I'm incredibly proud of the work done by the COLORS team in the last year, from the "Going to Market" issue that launched just as I started, to the recent issues on "Making the News" and "Looking at Art" (with the pages of the fourth pasted up on the wall of the COLORS office as I type. Subject to be revealed soon, rather excitingly.)
Again, my job here has largely been to ensure the team can do its job, clearing a path for it. (For years I've called this leadership tactic "the snowplough", which I started doing at the BBC. It's a technique that we wrote up a bit in the HDL "Legible Practices" book. You should know it doesn't always work.) I also know that if I engaged too much in the editorial and design side, I would a) think about little else, and b) get right in the way. So Patrick Waterhouse, the editor, Enrico, Cosimo and the team just get on with it, and it's been a pleasure and privilege to watch. All the credit to them.
You might expect me to say this, but I think COLORS is right back to being one of the best magazines around. Our issue, no pun intended, is distribution. We're bringing a dedicated person on board to look after that over the next six months, to sort it out. I know from Monocle and Domus days what a nightmare distribution is (where Monocle always had it licked, Domus rarely did.)
I wrote about "Making the News"—the team's unpacking of contemporary journalism—before, so permit me a few words on "Looking at Art", the current issue. Again, I think it's a corker.
It's another linear/non-linear unfolding of current art practice, the current art market, the art media, and a playful hovering around the core question of "what is art?" For the cover, the team had a neon sign made at a fabricator around the corner from Catena di Villorba ("inspired by" Tracy Emin's work), which now proudly adorns the COLORS studio, sometimes glowing beautifully at dusk.
And there are numerous amazing stories within the issue, supported by wonderful photography and artful design.
My advisory board happens to feature the Rector of the Royal College of Art, Dr. Paul Thompson (boss of the world's oldest art school), and the director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Julian Zugazagoitia (and so boss of one of the most respected gallery/museums in the USA.) So it was with some trepidation that Patrick and I tested the magazine on both Paul and Julian—but with relief too, ultimately, when both declared that the issue was fascinating, full of stories, facets and angles they'd not known about, not thought about. Again, all credit to Patrick here, who has developed a wonderfully eloquent and entertaining way of talking through the magazines.
There are features of art theft, the Geneva freeport that is essentially the world's most valuable art collection, minimalist art as a Pantone set, Mona Lisa as a platform for selfies, the vast sculptures of African dictators, votive paintings, new takes on those hoary chestnuts of authenticity, authorship and plagiarism, and the fella who pickled Damien Hirst's shark. And much much more.
Formally, there are the inspired explorations of what a paper magazine can be familiar to those who picked up "Making the news", such as foldouts and different stocks and sizes. But for the cover this time, Patrick and the team hit upon the idea of a blank gallery space that you can customise with stickers. There are five different covers, with different gallery attendants in different bits of the world, to lend a little uniqueness to things. And of course the customised covers means that every copy will also be unique (apart from the shrink-wrap fetishists who don't stick anything, of course.)
Our strategy here is to prove there is still immense value in the paper magazine yet—as long as you explore what paper brings, as a format. Not rocket science, but you'd be surprised how many still don't explore this aspect. I think it's almost a matter of life or death for a magazine now.
And we increasingly do events and experiences around the same theme as the issue, across a wide range of other platforms. (Patrick was speaking in Moscow last week, discussing the issue, Mauro has been in Sydney, Cosimo et al in Perugia, Arles and others.)
For this, the team worked with Ries Straver's "Document" studio at Fabrica to make a sly flick-through:
And Ries shot this wonderful film at the opening of the Venice Biennale, earlier this year:
Again, I'm so proud of this work. It's a privilege to have COLORS in our stable; albeit also a lot to live up to. I think it's on top form. Please do pick up a copy if you can—buying it online is probably easiest, to be honest, while we wrestle distribution into shape. And if you're a small (or big!) shop looking to sell it, let me know (dan dot hill at fabrica dot it)— we are now building a team and culture to help get it out there.
We've also quickly rebuilt the COLORS online store (via Shopify) this year such that we're taking control of individual issues—again (current and back issues.) We'll be looking to take subscriptions back in-house next, and sort out that distribution across the world's major cities. For me, the focus has to be on the business side of COLORS—the editorial is amazing, after all.
- Snowplough to enable fascinating and rich editorial by the COLORS team.
- Make key projects like this a priority.
- There is life in magazines yet, if you explore physicality & form.
- But devise a multi-platform strategy with each playing to its strengths.
- Distribution still a problem, but must also be a priority, once editorial is sorted.