The Bauhaus and Beyond
    For me the last year of the course at Corsham was a bit dull. I had been to Iceland in the summer of 1969 and got a job for a short time at a little advertising agency in Reykjavík. Margrét and I stayed at her parents’ place and she did her best to show me what Iceland was all about. I liked the place and always have done, despite the rather daunting scenery around the airport at Keflavík. From the air the mossy lava reminded me of burnt porridge! Amongst other things we went over to the Westman Islands and stayed for a while with some friends there. Four years later a new volcano suddenly erupted there in the middle of the night and the little town on Heimaey was nearly buried under volcanic ash. I always said it was my fault because when we were there in ’69 we climbed up to the top of the old mountain (there are now two of them) and I relieved myself into the crater! 1969 was the year when the first men landed on the moon and I remember watching it on the Icelandic telly. After the visit to Iceland we returned to England, I to finish my course at Corsham and Margrét hers at Brighton. I continued to commute but as I say, I found the last year dull because somehow I felt that I had learnt everything that Corsham had to offer and wanted to do some real work. However, one day Rosemary Ellis called me in and asked me whether I would like to do something a bit different. Maybe she was just tired of me and wanted me out of the place! Anyway, it turned out that an exhibition on the Bauhaus was being prepared at the Royal Academy and Rosemary enquired whether I wanted to be a guide at the show. I knew a lot about the Bauhaus and of course I had my German, so maybe that was what she had in mind. I got hold of a German version of the exhibition catalogue, because the English one hadn’t been printed yet, and used it for preparing myself for the work as a guide. I remember how difficult the Bauhaus typography was to read, because German is usually written with the nouns beginning with capital letters and the Bauhaus people decided to chuck out all capitals. I got fixed up at a rather dreadful hostel in London for the duration of my stay there. It was run by the Roman Catholic church and there were all sorts of strange foreigners there and some pasty-faced priests that ran the place. I am not a Catholic, in fact rather more of the Black Presbyterian persuasion due to my ancestry on the Scottish Borders (!), but that didn’t seem to matter with the RC’s. I have always preferred Penny Plain to Tuppence Coloured, that’s just the way I am. At the exhibition I met a lot of the original Bauhaus people. Interesting, but quite frankly I found them a rather dull and solid bunch. And the job as a guide turned out to be only a two-days-a-week affair, opposite to what I had been led to believe, so there wasn’t much money in it anyway. I have never liked London so I decided to commute from Brighton instead, say good-bye to the Catholics and move in with Margrét instead. A much more satisfactory arrangement. Afterwards I came back to Corsham to hang up my final exhibition and then we took the boat over to Iceland where I have been based ever since. And Icelanders are no different from anyone else, a friendly lot with a slightly acid sense of humour, an innate hospitality and natural good manners so that I have never felt the least bit out of place. From the beginning I tried to pick up their funny old language and nowadays they say I hardly have an accent. In fact my English is getting a tiny bit rusty and I sometimes have to grope for words. I am generally known here as Stebbi which is the Icelandic equivalent to Steve!
    As to the professional side of things I know that I owe an enormous amount to the magnificent programme at Corsham and the dedicated and professional approach of many people who taught there. People like Mike Gray, Harry Cliffe, John Vince, Alan Stewart and Hans-Jörg Mayer come immediately to mind, to name but a few. When I first came to Iceland the advertising and design business was very much in its infancy and the training provided by the local art school came nowhere near the high standards of BAA. Much has improved since then but there is still much to be desired in the scope of the technical facilities that students have access to. We were very lucky in that respect at Corsham. I have taught several generations of Icelandic designers the tricks of the trade, imparting to them as much as I can of what I learnt at Corsham. I have made it my business to keep abreast of all the latest developments in digital and printing technology and look upon myself as a serious professional (though hardly a very serious person!) with an emphasis on the technical side of things. Experience has taught me that a thorough understanding of techniques and processes saves a tremendous amount of otherwise misplaced effort when designing for print – and being a lazyish sort of person I can see no point in having to do the same job twice merely due to a lack of knowledge. Being impulsive and rather impatient I like to get projects finished quickly, and finding shortcuts around computer programmes has proved an excellent way of doing this. I also do quite a bit of (Icelandic) proofreading and translating work whenever that sort of thing crops up and sometimes have to correct the Icelanders on their own spelling (!), so my language thing always comes in useful too. It is also satisfying to get paid for pursuing one’s hobby, and design work has always been one of mine, so altogether it’s a pretty satisfactory arrangement I’ve got going up here. And all thanks to Bath Academy of Art.


Stephen Fairbairn
Guy Fawkes' Day 2004


Neither Here nor There


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Contents, plus the link to Steve's page.