Nick Rhodes

Duran Duran man Nick Rhodes recalls the launch of his 1984 book and subsequent London exhibition, ‘Interference’, which were brought to life by eminent graphic designer Malcolm Garrett

On Christmas Eve 1984, Hamiltons Gallery in London’s Mayfair hosted a private view of ‘Interference’, an exhibition by Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes. The gallery extravaganza followed a book of the same name, a joint project with the band’s trusted design collaborator Malcolm Garrett, which had been published earlier that year. Visually arresting, the book presented a selection of Polaroid photographs taken by Rhodes in American hotel bedrooms while Duran Duran were on a 1983 tour to promote their second album, ‘Rio’.

“Things had taken a turn for the hysterical,” recalls Rhodes. “We were prisoners over many weeks, not able to go out anywhere because our hotels were surrounded by fans, so a lot of the time I was watching TV in my room.”

While idly flicking through seemingly endless channels of obscure cable TV shows, Rhodes alighted upon something that held his attention.

“One day, the screen was filled with interference,” he says. “I’d never seen anything like it. The colours kept changing, depending on the image underneath it, so I got my Polaroid SX-70 and took a picture of the screen.

I became obsessed with finding these images on the TV. At the end of that tour, I had boxes of strangely exquisite and distorted Polaroid photos. I didn’t quite know what to do with them, but thought it’d be nice to make a book.”

Duran Duran finished the ‘Rio’ tour and were ushered into the studio to record what became ‘Seven And The Ragged Tiger’, ending up at EMI’s 301 Studios in Sydney in the autumn of 1983 to complete the album. They were joined there by Garrett, primarily to discuss sleeve options, but he and Rhodes also began designing what became the ‘Interference’ book.

“Every day, I’d go over to the apartment where Nick was staying,” recalls Garrett. “We’d spend a couple of hours looking at all the Polaroids, deciding which ones we wanted to use, and how they would be collated. And then at 4pm, he’d take a cab to the studio, work on the new album until the middle of the night, and then we’d go through the same process again the next day.”

The resulting book was, in Garrett’s words, “disarmingly pretentious”, fusing together the obscure Polaroids with elaborate designs and a series of titles by Rhodes that veered toward the ridiculous – ‘Dialling My Second Life’, ‘Vertigo In Children’ and ‘The Result Of Rebuilding A Maze’, to name just three.

“We decided that instead of simply putting the Polaroids on a page with a title, we’d let Malcolm explore his graphic lexicon and be as creative as he wanted,” says Rhodes. “He got more and more crazy with the layouts, taking elements of photos, repeating and breaking them up, and using symbols and different graphics and colours. For me, it really became a time capsule.

“And then I said, ‘Well, let’s bring them to life in an exhibition. But instead of it being a few walls filled with Polaroids, why don’t we do something different?’. So I started coming up with all these ideas of how to present it. And again, Malcolm was very involved with that process.”

It was Garrett’s job to turn Rhodes’ ambitious ideas for the exhibition into something real, bringing together a team of contributors to work on specific aspects. Sarah Gregory, the wife of Heaven 17’s Glenn Gregory, was invited to paint a canvas version of one of the Polaroids, as were Garrett’s design contemporaries Jill Mumford and Caryn Gough.

Massive inkjet banners were printed in Lancashire and draped like medieval tapestries from the ceiling, carpets were made using the Polaroid images, a series of painted light boxes were placed around the gallery, and a TV was placed underneath Perspex stairs leading down to the main room. It was an immersive art experience before immersive art experiences became commonplace.

“One of the Polaroids has a yellow brick road in it,” remembers Rhodes. “So we built one through the entire gallery, and that led to a volcano. There was a volcano in the Polaroid, and I wanted to display my tiny photograph next to what turned out to be this 12-foot-high structure. We actually managed to have lava coming out of it. The whole project was disorienting and very conceptual.”

In a corridor connecting two gallery rooms, Garrett and Roger Cleghorn installed a huge video wall consisting of 60 Thorn EMI televisions and six VCRs, wired so that the same image would appear on 10, seemingly random, screens simultaneously.

“They were specifically EMI because Duran Duran were signed to EMI,” explains Cleghorn, one of the designers at Garrett’s Assorted iMaGes studio.

He and Garrett had worked together as experimental electronic music duo The Pathfinders. They had also shared an apartment while Cleghorn was studying for his MA at Chelsea School of Art, where he had developed the idea of “sound painting” – electronic sounds fed into VCR inputs to produce unpredictable shapes on screen.

“The sound paintings fitted in with the idea of ‘Interference’ and the cable TV images in Nick’s photos,” says Cleghorn. “We duplicated VHS cassettes containing an hour-long edit of my sound paintings, and then between each piece we would dissolve to one of Nick’s Polaroids or the ‘Interference’ logo and hold that for a minute or longer.

“We’d start each VCR and wait a few seconds before pressing play on the next one. It meant that one group of TVs would always be showing the same thing, and any image that held on screen would eventually be on all of the screens at the same time, before starting to change. It was very lo-tech, but it looked good.”

While forward-thinking and adventurous, Rhodes believes that the Hamiltons exhibition was “too surreal” for most visitors. Garrett also recalls that a lot of people were confused by ‘Interference’ at the time.

“They either dismissed it or have forgotten it,” he reflects. “It wasn’t taken seriously. The art world was quite ready to dismiss Nick as this musical interloper. How dare he pretend that he was some kind of artist?”

Undeterred by the quizzical reaction to ‘Interference’, Rhodes has gone on to produce other art projects and has a new book to support another exhibition, ‘Ghosts Of Peonies’, scheduled for publication later in 2023.

“I’ve always liked making things, and I’ve always thought of Duran Duran as being very handmade,” concludes Rhodes. “If you like to make things, whatever they are, there are always going to be crossovers, like making music and art. I think there should always be space for new ideas, and I feel that’s what we created with ‘Interference’.”

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