Wake Up and Smell the Coffee, 2001. Photo: Storm Thorgerson/Taken By Storm 10cc, Look Here, 1980. Photo: Storm Thorgerson/Taken By Storm Pink Floyd, Wish You Were, 1975. Photo: Storm Thorgerson/Taken By Storm Biffy Clyro, Saturday Superhouse, 2007. Photo: Storm Thorgerson/Taken By Storm The Cranberries, Bury the Hatchet, 1999. Photo: Storm Thorgerson/Taken By Storm Led Zeppelin, Presence, 1976. Photo: Storm Thorgerson/Taken By Storm

The designer Storm Thorgerson has died. The news was confirmed by the management of Pink Floyd, who Thorgerson had had a long professional relationship with. Thorgerson designed the sleeve art of the band's seminal 1973 album Dark Side Of The Moon; going on to work on record covers right up to his death on Thursday, collaborating with artists including Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The Cranberries, The Mars Volta, Scorpions and Biffy Clyro.

I interviewed Thorgerson last year. The surroundings of our meeting were chaotic – the photographer Rankin was shooting him simultaneously, never a low-key undertaking. Hipster staff members and interns were high in number and Thorgerson had already endured a stylist, makeup, stills shoot and video shoot by the time I got to him. It wasn’t being in such a busy environment that fazed him however. His covers, which have an unworldly, hyperreal, sensuality to them – channeling the motifs and structures of surrealism, land art and the eighteenth century sublime – were always entirely staged live. The artwork for Wake Up and Smell the Coffee (2001), the fifth studio album by The Cranberries, features a woman sitting up in a bed, placed in a vast expanse of desert over a brilliant blue sky. Across this giant tract of land giant red balls float up into the air as far as the horizon. A simulation of this would be a simple enough job to create in Photoshop presumably; yet Thorgerson had insisted that props were made and that a photoshoot was undertaken. The floating eye in the Irish band's preceding release, Bury the Hatchet (1999), was a similarly ambitious bit of set design and location shooting. The businessman depicted on Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were (1975) was actually set on fire; as was one of the members of Biffly Clyro when Thorgerson quoted his own back catalogue with the cover of their 2007 single Saturday Superhouse. For the designer, the end image was only the end of the story, there had to be a narrative of production to back it up.

Meeting him it wasn’t hard to ascertain that he’d have preferred to be anywhere else than sitting in front of me. For one thing he was eager to get on with a current job, still working, then aged 68. I asked him if he liked being interviewed. “Is this a serious question?” he responded. “I think it depends mostly on the questions you’re asked. So for example, if you’re asked questions by an idiot, it gets fairly stressful because it means then I have to do the work and I expect you to do it.” Impatient, acerbic and sarcastic; he nonetheless proved to be utterly brilliant, very funny and charming. It ended up being one of the nicest interviews I’ve ever done.