Vaughan Oliver, the English graphic designer best known for his work with the world-renowned London imprint 4AD, has died. His passing was confirmed by Adrian Shaughnessy, writer, designer, and editor of the 2018 collection Vaughan Oliver: Archive, who took to Twitter to announce Oliver’s death on the morning of Sunday, December 29, 2019. He was 62 years old.
“Desperately sad to announce that Vaughan Oliver died peacefully today, with his partner Lee by his side,” Shaughnessy wrote. “Great loss of friend and design hero.”
Oliver was born in Segefield, Durham County to working class parents. As a young man, Oliver’s two passions were music and visual art, taking specific interest in the surrealist dreamscapes of Roger Dean and Salvador Dali, who inspired him to study graphic at the Newcastle upon Tyne Polytechnic. Joined by his childhood friend, the photographer and filmmaker Nigel Grierson, the pair launched 23 Envelope, the design studio responsible for many of 4AD’s most beloved record covers including Pixies‘ Surfer Rosa, Cocteau Twins‘ Treasure, and The Breeders‘ Last Splash.
Following the dissolution of 23 Envelope, Oliver opened v23, where he worked with artists and designers such as Chris Bigg, Simon Larbalestier, Marc Atkins, and more. While the studio officially closed in 2008, Oliver remained an in-demand designer for artists including David Lynch, TV On the Radio, and The Breeders’ Kim Deal, who he continued to produce album art for until late in his life.
“I always wanted to design [record] sleeves as a kid,” he told Design Boom in 2014. “Record sleeves are ephemeral and I always wanted to make them more than that. It might sound pretentious, but I really wanted to make a mark…Now I realize, though, that the artwork can’t be timeless because of its connection to music. The music the artwork contains will always take you back to a certain time.”