John Paul Ringo George
February 2001
T-shirt design for 2K⁄Gingham

This item should actually be filed under ‘2K by Gingham 2001’, but because this design has become such a well-known piece, we decided to give it its own report.
We designed the ‘John & Paul & Ringo & George’ shirt in 2001, for Japanese t-shirt label 2K/Gingham. Around that time, a lot of the prints we designed for 2K/Gingham were about the subject of t-shirt prints itself. We have always been interested in the concept of 'self-referentiality': the idea of graphic design that refers to itself, to its own context, or to the medium as a whole. (Self-referentialiy is often seen as a post-modern property, which is something we simply disagree with; it has always been our goal to put self-referentiality back in the modernist bloc).

With 'John & Paul & Ringo & George', we wanted to design a t-shirt that would function as an archetypical 'band shirt' (in the same way that the 'Anti' shirt, which we designed a year earlier, was meant to function as an archetypical 'slogan shirt').

When we designed the shirt, our idea was to strip down the idea of a rock band to a list of four names, in an attempt to reach the 'essence' of a group. In a way, the shirt is very much about abstraction: the process of translating figurative images into something less figurative. There's also an iconoclastic streak running through the shirt: the idea of puncturing through the world of images, by using text.
In short, we took the idea of the most archetypical band ever (a band that has been a constant source of inspiration to us), and replaced the image with a simple list of names:

The fact that we used an ampersand ('&') after each name had a purely formal reason. When we put the four names under each other, without the ampersands, we thought the name 'George' was sticking out too much, as this word was the longest. We solved this by putting the name 'George' at the bottom on the list, and adding ampersands to all the other names. This way, the list of names looked more even. That's how the ampersands were introduced in the design.

The first version that we designed of this shirt (the Ur-version, so to speak) featured white letters on a black shirt. Since then, the shirt has been released in various colour combinations. The print has also appeared on bags, longsleeve shirts, sweaters, etc. (all lovingly produced by 2K/Gingham). Our favourite version is just the basic t-shirt, in a black/yellow colour combination (shown above).

A few months after we designed the 'John & Paul & Ringo & George' shirt, we decided to create two other versions of the shirt: 'Keith & Mick & Bill & Charlie & Brian' and 'Joey & DeeDee & Johnny & Tommy'.

What we tried to do with those two other shirts was to remove the focus from the idea of one specific band: we wanted to show that the 'John & Paul & Ringo & George' shirt was not specifically about one particular band, but more about a certain method. By applying this method to two other bands, we wanted to make the underlying idea clearer: pop-cultural imagery 'abstracted' through text.

First of all, here's the 'Keith & Mick & Bill & Charlie & Brian' shirt:

And secondly, here's the 'Joey & DeeDee & Johnny & Tommy' version:

As we already wrote, we designed these shirts in 2001. Around the beginning of 2003, we noticed something interesting: in addition to these shirts being sold really well (it was quite an unexpected success), people started sending us images of self-made shirts that were referring to our shirts, either as homage, tribute or parody. We documented this phenomenon elsewhere on this site (See T-Shirtism, filed under 2005).

While we're at it, we like to thank Yoshi Kawasaki (from 2K/Gingham) for the happy collaboration throughout the years. We have been designing t-shirts for 2K/Gingham since 1999, and it has been a very pleasant journey.

UPDATE: All these shirts used to be available through 2K/Gingham. However, when (in 2008) Yoshi Kawasaki decided to leave the company (following a change in management), we decided to leave with him, and withdrew our shirts from 2K. In other words, these shirts are currently unavailable. However, if everything goes according to plan, a selection of these shirts will be reprinted and released through Yoshi Kawasaki's new label, Publik / Five Leaves Inc., in 2009. We'll keep you updated.

The image at the top of this page (the photograph of the guy wearing the 'John & Paul & Ringo & George' shirt) is taken from 'Helvetica: Homage to a Typeface' (Lars Müller Publishers, 2002).


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