The Late Andie Airfix Created Some of Your Favorite Album Covers
November 20, 2018 | by James Greene, Jr.
The October 10th death of graphic artist Andie Airfix slipped by with barely a ripple in terms of news coverage. This is a shame, for if the album is truly making a comeback via millennial vinyl fetishists then Airfix, 72, should be recognized as an icon for his contributions to so many cherished works. His best known creations are the covers of numerous Def Leppard LPs — 1983's Pyromania, 1987's Hysteria, 1992's Adrenalize, and numerous singles. However, this wiry British figure also made art for Metallica, New Edition, Thompson Twins, The Who, and Led Zeppelin.
"[Andie] was a very wise, chilled, spiritual soul," family friend Ali Catterall wrote for Louder, "though not averse to partying wildly... and somehow seemed younger than he was, owing to having a foot in both the hippie and new wave camps."
Airfax's association with Def Leppard began in 1982 when the group's manager Peter Mensch met with the artist to talk about visual design for their third album, Pyromania. Def Leppard demanded a fresh look, Mensch said, something that would move them away from established rock motifs. Airfix landed on a stylized image of a skyscraper aflame as seen through targeting crosshairs, which he brought to life with co-artist Bernard Gudynas. Released in January 1983, Pyromania's artwork did indeed set a new tone to correspond with the clean, commercial sound Def Leppard was trying to champion.
A photo of a friend taken mid-head turn (resulting in a double exposure) inspired Airfix to illustrate a two-sided screaming face seemingly imprisoned in a Tron-ish landscape for Def Leppard's next album, 1987's Hysteria. Hysteria became a monolith, an unstoppable hit single machine that continues to be the group's top selling work.
It took Def Leppard several years to complete Hysteria — partly due to the December 1984 car accident that claimed drummer Rick Allen's left arm. Desperate record label executives kept pestering the musicians about the status of their next album, leading Airfax to design a series of humorous t-shirts for the band to wear in response. "WE DON'T KNOW" read one, in the famous pointy Def Leppard font. "DON'T ASK (AGAIN)" read another.
Airfax also did work for the Thompson Twins in the mid-'80s, providing art for 1985's Here's to Future Days and a handful of the 12" singles that album spawned. The cult punks We've Got a Fuzzbox And We're Gonna Use It were another group to hire Airfix for 1986's Bostin' Steve Austin and 1987's What's the Point.
The artist's association with Def Leppard continued into the next decade, which is also when Airfix began working with another heavy metal goliath — Metallica. Live Shit: Binge & Purge (1993), Load (1996), Reload (1997), and Garage Inc. (1998) all feature his touch. "Record company NOT HAPPY with position of band name and title," Airfix tweeted this September regarding Garage Inc.'s cover. "So much better than traditional placing to make sleeve design more interesting!"
As the Century turned, Airfix got more and more work on retrospective collections. His name is on the 2000 BBC Sessions set from The Who, the 2001 Led Zeppelin best of Early Days & Latter Days, and the four disc Live Aid DVD compilation released in 2004 by Warner. In 2007, Airfix contributed to Paul McCartney's three disc DVD offering The McCartney Years, covering the Beatle's post-Fab Four material.
"People often ask me if I feel nervous or intimidated meeting the famous," Airfix wrote on his blog last year. "Rarely, and there's a simple reason... what do you say to Paul McCartney? That's exactly the reason I don't get nervous — I have something to talk about — the project we're working on. I have to discuss something that's important, something to focus on that's not about me or who I'm meeting — there's a common ground which allows relationships to develop naturally."
Andie Airfix is survived by his husband Richard. Although his cause of death has not been disclosed, since Airfax's passing his Twitter account has posted donation links to the Sussex Heart Charity and Prostate Cancer UK.