ESQ&A: It was all done by ‘design’ – getting to know Mark London

Introduction by Alison Martino of Vintage Los Angeles, interview by David Beard

Fans of Brian Wilson know Mark London’s name well because of his different designs for Brian over the years. Mark has created some fantastic designs for Vintage Los Angeles too. Mark embodies the California aesthetic by always choosing the right colors, font, and retro styles. Whether he’s designing tour books, posters, or official merch for worldwide tours – including artwork for backstage passes, too for The Beach Boys, The Monkees, The Zombies, etc. – he always gets it ‘spot-on’! He spends days, sometimes weeks, choosing the right photos by combing through hundreds of images from personal archives. Mark is not only a Los Angeles native, but he has a deep appreciation for the history of California. It’s no secret that Mark loves Los Angeles. It shows in his gorgeous work.

ESQ: Where did you go to school to learn graphic design?

Mark London: Where most artists learn: public school! 

I used to get a quarter from kids to draw monsters, Popeye, Yosemite Sam, and easy rider choppers on their notebooks. I got graded for the art on my English tests [laughs].

ESQ What element of California design aesthetics were you drawn to the most?

Mark: Tough to say. I was born here in Santa Monica, but I was influenced by the usual visuals most kids around the world dug: comic books, monster mags, album covers, etc. As for what you call the ‘California aesthetic,’ I distinctly remember loving the covers and design of a magazine we all got in the Sunday LA Times called WEST magazine, art directed by the great Mike Salisbury … and not exclusively California, but Peter Max loomed large with us kids back then, as well. 

ESQ: Who were your greatest influences?

Mark: Not so much who…just whatever caught my eye, be it a cartoon, a cool car, a poster, a t-shirt, or even a ride in an amusement park.

ESQ: What were the circumstances that led to your first Brian Wilson tour program design?

Mark: Just a natural progression from doing posters … I’m pretty sure the first one I did was for the 2002 UK Pet Sounds tour.

ESQ: When you got the first gig, how familiar were you with Brian’s catalog as a solo artist?

Mark: Very. I also have a lot of friends that were/are rabid Brian fans, so I got to hear lots of the early stuff as well.

ESQ: What California-based art styles did you want to infuse into curating Brian’s look/style as they related to his history?

Mark: Well, being born & raised here, I don’t consciously infuse any particular ‘California style’ – I am it … in the flesh! [Laughs] The only difference from drawing on my school notebooks as a kid is now I get to draw on Capitol Records and Rhino’s notebooks and get paid for it rather than berated. Now if it’s a Pet Sounds project, of course, I’ll use the correct colors & typeset … if it’s a SMiLE project it’ll be the appropriate primary colors. As for The Beach Boys’ 50th Anniversary project, I used the logo they wanted, and the rest was all me … as is the current stuff I’ve just done for Brian’s 2022 tour.

ESQ: As you began to work closely with Brian and Melinda, what did you learn about Brian’s career that surprised you the most?

Mark: After twenty-three years that’s a loaded question, [laughs] but what surprised me the most? When Bri made the conviction to complete SMiLE.

ESQ: What highlights stand out over the years as they relate to the friendships that developed with Brian, Melinda, and the different band members?

Mark: It’s been a 23-year highlight (reel). From the night I was caught selling my first bootleg poster in the Wiltern parking lot (which now hangs framed backstage in their security office) to being hired by Mel, Jean Sievers, and the late, great Ronnie Lippon who all took me under their beautiful wings and allowed me to do my best for Brian. Watching Brian & Mel’s kids grow up from the stroller and driving them around to now having them drive me around! Having an angel-like Gloria in my life … meeting my best friend and soul brother the late, great Nick Walusko, traveling on the plane to England with Mel & Brian to witness the first live SMiLE performance. Traveling for six months as Brian’s assistant on a tour that had us on a plane to Hawaii with Chuck Berry … selling out Royal Albert Hall … Recording at Abbey Road and doing a private gig at Elton John’s house for his charity … working with Sir Peter Blake on the Gettin’ in Over My Head package. Designing The Beach Boys’ Made in California box set (which I also named after a cool button I found at a swap meet). My friendships with Stevie Kalinich, Carnie Wilson, Alan Boyd, Ed Roach, etc. Many, many highlights … even right now, having completed Brian’s latest tour book for his 80th Birthday with David Leaf.

Mark proudly displays the BRIAN WILSON – 80 YEARS OF GOOD VIBRATIONS US TOUR 2022 official program

ESQ: We met at the 2000 Roxy event. Thinking back on that show, do you consider that a turning point for Brian as he went forward as a solo artist?

Mark: It may have been, but I’d say the solo turning point for Bri was writing “Surfer Girl” when he was 19 years old!

ESQ: Over the years, what has been your most cherished Brian tour? Why?

Mark: I have a special place for all of ’em, but I’d be lying if I didn’t single out the Brian Wilson Presents SMiLE tour … historically, musically, artistically, and personally – not to mention the honor of working so closely with Van Dyke Parks. That was magic.

ESQ: What is Brian’s greatest musical statement?

Mark: I’d love to give a concrete answer, but I believe that’s for all of us to experience personally.

ESQ: In your opinion, what sets Brian apart from other musicians?

Mark: How fast he eats.

ESQ: Do you try to capture that essence of Brian in your design work?

Mark: Again, that’s for the public to decide … I just pull the arrow and hope I hit the bullseye!

ESQ: Which of Brian’s albums do you wish you could have designed?

Mark: I have no regrets. I’m happy with what I’ve done … wasn’t crazy about a few of them (which I won’t single out) … but hell … there’s room for everyone!

ESQ: I really liked the 2005 program that included the Brian Q&A by Harvey Kubernik. Which program is your favorite?

Mark: Yeah, that was a natural ’cause they’re old pals … stick ’em in the deli and let the good times roll! [Laughs] I’m proud of all of them. The real trick is to make them all different and unique over that many years. It ain’t easy, but clearly not impossible. I hope I’ve succeeded.

ESQ: Hard to believe that Brian is 80. What has impressed you the most about his love of music and life?

Mark: Damn pal, it’s hard to believe I’m 60! But you answered your own question there; the most impressive attribute is exactly that: his love of music and life! My nickname for Bri is ‘The man who invented California!’ 

The Hollywood Bowl poster

Special thanks to Alison Martino of Los Angeles Magazine, Vintage Los Angeles and Make Fresh Productions for writing the intro for this piece.

©2022 David M. Beard/All Rights Reserved


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