Vale Les Mason

Image by David Pidgeon

Image by David Pidgeon, from left Peter Till, Juliet Till, Christine Fisher, Les Mason, Jeff Fisher and Gail Devine, in Istanbul.

Perth Trans ticket by Les Mason

Perth Trans ticket by Les Mason

1966 and 1970 stamp issues by Les Mason

1966 and 1970 stamp issues by Les Mason

American born graphic designer and an influential figure in the Melbourne graphic design community from the 1960s to 1980s died in Istanbul on Friday morning, Istanbul time, attending the 2009 AGI conference.

The internet has few traces of Les’s work, yet his influence and mentorship upon prominent Australian designers including Garry Emery, Brian Sadgrove, Lyndon Whaite, and Max Robinson is prolific and legendary.

I was lucky enough to spend a week with Les in Berlin during the Autumn of 2005, also attending my first AGI congress. Les had a hell raising reputation, even in retirement. Our week had our wits fine tuned and ears pricked for stories and insights of a recent past when design had typesetters, bromide cameras, and a lack of fax machines, marketing speak, i-phones, and software filters.

If you happen to be at the Rising Sun Hotel in South Melbourne, one of Les’s favourite haunts, dream up a great story, raise a little hell and a glass to Les.

Our thoughts go to Gail, and Les’s family. Vale Les.


6 Comments so far

  1. Clem Devine October 19th, 2009 1:10 pm

    Uncle Les surely was a legend, he was a long lunch specialist.

    It’s of some comfort to me that he was at a design conference talking with people he liked about something he loved. A bittersweet passing. Les taught me much about the design business – I’ll treasure his wicked and wily conversations.



  2. JM October 20th, 2009 9:43 am

    “To understand Australian design’s position now, though, it is necessary to consider how it has developed. Australian practitioners have always measured themselves against what was happening abroad and from the 1930s to the 1960s – and beyond – many would seek work experience overseas. The American designer Les Mason, a former sailor and bar owner, who arrived in Melbourne in 1961, was a key figure. ‘He was the most informed person that I’d come across,’ recalls Garry Emery, ‘and he was the one that really built bridges for me, made design legible so that I could grasp the social connections.’

    Mason was steeped in ideas about type and spatial organisation brought to the us by the European émigrés. He had read György Kepes’s The Language of Vision (1944); the book was a decisive early influence on Emery, too. The young Australian’s other sources included Danish and Scandinavian Modernism – seen in furniture and homewares – European Modernists such as Max Bill and Josef Müller-Brockmann, and Karl Gerstner’s Designing Programmes (1963).”

  3. Jorge October 20th, 2009 11:33 pm

    I lived in Perth in the 80’s and 90’s where he was highly revered. I never meet him but saw a particular video done by students that interviewed him. He spoke about the importance of Designers to engage with the world, to perhaps delay the study of Design and gain new perspectives through travel. How could we be good communicators if we haven’t experienced life outside of school. Eloquent emotive, talented and passionate. Adios Les.
    If I am not wrong (this may need confirmation) our own AGDA logo is a piece of Les’ design. Perhaps we should revive his initial multicolour version as a tribute.

  4. Graham Rendoth November 7th, 2009 1:35 pm

    I never met Les formally, but had listened to him in intimate circles at a couple of events. As a developing designer in the 70s and 80s, I was drawn to designers and work that was consistent and intelligent. Les Mason was one of a few ‘Australian’ designers that continually interested me. Did he do anything that wasn’t elegant, or playful, or intelligently driven? I still smile at the ‘Epicurean’ work. To those that knew him, half your luck!

  5. Mimmo Cozzolino December 8th, 2009 11:44 pm

    The first time I met Les was when I went and interviewed him together with John Bassani, Grant Shallard and Richard Statham when we were final year design students at Prahran CAE in 1970. He made time for us even though he was the biggest name in design in Melbourne at the time. I was duly impressed. I wish I still had the transcript of that interview. He seemed to have a knack for talking to young people getting into the business. Here is a great opportunity for a design PhD candidate to to a study on this great design pioneer. Sayonara Les.

  6. John Wilson» Blog Archive » Les Mason May 2nd, 2010 10:33 pm

    […] Further: AGDA Studio Pip & Co. The […]