Obituary: Jon Goodchild

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The Independent Culture
IF JON Goodchild was the man who set out the hippie vision in print, he was also guilty of straining it. Many a former 1960s love-child can trace his myopic tendency back to the swirling small print, orange on pink, that eddied across the pages of Oz.

And this was a magazine which was meant to look like Private Eye. That it did not was down to Goodchild, an elegant, laid-back Englishman with a certain innate spirituality and impish humour. Goodchild, the son of a farmer, was a former student of Guildford School of Art and a gifted typographer. In 1967, aged 26 and bored with design consultancy work, he bumped into Oz magazine's Australian founder, Richard Neville, at a dinner party. Neville intended Oz to become a satirical journal to rival Private Eye (then, as now, a resolutely design-free zone). A spontaneous delegater, he offered Goodchild a free hand to shape the magazine. Like a kid with the measles, Neville's brainchild came out in psychedelia. Words mutated to patterns, patterns to pictures, colours bled, headlines exploded: it was a magazine that would not sit still. It shocked, offended and delighted the world in equal measure.

Before long Goodchild had relocated the design department to his own studio in Gunter Grove, off Fulham Road, in south-west London, and was laying out the magazine on table-tops and on floors in marathon sessions, using the co-opted assistance of various Cow Gum-wielding hippie extras, including Felix Dennis (at that stage just a publishing pawn, hawking Oz on the street). This was no longer just a magazine, it was an art experiment, fuelled by the irresistible momentum for change which chased through that era.

Apart from the impact made by its extraordinary artists, who included Martin Sharp, Michael English, Haphash and the Coloured Coat and David Hockney, the revolutionary look of Oz was due to new technology, in particular offset litho printing, which conventional magazines, constrained by restrictive print-union practices, had failed to exploit. It was also a by-product of the parlous status of the Oz organisation, that presented difficulties only creative solutions could solve.

Cash flow was unsteady, police pressure to close down the magazine was not. Printers were frightened away on a regular basis by the controversy. "It meant adapting very quickly to different machines, different paper sizes, different procedures and techniques," said Felix Dennis. "Sometimes Jon would tip the magazine upside down and put the staples on the other side."

The famous centre-fold poster of Che Guevara which graced the generic Sixties lavatory wall was conceived a few hours before deadline and assembled on the hop. It's not clear who spelt the name wrong. Dennis claims it was him. "Richard was furious but Jon just laughed," he said.

Goodchild thrived on this uncertainty and smashed conventions with relish. He took a decision early on there would be no logo, and changed the title style every issue. Colour was laid upon colour, acid, metallic and Day- Glo tones introduced. He persuaded printers to pour different-coloured inks in at either end of the trough, so they merged in the middle, making every copy of the magazine different. "He had an extraordinary amount of influence for an art director," said Dennis. "It was more Jon Goodchild's magazine than Richard Neville's."

Goodchild is most notoriously remembered for daring to break the print designer's cardinal rule: legibility (though not as often as detractors would have it), suggesting, by implication, that the content of the text might be subordinate to the design. Like so much of hippie culture, Oz was arrogant and indulgent, but its thrill cannot be denied. By the time others cottoned on to the possibilities it offered, the magazine had been grounded by the notorious legal action of 1971 when Richard Neville, Felix Dennis and James Anderson were prosecuted for "conspiracy to corrupt morals", and Goodchild had moved on. "He wasn't the guy to stick around and do it again," said Dennis.

He worked first for Jann Wenner's abortive British edition of Rolling Stone. When this collapsed in acrimony Wenner discovered that Goodchild was the only member of the London staff with whom he hit it off, and invited him back to San Francisco. There Goodchild stayed. He worked as an art director on the parent Rolling Stone magazine and later for the book-publishing arm, Straight Arrow. With his long blond hair, scarf knotted round his neck and easy, humorous manner, he fitted in at Rolling Stone. "My contribution," said Wenner, "is recognising the quintessential Californian in him."

Goodchild left Rolling Stone later in the Seventies and earned a living designing expensive wine labels and the occasional book, specialising more and more in the environmental subjects which interested him. Always drawn to the countryside, he settled in Bolinas, on the coast north of San Francisco, a sleepy artists' colony of Bohemians, eccentrics and 75 species of birds. He spent much time in his garden and he had recently completed a series of oil paintings of his daughter, Rhiannon.

Until cancer prevented him, he was designing the re-launched Whole Earth magazine; also a reference book on British trees, a joint project of Felix Dennis and Ebury Press, which is soon to be published.

He had many friends. "We called him an old soul," said Lynn Hodenfield. "He was a mixture of the old and the new," said Virginia Storey. "He had an old school quality; he could have been a colonel, but he had no airs and graces." "I have an image of him in a white jeep with the top down," said Lanny Aldrich, "in a fleece-lined World War II aviation jacket: a dashing image of Sixties counter-culture."

Controversy did not desert Goodchild entirely. He campaigned to stop rich dentists from San Francisco settling in Bolinas. Whenever a road sign to the town was put up, he drove out and uprooted it - he had a garage full of road signs.

Jon Goodchild, graphic designer: born 17 August 1941; married Leslie Acoca (one daughter, one stepson); died Bolinas, California 4 June 1999.

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