This exhibition is a comprehensive survey of work by Tony Arefin (1962–2000), a graphic designer who emerged during the late 1980s as one of the most important figures in the British art world. With his numerous catalogues for institutions such as the Serpentine Gallery, ICA, Chisenhale Gallery and Ikon itself, Arefin had achieved such art world dominance by the early 1990s that design critic Rick Poynor described him as ‘single-handedly processing the print needs of the entire British art scene’. Comprising early publications from the YBA movement to seminal advertising campaigns for corporate clients such as IBM, Ikon’s exhibition reveals the intuitive genius of Arefin’s work.
Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Abed Mohammed Arefin, later nicknamed Tony by his mother, moved with his family to Bangladesh and then, in 1974, to London as a result of political upheavals in Dhaka. Arefin worked as a picture editor and design assistant for several London magazines, before a brief period as a curator at The Photographers’ Gallery where he organised an important exhibition of Neville Brody’s infuential graphic design for The Face magazine and later began designing his own catalogues. During this time he often referred to himself as ‘Arefin & Arefin’, at once jokily assuming a corporate brand (chiming with Saatchi & Saatchi) and implying multiple identities.
Naturally gravitating towards the art world, Arefin produced work for a variety of institutions and seminal YBA exhibitions such as Freeze (1988) and Modern Medicine (1990), both organised by Damien Hirst. He later designed publications for artists and designers such as Douglas Gordon, Graham Gussin, Cornelia Parker, Jasper Morrison and Adrian Piper. Arefin established his reputation through a bold visual language, combining acerbic colours, an irreverent use of photography and striking typography.
In 1993 Arefin left London for New York, becoming creative director of I.D. magazine. During an intensive four year period he immersed himself in magazine culture, art directing three other titles simultaneously: Bomb, Blind Spot and Art + Auction. Exploiting his intimate knowledge of the art world, he collaborated freely with photographers, illustrators and typeface designers to produce some of his most striking and dynamic work. His prolific output attracted the interest of the advertising industry, and in the late 1990s he worked as art director at the agency Wieden & Kennedy and partner at Ogilvy & Mather where he produced award-winning work such as IBM’s Magic Box campaign. In these corporate settings, Arefin’s energy and generosity were a revelation.
Curated by designer James Langdon, this exhibition rediscovers the contribution of an important but overlooked creative figure. Material has been generously loaned by Tony Arefin’s family, many friends, clients and collaborators.
A full colour catalogue, including text by writer and curator Emily King and interviews with design critic Rick Poynor and Ikon Director Jonathan Watkins accompanies the exhibition, priced £18.
Arefin & Arefin: The graphic design of Tony Arefin is supported by Ogilvy & Mather.