it's a punk-a-rama with pop art designers john dove and molly white
The first thing that’ll strike you about artists Molly White and John Dove is how, after many, many years, they’re still truly, madly, deeply in love. The second thing is how passionate they still are about their work.
Images courtesy John Dove and Molly White and Cambridge Satchel Company
Introduced by Andy Field, Molly's boyfriend at the time, while studying at Norwich Art School in the 60s, they've been fusing the worlds of fashion, music, art and graphics ever since. From collaborations with Rei Kawakubo to designing their legendary leatherette jacket for the one and only Iggy Pop, Molly and John have been there, done that, and probably printed the t-shirt. More excitingly, they've just teamed up with the Cambridge Satchel Company to produce a line of punk inspired leopard print bags called Punk-A-Rama. We caught up with the duo to talk about their life long love affair with printing and what happened when John nearly crashed his American Chevy into i-D's very own Terry Jones.
Where did you first meet?
John: Inception day at Norwich Art School 1960 was the best day of my life, because I met Molly.
Molly: John was just another friend until we started to go out together. Then I found John was more interesting than other men.
How would you describe your working relationship?
John: At first, we helped each other with individual pieces of work and this developed into creating new directions and ideas together.
Molly: We share the same vision. John has always had a fine art sensibility whereas I have always been the designer of our partnership. Working together gives you the courage to go for it and/or sometimes throw it out.
How do you negotiate between your own aesthetic and that of your collaborators?
Molly: When we were involved in a collaboration with Comme Des Garcons, it was immediately interesting because we gave ourselves a central objective: to celebrate Iggy Pop's 40 year anniversary of the Iggy & The Stooges album Raw Power. Rei asked us if we could create images based on our prints from Iggy Pop's Jacket while integrating her 'punk phrases' from the 80's.
John: Other collaborations have not always been so easy where the other artist has had a more restrictive approach.
How would you define your overall aesthetic?
Molly: Instinctively, I'll find a direction. I always know when something looks right so when it goes wrong that's when the hard work begins for me. You never know what's beautiful until you have that sensation down the spine - you know it works.
Molly: It's a process I know well. The more you know about a process, the more you can break the rules, and the more freedom you have.
John: I learnt the process from Molly so I'm breaking the rules on a daily basis and Molly is trying to put me straight.
Would you consider yourselves artists or designers? Or can you be both?
Molly: Nowadays I would consider myself more as an artist than a designer - we probably can be both. We always approached our image making as inventors rather than fulfilling a required contract, so nothing has changed much in the way we work.
How did Punk-A-Rama come about?
Molly: Max Karie and Julie Deane met us in Paris at The Colette Gallery and shop where we were showing a collection of prints and T-shirts with InsideOut.
John: They asked us to design a leopard skin collection from our 70s jeans prints. The name PUNK-A-RAMA comes from a record we have from the 70s by Venus & The Razorblades.
What's the story of the leopard?
Molly: It goes way back to the 60s. John had drawn a black panther for an Italian comic we were making for Bruno Alferi Productions in Milan. When we started the Painless Tattoo Collection, I re-drew the panther head as a tattoo to be printed on flesh pink knickers.
John: When we came up with the 'Wild Thing' roaring leopard idea, we used some photographs from the National Geographic of leopards in the wild and adapted Molly's panther tattoo drawing. We also used the same references to create the leopard skin prints in garish colours that in 69 were an anti fur trade idea at a time when the leopard was heavily hunted for it's skin.
What does punk mean to you?
Molly: Weetabix boxes with the words 'Punk Rock' on them. John's Punk Rock singles collection was stored on the mantelpiece in a dozen or so cut-down Weetabix boxes.
John: Punk Rock was the greatest. We collected as vinyl 45s throughout the 60s. When Malcolm and Viv came to our studio in 74 they'd never heard the term Punk Rock.
What's your relationship with i-D?
Molly: John met Terry Jones in a car park at the back of Westbourne Grove.
John: That sounds very sinister Molly. I was parking my American Chevy and almost clashed doors with Terry - he lived nearby. He was starting up his own magazine, when punk culture was at its height and a more creative generation of stylists were out there. So, to support this brilliant idea and promote our emerging streetwear jeans and t-shirts collection, we ran a campaign of ads with Terry on the back cover of the early i-D magazines. I wrote an article for i-D called 'Fuck Art, Lets Do The T-shirt'.
Is modern culture as exciting as it used to be?
Molly: It's different, very different. Communication has changed the world. When you're young and on the edge of things, you follow the most exciting music, events, movies, dances and you're falling in love too. So whatever the culture - being young is an exciting time.
Do you think subcultures can exist in the age of the internet?
John: If something really 'out of this world' happens, it breaks through all the barriers. It may be that the internet is the perfect global vehicle for subcultural creativity if it's in the spirit of the so called 'digital age'.
What do you think about art/design in the digital age?
Molly: The internet is a great source of information and images that can help the artist/designer create a piece of work in an instant.
John: Molly and I always print by hand, we are always aware that mere digital printing or auto screen-printing is not very different from ripping a repro out of a book and chucking it into a frame. You gotta have soul!
What or who inspires you?
Molly: I find great Art inspiring, everything from the early Picasso's we saw last week at The Guggenheim Museum in Venice to the recent Banksy Mobile Lovers that has just been sold by the Bristol Boys youth club.
John: We are also inspired by our environment. We have created an ideal place to live and work; it embodies our creative spirit and gives us the freedom to work.
How important has music been to you throughout your life?
Molly: Music is John's second love so music is very important to my everyday world, I'd feel lost without it. Music fills the house; it fills my life.
John: We moved to London in 1964, and being surrounded by some pretty amazing musicians, we became more involved in music. Our designs became more music inspired, and the T-shirt studio developed from that.
Molly: Art-wise, we have more collages on the drawing board that we hope will generate another deep ocean of images and ideas.
John: Art-wise… a new religion.
Text Tish Weinstock
Images courtesy John Dove and Molly White and Cambridge Satchel Company