Factory outlet: the art inspired by Joy Division and New Order

From an Ian Curtis doppelganger to works by Barbara Kruger and Scott King, the exhibition True Faith explores the Manchester bands’ visual legacy. Co-curator Jon Savage selects some of his favourites

Peter Saville FAC1
FAC 1 by Peter Saville Photograph: PR

Peter Saville: FAC 1 (1978)


Peter Saville’s groundbreaking poster captures a proud, independent regionalism. This was his first design for Factory Club – the club, not the label, which was founded later in the year – and this radical statement fits the experimental nature of the lineup, all acts from Manchester and Liverpool. In its bold use of colour, typography and contemporary industrial design, FAC 1 was like nothing else at the time: clear, functional, austere. It stood out from the concert posters of the day and set a template that Saville developed in Factory’s first vinyl release, A Factory Sample, later in the year. As a visual manifesto, FAC 1 also announced that design would be a vital part of the way that Factory promoted itself and its groups – particularly since, as Joy Division became better known, they would shun conventional music press interviews.

A Basket Of Roses
The cover of New Order’s Power Corruption & Lies, featuring A Basket of Roses, by Henri Fantin-Latour. Photograph: The National Gallery, London. Bequeathed by Mrs M.J. Yates, 1923

Ignace-Henri-Théodore Fantin-Latour: A Basket of Roses (1890)

Oil on canvas

For the cover of New Order’s second album, Power Corruption & Lies, Saville took a reproduction of A Basket of Roses by the French artist Henri Fantin-Latour – famous for his flower pictures in his time – and added a colour control bar that contains the title in code (the key to which was supplied on the back sleeve). For Saville, the time scale of the Fantin-Latour image took it out of contemporary pop design – which at the time was referencing itself – and opened it out into a broader cultural canon. He saw the juxtaposition of 19th-century imagery with contemporary computer code as a comment on the fact that, in the early 1980s, historical works of art were beginning to be digitally preserved: “The cover proposed something new. It was about the idea of archival retrieval in computer systems,” he has said.

The Perfect Kiss by Barbara Kruger
The Perfect Kiss by Barbara Kruger Photograph: PR

Barbara Kruger: The Perfect Kiss video promotional poster (1985)

Printed paper

Michael Shamberg is a very important part of the New Order story. As the head of Factory US, he commissioned fine artists such as Barbara Kruger, John Baldessari and Lawrence Weiner to design artworks and posters. As New Order’s video producer, he hired directors such as Robert Longo, Robert Frank, Kathryn Bigelow and Jonathan Demme to direct a series of promos that are still classics of the genre. Demme’s high-spec yet understated nine-minute film of the group’s 1985 single The Perfect Kiss was given its own Factory number (FAC 321) and remains both a performative and a character-driven portrait of New Order in their prime. By 1985, Kruger’s status as an agitprop/feminist artist was already set: iconic works such as Your Comfort is My Silence, Your Assignment is To Divide and Conquer and Your Manias Become Science mixed black-and-white photographs with pointed epigraphs, usually set in Futura Bold Oblique. This simple but highly effective poster was based on an untitled 1980 picture of a woman in submissive posture – usually called Perfect after the caption at the bottom of the image – and so needed little adaptation.

Factory Icon
Factory Icon – a recreation of Ian Curtis by the artist Slater Bradley. Photograph: Slater B Bradley

Slater B Bradley: Factory Icon (2000/2017)

C-print mounted to aluminium

In the Doppelgänger Trilogy (2001-14), Slater Bradley recreates three “lost” videos – apparently reclaimed through the time machine, as with so much YouTube footage – of three tragic, fallen pop idols who all died young: Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson and Ian Curtis. In the super-grainy footage of Factory Archives, which is deliberately reminiscent of the Manchester Apollo footage released on the Here Are The Young Men VHS, Bradley’s double Benjamin Brock folds and unfolds his arms in Curtis’s instantly recognisable, tightly wound stage presence. This comment on time, memory and Romanticism is amplified by the photograph Factory Icon, where Ian Curtis’s stance, clothing and general demeanour is faithfully recreated (the cigarette, the trousers without a belt) to propel his presence and his work into the 21st century. In this image, he is still very much alive.

Understandable Feelings
Understandable Feelings by Matthew Brannon. Photograph: Courtesy of the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York

Matthew Brannon: Understandable Feelings (2015)

Letterpress and silkscreen on paper

The New York-based artist Matthew Brannon mixes the design, colouring and consumer fetishism of mid-20th-century Popluxe with carefully juxtaposed objects and often pointed, caustic captions. In the 2015 print Understandable Feelings, two objects – the 12in sleeve for Love Will Tear Us Apart and a bottle of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo emblazoned with the legend “No More Tears” – are framed by the small print below: “Hey now. Hush. Everything is going to be okay. You’re a grown man.” The feelings of sadness evoked by Joy Division’s classic song and the Ian Curtis myth, Brannon suggests, are quite understandable, but are also verging on the self-indulgent. Time to let them go.

Joy Division, Birmingham
Joy Division, Birmingham, by Scott King. Photograph: Scott King

Scott King: Joy Division, 2 May 1980, High Hall, University of Birmingham, England (1999)

Adhesive Vinyl

A full audience faces four musicians. There is no room in the auditorium but the space on the stage is carefully calibrated. At the back is Stephen Morris, the engine room of the group. In front of him is singer Ian Curtis, flanked by Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner – the bassist and the guitarist, who appear detached, but in fact are deeply involved supporting their singer as he moves rapidly back and forth in the space between them, as if in a dervish trance. It’s a Joy Division show in Birmingham, 2 May 1980, and nobody at the time could think that it will be their last. By the time this artwork was done, in 1999, everyone knew the story but Scott King’s reliance on black circles at once emphasises the closeness of the relationship between performers and audience – especially in comparison to his other “famous gigs” dot pictures from the time. Here there are precisely 168 dots, as opposed to the many hundreds at David Bowie’s last Ziggy show in 1973 and the many thousands at the Rolling Stones’ disastrous Altamont free concert. In Birmingham, the black dots can see the whites of the group’s eyes.

Shimmy by Jon Savage, advertising a gig in 1979. Photograph: Jon Savage

Jon Savage: Shimmy (1979)

Litho on paper

In July 1979, Factory supremo Tony Wilson commissioned me to design posters for Joy Division: he had seen the work I had done with Linder Sterling in The Secret Public (an all-visual montage magazine published by New Hormones in January 1978) and gave me free rein to come up with whatever I wanted. Wilson was a great enabler at that point: if you were there and wanted to do something, there was an opportunity and an outlet. This freewheeling approach – what Peter Saville calls “autonomous opportunity” – was typical of Factory Records in that early period. I didn’t get paid, but I got the satisfaction of seeing the Shimmy montage pasted up on walls around Manchester – and the show (issued in 2007 as a bonus disc with Unknown Pleasures) was fantastic. The 30s-style flats came from an old architectural book: they reminded me of the south Manchester suburbs where I lived at the time.

True Faith is at Manchester Art Gallery as part of MIF17, from 30 June to 3 September.


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