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Gordon Andrews is a pioneer in industrial and graphic design, a cultural hero who merits a place alongside those depicted on his banknotes. A quiet revolutionary, visionary and eccentric, he has both enhanced and radicalized Australian design standards. Thanks to him, Australia ceased to be represented at world trade fairs by a pyramid of IXL jam tins and a huddle of 'moth-eaten, stuffed koalas'.
Yet there clings to Andrews something of the proverbial prophet who is not without honour save in his own country. Internationally, he is ranked among the one hundred world-class practitioners recognised at any one time by the prestigious Faculty of Royal Designers for Industr y (UK). The only Australian to be awarded membership which is conferred for 'eminence, efficiency and visual excellence' in the field of creative design. At home, despite a brief flurry of excitement and controversy over his winning designs for the decimal banknotes in 1966, and a gold medal awarded in 1985 by the Design Institute of
Australia, Andrews' endeavour has gone generally unremarked and unappreciated. Call it cultural cringe or unawakened aesthetic consciousness if you will ... but the reason more likely lies in a man whose temperament is essentially reticent, private, unassuming and decidedly not given to self promotion.
Gordon Andrews' book, 'A Designer's Life' - ' characteristically depreciated by the author as a ‘scrapbook' - was produced not without protest and the gentle prompting of friends and colleagues. It is a book which sets the record straight by offering a selected perspective on Andrews' comprehensive achievement as not only An industrial signer, but as sculptor, painter, photographer, silversmith and fabricator of whimsical masks. The book was published in1993 in conjunction with a twelve month retrospective exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.
As with many, a non-conformist , and pathfinder, Andrews' early prospects were unpromising. His conventional education, itself insufficient to foster his peculiar aptitudes, made him feel painfully inadequate, his first sensation of competence coming years later when he discovered at technical college that he could draw. Among the impetuses to his career he records are a strong sense of gratitude and indebtedness to his inventor father; his early captivation by the shapes, colours, textures and smells of wood and steel shavings in his father's workshop; and 'eye-opening' travels in Europe. He goes on to outline his later diversification into corporate image-making and designing furniture, fabric and jewellery, including show-casing for Olivetti in London and his eventual more spectacular commissions for the Australian Government (exhibitions in Lausanne, Paris, Tokyo and Cologne), the Reserve Bank and Canberra's
To students of design Gordon Andrews' work should prove instructive and inspirational, if for no other reason than his invaluable insights afforded into the arbitrary nature of the creative impulse. To study the resources and evolutionary processes Andrews brings to problem-solving is to discover half a dozen designers rolled into one. Demonstrably capable of pure functional form - as in his ergonomically-sound chair - and of architectural refinements requiring mechanical engineering skills, Andrews does not allow his ingenuity to be ruled by mathematical precision and prescription alone. His work is intuitive as well as intellectual. He designs with all of the powers at his disposal: with head, heart, eyes and hands - and predominantly with those senses which utilise the visual and the tactile. No-one experiencing his erotically curvaceous ceiling for the NSW Government Tourist Bureau would doubt his sensuality - or his lack of orthodoxy. Nor could those familiar with Andrews' photographic essay 'Seeing' deny a perception capable of extracting miracles of suggestion and beauty from the seemingly insignificant. It is a faculty which appears to defy the boundaries imposed by Pascal's notion of man's vision: that is, one which is limited by what is too small for us to see and by what is too immense.
In common with the ancient poets, Gordon Andrews is a maker. He fashions, not words out of feelings and imagination, but the shapes of things. He is a man with the ability to set new ideas and worlds in motion with a flash of perception and a flip of his fingers.
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