Category Archives: Design


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Vinyl Art: Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis

Tropicália: ou Panis et Circencis

Philips, Brazil, 1968

Design: Rubens Gerchman

Photography: Olivier Perroy

Set against a backdrop of cultural censorship and political repression, the Tropicália movement and this, its resultant album, was a powerful sign to the Brazilian governing military junta that all was not fine and dandy.

Envisioned as both an act of rebellion and a manifesto for the movement, Tropicália: ou Panis et Circensis sets out its stall with deliberation and panache. The album, with its fusion of traditional MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) and Western psychedelic rock (it’s actually a bit more complex than this), was furthermore an attempt to communicate musically and politically with the world outside the restrictions of Brazil’s dictatorship – an attempt which resulted in the imprisonment and exile of some of the movement’s main players.

Tom Zé describes the movement as, “Freedom and innovation on an aesthetic and behavioural level, and the lyrics and musical rhythms were similar to the clothes we were wearing. And we were in a phase of planetary transformation.”

The album features some of Tropicália’s leading artists: Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes, Gal Costa and Nara Leão, and is very much a joint effort, with performers appearing on each other’s songs in different variations.

The front cover design is a whimsical and knowing nod to Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; The Beatles being much adored by the Tropicálistas. The cover photo was taken by Olivier Perroy, a photographer from the publishing giant Editora Abril, in his home in São Paulo, and could also be seen as a play on the traditional Brazilian middle class family portrait, with all the protagonists lining up smartly for the photographer. The artists are mostly portrayed holding symbolic possessions – humorous or serious: Os Mutantes with their guitars, Caetano and Gil with photos of lyricist Capinan and the absent Nara Leão, arranger Rogério Duprat with a chamber pot. The photo was a joint idea, with everyone chipping in ideas, which is very much similar to the album itself. Perroy also took the photo for the cover of Os Mutantes’ first album, released earlier in ’68.

The artwork was the brainchild of Rubens Gerchman, who was a sort of Brazilian Concrete Pop Art artist, whose main areas of interest included urban isolation, alienation and populist or politically-themed comic strips.

The cover he created – in the splendid colours of the Brazilian flag – is simple but effective. It’s stylistically similarly to Rogério Duarte’s designs for both Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso’s albums of the same year, with bold primary colours and typefaces.

The back cover features the same photo but in black & white, and has the tracks listed along with the performer’s first name; a nice touch which makes the album – and by extension the movement – seem inclusive and in stark contrast to the ethos of the oppressive regime under which they lived.

The back of the album also contains a supposed extract from a film script, fairly randomly filling up the rest of the space, written by Caetano Veloso and “starring” some of his fellow Tropicálistas.

Tropicália: ou Panis et Circensis has gone on to encapsulate the artistic quest for freedom of speech and is now seen as a potent symbol of art versus oppression, as well as being one of the most influential Brazilian albums of all time. The cover is bright, optimistic and bears a hint of the slightly zany and humorous avant-garde, much like the album itself. “Power to the imagination!” and “Be an outcast, be a hero!” as our friends in Brazil would have it.

Lindo Sonho Delirante: 100 Discos Psicodélicos Do Brasil (1968-1975) by Bento Araujo is published by Poeira Press

Gitte Morten © 2018

This article was published in Shindig! Magazine, January 2018.


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