Vaughan Oliver, the artist who created 4AD’s classic album covers, has died aged 62

Oliver designed many of the label's classic album covers, including Pixies' 'Surfer Rosa' and 'Doolittle'

Vaughan Oliver, the in-house designer for 4AD who created iconic album artwork for Pixies, Cocteau Twins, The Breeders and more, has died today aged 62.

Adrian Shaughnessy, a graphic designer, writer and publisher who co-edited the 2018 collection Vaughan Oliver: Archive, posted the announcement on Twitter this morning (December 29), adding that his death was a “great loss of friend and design hero.”


Oliver began working for 4AD in the early ’80s after meeting the independent label’s owner, Ivo Watts-Russell, forming a working partnership that would endure for thirty years.

Oliver’s design studios, 23 Envelope, consisted of Oliver and his original photographer Nigel Grierson, who together created the artwork for almost every 4AD release up to 1987. After Grierson left 23 Envelope in 1988, Oliver continued to work for the label under the studio name v23, where he collaborated with Simon Larbalestier, Marc Atkins and many others.

As an artist and graphic designer, Oliver was credited with establishing the visual identity of 4AD as a record label, and worked on a number of instantly recognisable sleeves, including Pixies’ ‘Surfer Rosa’ and ‘Doolittle’ album covers. He also worked on designs for the likes of Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, Throwing Muses, and Dead Can Dance.

Pixies - Vaughan Oliver
Pixies’ ‘Doolittle’ artwork, designed by Vaughan Oliver

In an interview from 2014, Vaughan said he always liked to “elevate the banal through surrealism”.

“Mystery and ambiguity are important weapons in a designer’s arsenal. I try to make images where you don’t always get ‘the message’ straight away – but these things leave a hook in you. Leaving some space for interpretation is important,” he told the interviewer.

“It was always my goal to be fresh and unlike anything else – to be different. To push boundaries.”

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