Sean Adams | Essays

Remembering Clive Piercy

Last weekend, the design world lost one of its most gracious and exceptional designers. Clive Piercy passed away (Clive would have preferred “died”) last Sunday at home with his wife, Ann Field, and Wire Hair Fox Terrier, Ringo. The news was painful, heartbreaking, and difficult to accept. Each day this week, I expected Clive to come bounding around the corner at ArtCenter with his wry smile and mismatched striped socks. The world will continue, but without Clive, it will be a little less colorful.

Clive was an English gentleman. But he also had a uniquely Southern Californian approach and style. He had an exquisite attention to typography and a unique and delicious color sense. In 1988, he formed desin firm Ph.D with Michael Hodgson and challenged the concept of brand messaging. In 2007, he founded Air-Conditioned and continued to work with a roster of blue chip clients such as Nike, Levi’s, Chronicle Books, and Roxy/Quicksilver.

Clive’s work as an educator, with AIGA, and as a mentor will ripple for generations. One of his past students, Simona Szabados, said, “Clive always urged us to restlessly seek inspiration in everything—in this fantastic life surrounding us and in uncomfortable corners. Through love and a magical attitude, he pushed me to face and fight every little battle.” His students complained that he asked too much of them, but they loved him for it when their work exceeded their expectations.

Hilary Laffer, at his office Air-Conditioned, explained his effect also: “Clive understood the power of design and taught us all how to be better thinkers and problem solvers. Whether he knew it or not, he pushed us to push ourselves, to expand our interests, to find the unexpected, and to set every bar higher.”

This week, Paula Scher spoke to me about Clive, and described him as elegant, erudite, and wickedly funny. “I first noticed him at an AIGA conference where he gave a one-minute presentation. Clive managed to give a complete rundown of the contemporary U.S. design scene, just by showing an image coupled with a single word. Within those sixty seconds, he created poetry. It was miraculous, and the audience cheered and cheered. He had such keen vision, especially about L.A. I think it may have taken a British ex-pat to have such clear eyes about the left coast. He taught me to see Los Angeles.”

Eric Baker’s note about Clive left me speechless for an afternoon. It would be a disservice not to share it in its entirety. It captures Clive beautifully.
“Clive Piercy was the consummate English gentleman. Elegant, well read, well traveled, wicked smart, with that perfect dry sense of humor that was laugh out loud funny. He was always kind and generous. Even his name, Clive Piercy, can you get any more British?

One of the beautiful things about being a part of the design community is the people you meet. Sometimes, if you are lucky, some of those people become friends; genuine and sincere friends. Clive Piercy was one of those people. We met 20+ years ago at a design conference and instantly clicked. Clive was in Los Angeles, I was in New York, but the miles could never interfere with our friendship. We saw one another whenever we could and spoke on the phone almost weekly.

His talent was exceptional and always with a twist that would make you smile and think “I wish I had done that.” His work was full of color and joy; his typography had that particular English flair and everything he did looked, well, it looked just perfect. He was, to me, the perfect British Expat; he loved Los Angeles, the weather, the old Hollywood of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s and the Southern California light and colors. All of it informed and inspired him. His joy of being a designer in LA was evident.

The best description of Clive’s work would be the Italian word Sprezzatura defined as "a certain nonchalance, to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it." But that is just the design part of Clive’s life. The biggest part was the love of his life, his wife, Ann Field. He was such a wonderful and loving husband. He always spoke of Ann with such love, affection, and sense of awe at Ann’s remarkable talent. He would laugh and say he got the better part of the deal. He was a love-smitten teenager.

He was a revered teacher and mentor to many, many students, and he shared with them with his endless passion and curiosity. His appetite for life, art, travel, and friendship was boundless. He was a repository of knowledge of the obscure treasures of the world. He was interested in everything and shared that knowledge with his students and friends. If Clive mentioned a book, a film or an artist I knew it would be a gem and new doors would open.

His energy and joy of life were infectious. His spirit could fill a room, and you always knew you were with someone special. He was, above all, a fine human being with an enormous heart.

Everyone loved Clive, how could you not? I treasure every moment I had with him.

My life is better because he was my friend.

I will miss him.”

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Art Center’s Scholarship fund in Clive’s name.

Posted in: Evidence, Obituaries

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