Storm Thorgerson: Graphic designer whose art was central to the work of Pink Floyd

He was a master of the kind of demanding and elaborate set-up that anticipated Photoshop

To millions of music fans the graphic designer Storm Thorgerson was as intrinsic to the Pink Floyd mystique as the members of this most progressive of British groups. Hipgnosis, the partnership he formed with his fellow designer and flatmate Aubrey Powell in 1968, created the eye-catching, surreal cover art that adorned Floyd albums from the psychedelic collage of A Saucerful Of Secrets to Animals, the 1977 release featuring an inflatable pig floating over Battersea power station, based on an idea by Floyd bassist Roger Waters, via the prism of The Dark Side Of The Moon.

"I was passing a bookshop and saw an image of a prism ... and thought maybe that would work," he said last month. "It was about light, which was featured in their show; the triangle is a symbol of ambition which was in the lyrics, and the prism is also a common property – except I made one big change. I made the background black and it makes all the difference."

A master of the elaborate, technically demanding, photographic set-up that appeared to anticipate Photoshop, Thorgerson gloried in the possibilities of the gatefold sleeve. "I like photography because it is a reality medium, unlike drawing, which is unreal. I like to mess with reality, to bend reality. Some of my works beg the question of is it real or not? Why is there a cow on the cover? It doesn't have anything to do with the album, or does it?"

His creations became ever more elaborate as he moved to the intricate packaging of 1975's Wish You Were Here and its image of two businessmen, one on fire, shaking hands, achieved with the help of two stuntmen on a Los Angeles film lot. After Hipgnosis was dissolved in 1983 he launched Storm Studios and continued his association with the Floyd, creating ever grander designs such as the 700 hospital beds on a beach for A Momentary Lapse Of Reason in 1987 and the double-decker sized metal head sculptures facing each other in a field for The Division Bell in 1994.

With Hipgnosis he also designed memorable covers for Bad Company, ELO, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Roy Harper, The Nice, the Pretty Things, Rainbow, Al Stewart, 10CC, T Rex, UFO and Wings. His fondness for bad puns could get him into trouble. His submission of a tennis racket was considered disrespectful by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, who didn't think his group made a racket, and sacked him, resulting in Powell taking over to create the collage of naked children crawling over the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland for Houses Of The Holy in 1973. The Hipgnosis team, also including Peter Christopherson and George Hardie, masterminded the packages for the Zeppelin albums Presence, The Song Remains The Same, In Through The Out Door and Coda.

His ideas might have been far-fetched, and their execution time-consuming, but his modus operandi hardly changed. "I listen to the music, read the lyrics, speak to the musicians as much as possible. I see myself as a kind of translator ... I like to explore ambiguity and contradiction, to be upsetting but gently so. I use real elements in unreal ways."

Thorgerson was a keen cricketer, often playing other musicians and record industry figures. His love of cricket inspired the fast bowler rubbing the ball on his trousers shown on There's The Rub, the 1974 album by Wishbone Ash. Over the last two decades he remained in demand and developed distinctive imagery for many of the bands keen to take the Floyd's ambition into the new millennium, including Catherine Wheel, Biffy Clyro, The Mars Volta and Muse.

Born in Potters Bar in 1944, he attended Summerhill, the progressive boarding school, and took on many of its free-thinking principles. Following his parents' divorce, he moved with his mother to the Cambridge area and went to the same school as Syd Barrett, the Floyd's original frontman, and Roger Waters, the bassist, and also befriended future Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, a pupil at a different Cambridge school and Powell, at nearby Ely. He studied English and Philosophy at Leicester University before studying Film and Television at the Royal College of Art in London and gaining an MA in 1969.

By then, he had founded Hipgnosis, whose name conveyed "a nice sense of contradiction, of an impossible co-existence, from Hip = new, cool and groovy, and Gnostic, relating to ancient learning," he wrote in his 1978 book Walk Away René: The Work of Hipgnosis. He set about redefining the parameters of what could be done around the LP following the pop art concepts developed for the Beatles by Peter Blake on Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Richard Hamilton for the White Album. In Classic Album Covers of the 60s he was critical of the record companies' cursory attitude to design, especially when they attempted to cash in on psychedelia. "What amazes me in retrospect is how some of the groups ever put up with it," he wrote.

You could never accuse Thorgerson of kowtowing to marketing teams. He admitted he had "a rampant ego" and was "inclined to be despotic". He and his collaborators staged unlikely juxtapositions on a grand scale and broke new ground time and again. In the early 1980s he moved into advertising and pop videos and briefly thrived in the big-budget MTV era. His signature sweeping style infused the grandiose videos he directed for the Floyd tracks "Learning To Fly" and "High Hopes".

He suffered a stroke in 2003, and was later diagnosed with cancer. Floyd drummer Nick Mason recalled "a scourge of management, record companies and album sleeve printers; champion of bands, music, great ideas and high, sometimes infuriatingly high, standards. Defender of art over commerce, and tireless worker right up to the end. Two days before he passed away ... he was still demanding approval for art work and haranguing his loyal assistants ... Breathtakingly late for appointments and meetings, but once there invaluable for his ideas, humour, and friendship."

Storm Elvin Thorgerson, graphic designer: born Potters Bar 28 February 1944; twice married (one son from first marriage); died London 18 April 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas