Pony Ltd. is a graphic design studio founded at the beginning of the 21st century. It is the creative collaboration of Niall Sweeney (Dublin) and Nigel Truswell (Sheffield). Based in Whitechapel, London, we work in Britain, Ireland and internationally.
Output at the studio ranges from popular culture to the avant-garde, from high-brow to low-brow, creating for print, screen, three dimensions, sound and performance.
Our work has been published, exhibited, performed, collected and screened around the world. We like to say that Pony has a keen interest in words, pictures and the chance of a dance.
Nigel came down to London over 25 years ago and did his MA at Central St Martin's 10 years before I arrived in London, primarily to do an MA at LCP, but then after we met it just sort of fell into place that we should start working together and set up studio, first in a rickety wooden workshop in Spitalfields and now in a concrete box in Whitechapel. We actually met through some tutors who had been driving both our courses, so it seemed like fate. Dublin in the late 1980s and 1990s was a key period to have grown up in. It was coming out of (the previous) recession, and there was a strong DIY creative ethic with all my friends. We realised that if we didn't build our own stage to dance upon, no one else was going to do it for us, so there was a lot of experimenting in nightclubbing-fashion-performance-art-technology-music going on, and it was a time of great social and political change. During the 1980s in Sheffield, there was a similar thing happening particularly with music, and Nigel was pretty much at the heart of all that. So whereas my friends were artists, photographers and drag queens, Nigel was running around the burgeoning new music scenes of the north of England. I say running, but you have to realise that Nigel was roller disco champion of the seven hills of Sheffield when he was 15, which pretty much trumps any qualification, academic or otherwise. Almost all of the friends we collaborated with then, we continue to work with today, and though it is all more developed, it’s fundamentally the same ethic. I think this has meant that the term “graphic design” is a very loose idea or ambition for us and the studio, though it’s the best description of what we do on a day-to-day basis. We want to make work, and we apply this gregarious DIY ethic to pretty much everything. We are strong believers in the transformational power of the politics of dressing up and having fun. I don't think we’ve ever had any idea of where it’s all going. The different disciplines are the natural outcomes of the work in hand — you have to let the work itself open up the possibilities to what it wants to be, allowing it to have a life of its own that is beyond just ourselves. I think this is really important. The work isn’t about us, though it is of us. And by “us’, I mean the way the studio and the people we make things with come together to bring something to the world, whether that’s a postcard or a book, a theatrical event or just an idea that floats around that eventually takes form in some thing (or nothing). I think this is why the outcome can be so different each time, and that’s the joy it gives. There is great flexibility in having your own — small — studio, as anything is valid, and in some ways we have nothing to lose in terms of what might be seen as going off on a tangent of endeavour. Nigel has a whole other life as a recording artist (as Oberman Knocks on the Aperture label), whereas I like to construct overly complex pieces of wordage an present them as some kind of lecture — and this adds extra dimension to how we work together and what we do. We have been doing some increasingly ambitious “performance lectures” over the years, most recently at Offset in Dublin, as a more meaningful and pleasurable way of presenting what we do. At Offset we were joined onstage by some of our favourite collaborators: the nine-metre high inflatable baby we made for ThisIsPopBaby, film maker and actor Mark O’Halloran delivering a tragic story of inner city lovers, drag queen Panti on the origins and meaning of language, an ensemble of black-light performers known as The Bureau in a routine to a soundtrack by Oberman Knocks, and a portly Dublin Bay seagull who sang a cappella “This Must be the Place”, all interwoven through some Pony stories. We think it’s only right — an obligation — to deliver meat and potatoes to a paying audience. Though projects are physically different — scale, medium, ambition, budget, taste — we approach everything in the same way, and that’s to say with no preconceived idea of what it might be. Over the years we've come to appreciate and nurture gut feeling — whether that’s educated research, applied craft, or just knowing how to let things develop by themselves, what’s right at a given moment. We’ve just completed the global rebrand of Jameson Irish Whiskey, a huge project for a small studio, and yet we came at that the same way we would for any other project or individual, on the combined merits of the project and ourselves which somehow amounts to finding the truth of a thing. We are unconcerned with trend, and often we say that we produce unfashionable work as a means of describing our practise — there’s a lot of truthlessness out there setting itself up as some sort of dogma, if you care to look, so we look elsewhere. Though we do like conflations of fact and fiction, and the tensions therein. I guess there’s a fair amount of story telling in the work too, abstract or literal, and that can be a lovely thing. Some of our clients are artists, and some of our artists are real clients. Because there is just the two of us, we are involved in all the projects from nose to tail, and this extends to how we work with others. We like to work directly with whom or what ever the project is about, as this always seems to get the best result. So we like to work directly with artists whenever the opportunity arises, especially with books, and this has led to quite a few long term working relationships and friendships. We have a different relationship with the artists than with the institution that might be behind a publication, and we always seek to cut through any intermediary fuss, if it occurs. I also think this is why we have ongoing relationships with some of the institutions themselves, as we can get the best out of an artist when we work directly with them, and therefore the best out of a book for the gallery, museum or publisher. It can get a little fraught of course, and we’ve had situations, some shouting, and stomping around, but almost always for the good of a project. Having said that, we wouldn’t have met or worked with many of the artists we have without the welcoming embrace and match-making of the organisation and its good people, such as Hayward Gallery or the extraordinary publishing endeavours of the Irish Museum of Modern Art. Some artists just turn out to be the most magical of beings, and have really had an impact on us beyond the work in hand. We made a “beautiful book about darkness” for the film maker Apichatpong Weerasethakul a couple of years ago, and for me it was like getting a new pair of eyes — eyes that can see in the dark. It’s also really important that we develop long term relationships with our printers, especially when making books, it’s absolutely vital. We avoid procurement procedures as much as possible, and have just a couple of printers who we work with on almost all our projects. Particularly Marcel Meesters (MM Artbook Printing), who really is the fifth leg of the Pony when it comes to print production, there’s an understanding and trust there that adds significant quality in realising the potential of what we do. Clients. They’re all people, and everyone’s an artist, and there’s always a story to be told. So it’s mostly down to our relationships with individuals. Some built on old friendships — like with Eamon Doyle at D1 Recordings and the Dublin Electronic Arts Festival, or with Michelle Darmody at The Cake Café, or with the hard working family of Alternative Miss Ireland, an annual charity event which we all produced for 25 years — and some built on new. It’s a social enterprise! Actually, the idea of social enterprise is a good one for us, and to a greater or lesser degree, most of the clients we work with fall somehow into this category, whether through art, education, food, performance, or, more broadly, with organisations like Shoreditch Trust or the Wellcome Trust. There’s a lot to be said for the quality of determination, openness, knowledge and vision of those involved, and this can be both on an institutional and individual basis — normally a perfect combination of the two. I'm thinking of work we have done with White Cube, Doshi Levien, and Panti. We were invited to the 23rd International Biennial of Graphic Design Brno to present Alternative Miss Ireland as a model of alternative working practise, which in some ways was the first time we really had to think formally about what we do and how we do it in a broader design context, and what that can mean. We were delighted at just how divided the audience was — from actual hate, to new found love.
David Donohoe / Fuel built us this Ponybox
In the studio, we have been assisted along the way by some diligent stable workers:
And every now and then, we receive some really nice messages:
Messrs S. & T.,Just a note to tell you how delighted & fascinated I was with your work on McDermott & McGough, which I discovered yesterday afternoon. A nice introduction to your work, which I’m very much enjoying looking at online today! Anyway, keep it up, etc.
Jonathan Hoefler Hoefler & Frere-Jones, Inc.
Apichatpong “Joei” Weerasethakul