KÊU springs to life!

Posted by kevinhelas on January 21st, 2016

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Images of the recently launched KÊU City branch in London Wall, featuring expansion of the original Keu Brand and Identity design I developed. The new location features a stunning interior concept created by Katy Manolescue of Article, with whom I worked closely on interior and external graphic and signage design. Brand communication strategy and design was developed in collaboration with Clare Lattin of 84 Buckingham Rd. Thanks to longstanding clients Hieu, Nghia and the Vietnamese Kitchen team for their collaboration, and the opportunity to expand on the KÊU vision, and bring it to life in such a vibrant and successful way. Photography: Adam Luszniak.

 


The art of not peaking too soon…

Posted by kevinhelas on September 16th, 2015

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So here we are. Myself, along with perhaps a good portion of the country, wait with baited breath to hear the results of a meeting between Prime Minister John Key and the Labour leader Andrew Little today, to see if The Red Peak design becomes a wildcard fifth entry, joining those already shortlisted as potential designs for a new New Zealand flag. Or possibly even nudging out one of Kyle Lockwood’s colourways to become a genuine fourth contender. Here’s hoping.

The emergence of the Red Peak design has come as a saving grace in this whole process – an example of a flag which meets the criteria of the Flag Consideration panel in its simplicity, elegance and most crucially, RESONANCE. Somehow, it escaped the attention of the panel charged with identifying such characteristics initially, but it has already passed a true(r) test of its merits – the ability to capture the hearts and minds of New Zealanders. A visit to the pages of the Red Peak facebook page, or a trawl through any other Social Media waters, will reveal a huge outpouring of tangible support for this motif, in ways which could not have been foreseen. New Zealanders are embracing the design as their own: creating their own Red Peak representations in anything from Swandri swatches to Woolly hats. It has even become the livery of a  Superhero. Rowan Simpson has mobilised the groundswell of public support, first by writing a blog which articulated his own thoughts about the design, and was then involved (with Catherine Wilson) in organising a petition which rapidly gathered 50,000 signatures. Quite simply, this has forced the powers that be to sit up and take notice. And arrange to have a cup of tea to talk about it.

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I’ll be completely honest. At first, I was slightly underwhelmed by the design. It was not familiar to me, as a representation of New Zealand, or what New Zealand stood for. I was still smarting from the results of the Flag Consideration Panels’ process, (and my own designs’ exclusion from the shortlist)* and bemoaning the paucity of the final selection of 3, sorry, 4 designs which smacked of conservatism, amateurism, and lets face it, crony-ism. Quite possibly, these designs were ones pre-ordained to have considerable popular support, together with the support of our Prime Minister John Key and latterly none other than our esteemed All Blacks Captain (Sir) Richie McCaw. If we were in Italy, it would be the equivalent of the Pope’s blessing. Along with Berlusconi. The process itself now appears to be not-so-much designed to unearth an inspiring design solution, but to come up with alternatives to ‘get the new flag over the line,’ in a winner-takes-all battle with the encumbent. Of course flags which represent familiar icons would be more likely to find favour with the general population, and hence more likely to lead to the desired result – a change of flag in the final referendum. A touch cynical? Perhaps. But John Key can be credited as being particularly savvy about the workings of the democratic process. Appealing to a larger demographic makes complete sense in this context and contest.

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But enough about politics, and back to the design. Over time, the Red Peak has grown on me. The elegance and simplicity of the design is captivating. It’s certainly easy to reproduce. The old ‘so easy a child could draw it’ test is passed hands down. Its simple, abstract form belies a complexity. It invites enquiry, engagement and intrigue, like all the very best designs do. It manages to combine three colours (ok, four if you include white) which are each in their way deeply significant to Maori and European symbology, and synonymous with flag design. The design sits comfortably within the international flag design lexicon, while managing to appear unique and distinctive sitting alongside other national flags.

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Strangely, the Red Peak is not overtly familiar as a New Zealand symbol, but surely has the potential to become one. It literally points upwards to the future, while connecting with the past. In doing so, it pays tribute to the spiritual beliefs of the indigenous people of Aotearoa, the Maori, and an understanding which is accessible and relevant to all New Zealanders.

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image: Robyn Kahukiwa

The Red Peak is one of the few flag designs to emerge which references the creation story of Papatuanuku (Mother Earth) and Ranginui (Father Sky), or at least has prompted some discussion around it. This is a foundation of not just Maori but New Zealand culture, which demands inclusion, or at least consideration. It is certainly a formative story for me, growing up in the Waikato. In the Red and Black elements we have representations of these elements, and in the white area in between: ‘Te Ao Marama,’ the realm of Creation and Being, in which we dwell. Granted, this is a reading of the Red Peak design I have made personally, which is not necessarily intended in the design. But herein lies the value of the design – that it allows multiple readings, and meanings, allowing for a connection and a certain sense of ownership for New Zealanders, for a variety of different reasons.

Could this be a reason why the Red Peak design is imbued with a certain resonance, and created the response it has? That it captures messages, or meanings, that have a deeper emotional and spiritual connection to us as New Zealanders, even if perhaps we cannot quite put a finger on them? Perhaps it takes us into a deeper and richer realm than those opened up by icons or symbols such as the silver fern, or the koru. The conversation around the design itself changes. I have heard very little discussion about the merits of the other shortlisted designs, in terms of what they signify. Sure, they are representative of New Zealand. You cannot argue with the silver fern as a powerful motif, synonymous with New Zealand, and integrally linked with perceptions of ourselves as a country and as a people. Primarily, I would say, as a signifier of achievement on the sporting field, not least with the heralded All Blacks – ‘the most dominant team in world sport.’ But the refrain which accompanies this symbol is an old one, of ‘a small country, punching above its weight’ which perversely speaks of the colonial roots which you would expect a new flag to distance itself from. In my view, this is a self-view, and a world-view, which no longer serves New Zealand. We are entering a world where it’s not about proving yourself on the world stage, but simply being yourself. And playing a part. The koru is a powerful symbol too. If anything, it signifies new growth, an unfolding. It has and will continue to serve as an evocative symbol or logo for countless New Zealand companies or products, but doesn’t quite have the weight or presence appropriate for a national ensign.

And what about the design? For me, the execution of the shortlisted flags leave something to be desired. I am not in favour of either (sorry) any of three silver fern designs, for a number of reasons which have probably been voiced elsewhere. I know Dave Clark has offered to redraw the silver fern (what, to make it look more like his – sorry – the All Black Fern?) – but this sort of misses the point. Quite simply, I suspect they would not be being judged so harshly on their appearance, if they had something of greater import to say. As for the koru design, its inclusion in the final four has the feeling of an afterthought – a makeweight option which is not a serious contender. To me, its not even the best of the range of koru representations which featured in the shortlist of 40, let alone the 10,000 submitted. Simply a ‘not silver fern’, to direct votes towards the main preference.

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It’s here I should own up to my own participation in this process. I have been personally engaged in the debate and discussion around the re-design of the New Zealand flag for many years – ever since Kyle Lockwood raised his initial Silver Fern motif and advocated the changing of the guard. In response to his initial design, I was prompted to develop my own, which I evolved over the years and eventually submitted to the Flag Consideration Panel under the title ‘The Double Rainbow.’

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It’s a design which could possibly be seen as sitting withing the ‘Koru camp.’ However the ‘Double Rainbow’ motif is inspired not so much by the koru, but by a double spiral form taken from whakairo (Wood Carving) which references the connection between (you guessed it) Papatuanuku, Ranginui and Te Ao Marama. Which probably explains my appreciation and support of the Red Peak design.

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But I digress. Like many other designs, ’The Double Rainbow’ was simply one submission of many, which didn’t make it through. I am hopeful that ‘The Red Peak’ emerges from the pack, much in the way the Canadian Maple Leaf design did in its day, to be a candidate in the final referendum, and with luck, become the design chosen to grace the Waitangi flagpole. It’s the one design that has emerged (inadvertently) through the flag submission process which truly captures something of the spirit of our nation, and our people – displaying clear links to the past, while looking forward to the future. Regardless, I’m quietly chuffed that the emergence of the Red Peak itself represents a victory of the spirit over bureaucracy, and an illustration of how the new form of democracy (in the guise of the internet, and social media) can make a significant contribution to a design and selection process.

 

 


The Double Rainbow

Posted by kevinhelas on June 17th, 2015

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My submission to the NZ Flag Consideration Panel, ready for posting, which I’ll be delivering today. A summary of the vision and the thinking behind my design ‘The Double Rainbow.’


Artist Monograph

Posted by kevinhelas on April 3rd, 2015

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I’ve just completed an artist monograph entitled ‘Ko te Korero te Kai a te Rangatira (Words are the Food of Chiefs),’ a follow-up to the exhibition of the same name held at The Modern Pantry in 2012. The booklet includes artworks from this series, accompanied by an essay by Trish Stevenson, and an artist interview. The monograph was designed by me, printed and bound by Henningham Family Press. Text pages are in full colour HP indigo prints on 100gsm paper; covers foil blocked and screenprinted on Fedrigoni 290gsm paper; hand-bound and singer sewn. It comes in a limited edition of 50, artist stamped, and is available for sale on this website. Many thanks to Dave Henningham for the exquisite job he did on the binding and finishing, which includes an innovative ‘blind’ singer sewing technique on the spine, which sits beautifully with the short-sized, whakairo (wood carving) cover wrap. Thanks to Trish Stevenson, Karl and Kateia Burrows and Arte Toi which provided the inspiration for this series of work, and played a significant part in bringing it to completion.


Three Punctures

Posted by kevinhelas on October 12th, 2013

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Character designs I developed as part of a project team for one of a series of animations for Hymans Robertson, clients of Landscape. These are sketches for ‘The Three Punctures;’ a tale following the exploits of a client who teams up with a Hymans Robertson colleague in a cycling race in the Scottish Mountains, and has three punctures on the way. All is not lost however – this simply provides an illustration of the benefits of working with Hymans, and the client is able to overcome these challenges and complete the race in good shape. Check out the final animation below. Other animations in the Trustee Tales series are viewable here.


Saigon comes to Shoreditch

Posted by kevinhelas on August 1st, 2013

Signage I created for Hieu Bui at Vietnamese Kitchen to announce the imminent re-opening of Viet Grill on Kingsland Rd, after a refurbishment. It is set to up the stakes of Shoreditch Vietnamese dining, with a stunning new interior and installation of “Little Red Staircase:” a late night cocktail bar with tasty bar snacks.


Apple's design approach

Posted by kevinhelas on June 12th, 2013

Apple”s 2013 Keynote Intro video, presenting an insight into their approach to http://wilhoutsslot.org/ design.“The first thing we ask is “what do we want people to feel? Then we begin to craft around our intention.” Thanks to Brad Cho-Smith for sharing this.

 


The Witches Olympics

Posted by kevinhelas on May 30th, 2013

It’s ‘inking time’ for ‘The Witches Olympics;’ a delightful tale conceived by Sam Vinson, and performed as a children’s play at Glastonbury, now set for completion as an illustrated Children’s Book. Shown here are pen and ink sketches from one spread which introduce Gingella Gallis, the object of ridicule of the other witches in the competition.


MACD workshop

Posted by kevinhelas on May 15th, 2013

Last week I (together with Hilary Chittenden) supported Fred Deakin @freddeakin on a full day workshop at Central Saint Martins, for MA students approaching their final year project. The workshop was designed to inspire and encourage students to further define and refine their MA project, http://aussiesonlinecasino.com/ and incorporated practical tips, tools and reference points. Fred did a great job, and it was a welcome engagement for me with design teaching and mentoring.  I was struck by the unmistakeable drive the students had to use their design skills and knowledge to broach important issues, and to “make a difference.”


Julia Burness website

Posted by kevinhelas on April 17th, 2013

I”m delighted to announce the launch of the website I designed for Julia Burness Jewellery, which was online casino built by Andy Cooke. Congratulations to Julia, who has just been shortlisted as a finalist for the New Designer of the year in the 2013 UK Jewellery Awards. Check out the site here.