Ian Noble Tribute
  • Paul McNeil
  • Turin, March 2008. We should be going straight to the Book Fair where Ian is due to participate in a panel discussion but on leaving the hotel, our sight line has been captured by the city's spectacular manhole cover designs and we have followed them sporadically, gleefully criss-crossing unknown side streets to end up in a tiny, empty café. After last night's extravagant Piedmontese civic banquet we are on liquids only. Double espressos.

    I can't fully recount the line of that morning's particular segment of our much longer conversation but it might have covered, at least: Rumblefish, three piece suits, Joe Strummer, the joys of middle age, John Hassell, pataphysics, Pasadena, maleness, Crombie coats, Eno, typography, illustration, design pedagogy, Hank Williams III, Leigh Bowery, LCC, the pains of middle age, Perec, beef and tuna, love, Alfred Jarry, bicycles, Coppola, family, the Boyle family, words and pictures, sausages, Renzo Piano, denim, loss, very small objects, Hellzapoppin, storytelling, professorship, Manufaktum, cocktails, design, Walter Benjamin, seafood, the derive, Mont Blanc pens, Oulipo, Micky Rourke, Bruno Munari, break ups and downs, tweed, trickers, Derrida, the deep south, prog v punk, fathers, fatherhood, Borges, Kaweco, dungarees, translation, Moleskine, Motorcycle Boy, teaching and making, phenomenology, London, Brighton and Pompeii, stimulants, Buckminster Fuller, things organised neatly, mapping, Harry Crews, abstention, posters. 

    I do recall with clarity though, on finally deciding to proceed with the day's business, how that fragment of the conversation ended. Ian downed his coffee, stood up, gave me an enormous bear hug and declared emphatically that we should seek to live in the manner of "Warrior Poets". 

    Who but Ian Noble could live up to such an extravagant image? It characterises him in terms of, on one hand, his tirelessness, courage and honesty in fighting for those causes he believed in, whether large or small; and, on the other hand, his exceptional acuity, wit, clarity and warmth as a speaker, writer and conversationalist.

    Lord Buckley once said that he wouldn't expect any divine force to save him when in need, but that it would always be remarkable people who would lift him up. For me, like many others, Ian was one of those people. He was that person. It is extremely rare to meet someone who will have such a profoundly transformative effect on one's life. Many years ago our conversation began when, with his encouragement and guidance, I returned to study on the basis of little evidence other than an intense desire to do so. He later gave me my first job in design education and he showed me how to do it. He supported my work and interests with generous enthusiasm. Above all, he listened attentively, gently nudging me towards unexpected ideas, new knowledge, greater confidence and unrealised skills; all in a humorous, playful spirit and with a sense of brotherhood.

    Ian: teacher, boss, counsellor, critic, mentor, dear friend: thank you for your warm embrace. 

    Paul McNeil, Course Leader, MA Contemporary Typographic Media, London College of Communication