We talked to former Google Design Lead Tim Green to discuss his paintings, his music, and how he learns to paint from his sons.
'TREES AS TIME STATUES', 50X100CM ACRYLIC ON CANVAS, ENSŌ SERIES, 2023
The CoBra and Fluxus art movements have played a significant role in shaping your approach to art. Can you provide some background on these art forms and explain why they resonate with you?
So the CoBra and Fluxus movements have had a profound impact on my artistic journey. CoBra emerged around 1950, championing spontaneity and the expressive power of mark making. They held onto this belief that a mark is a reflection of well-being, emphasising personal and therapeutic expression.
On the flip side, Fluxus was this dynamic interdisciplinary collective, crossing boundaries in dance, music, design, and more. It was the first time I really saw that there was that connection between design and art and the influence that technology could have on art.
When did you realise that resonates with your own world view?
So the first time I ever saw that was the box work of George Mciunas and the way he creates these kinds of beautiful graphics pieces that are also typographic and are also art. And they're full of humour and full of joy and kind of, there's a combination of it being a serious piece of art, but also being quite silly.
The balance between naivety and consideration is a fascinating aspect of your work. Can you elaborate on that?
Tim: Definitely. It's like navigating a tightrope between embracing that fresh, uninhibited outlook and maintaining a thoughtful approach. You want to avoid suffocating a piece by overthinking, yet you also want to give it the attention it deserves.
There's the age-old question about whether design is an art or a science. And it's kind of both like, sometimes you have to go with your gut reaction, but you also have to validate it by pursuing a variety of options and avenues and data. But if you go too far down that route, you can end up overworking it and end up being designed by committee.
'Playful', Google Design Poster Project, 2018
The tension between the digital and natural worlds fuels your creativity. Can you share your thoughts on that?
I think one of the biggest things about working in the digital world is the need to remember that we're human, we're animals, we are a part of the natural world. And so is the technology that we're hoping to create. Technology shouldn't be an end to itself, it should be something that helps us live our lives as a part of the world around us.
Your designs span various formats. How do you approach different mediums?
Tim: Every brief is a totally different approach. And it depends on what the outcomes need to be. Some forms of design are definitely more infinite and evolve over time. Whereas others are more finite — if it's something that's going to live out there as an object like a record cover for instance — and it's going to become a finalised art form that someone's going to have in their home.
Something that is not physical but is instead digital however is something that's going to be iterated over time and can be changed and adapted as the technology that supports it changes as well.
'The Forest Of Mu', 30x40cm acrylic on canvas, Ensō series, 2022
Maintaining childlike freedom in your work – how do you achieve that?
The idea of trying to keep that freedom of expression and creativity is really hard. As you get older, I try to hold on to that in my life in general and am quite an enthusiastic person. But definitely as I first started doing artwork with my sons, and started painting with my seven year old when he was about three, seeing how free he was with his mark making and how able he was to kind of just express what was inside him. I really learned from him how to paint in a more expressive way.
Can you tell us your thoughts on the connection between music and design?
There's an overlap between design and kind of music curation, and the idea that you're trying to create some sort of natural harmony that fit all the elements together in a way that makes sense to the recipient in some sort of intrinsic way, or maybe in a discordant way, because you're trying to say something particular in a particular way.
Because context is really important in both design and music, particularly for if you're curating a playlist for example — the songs either side of a song will completely change how you react to the one in the middle. And similarly with design. elements on a page are dependent on the things that are around it. And even the design itself is dependent on the device or the technology you're looking at it on as well.
Can you share an instance where music directly inspired your design?
So music finds its way into a lot of my design work from designing record covers back at the start of my career to now with my painting. I did a series of paintings last year that were all inspired by individual pieces of music. And one of them was inspired by Other Song by Caroline Shaw — which was the last song that my dad and I listened to, before he passed away.. So it was a very meaningful piece of music for me.
I created a painting for it and actually had the opportunity to give that painting to the musicians and have a really beautiful conversation with them about how important their work was for me and for my dad, it was pretty surreal and amazing at the same time.