Gary Card, Fashion vs Cakes set design for Pop magazine Spring/Summer 2012, shot by Daniel Sannwald

The perfectly designed world of Gary Card

The man who made Lady Gaga's bone mask ponders the fine line between art, design and commerce

“I have artist friends”, says 30-year-old designer Gary Card, while insisting that he doesn’t consider himself an artist. “I’d call myself a designer. I fell into to being a set designer because that is the easiest way to describe what I do. But I didn’t set out to be a set designer either - I set out making costumes, headpieces, and the odd weird sculptural prop and it just evolved into set design. And although I call myself a set designer, it’s just one of the things I do. I also do a lot of illustration - you could call me an illustrator. I guess I’m a working craft person.”

Gary Card, ln-cc store

The quirky, surreal but incredibly accessible work of the London-based 'all-rounder' has enjoyed some of the world’s largest platforms: it has been used as stage props and costumes by Lady Gaga (maybe you saw her bone mask on the Monster Ball Tour) and has appeared as in-store installations and displays for some of the most innovative retail set-ups, including Spanish luxury brand Loewe, the clothing retailer COS, and cutting-edge London fashion boutique LN-CC, his interior design for which he is nominated at the Design Museum’s Designs of the Year Awards. His editorial work for photoshoots regularly features in cutting-edge style and art magazines including POP, Dazed & Confused and Garage.

Gary Card, Sad Happy Frog Egg, Broadwick Street, part of the The Fabergé Big Egg Hunt
Gary Card, Sad Happy Frog Egg, Broadwick Street, part of the The Fabergé' Big Egg Hunt

As a respite, Card, who studied theatre design at Central St. Martins, has recently embarked on two secret personal projects, free from the strict constraints of a paid commission or the conflicting visions of collaborative editorials. “One idea is a classic sculpture idea,” he explains, “I was at the V&A and I thought it would be so much fun to make really ambitious sculptures like David, or battle sequences. You have these naked Greeks hammering each other with a goat’s skull. But then I love the idea of them being cut out and melted and eroded in some way and putting them through a process.”

Of course, these sculptures will be in Card’s favourite material – plasticine. “Plasticine is such a fantastic raw material and there’s nothing permanent about it so it can be manipulated. The plasticine sculptures are meant to be destroyed. For me, it’s the immediacy of it. I know the material really well and I just get so much out of it. There’s such a strong nostalgia element as well.”

Sleeping Sloth
Gary Card, Sleeping Sloth

For a designer with so much industry experience, it’s inevitable that what he has learnt in the commercial sphere will impact on his self-initiated projects. “It’s a lesson in knowing your audience and what people want- thinking not just about whether I want to see it but asking ‘Do other people want to see it?’ Having my work in a commercial context gives me a good opportunity to see what works because God knows I’ve made a few mistakes.” 

Gary Card, Joseph window display

“There is a philosophy in what I do but I haven’t necessarily got a message," he continues. "I make to make. That’s why I’m reluctant to use the A word,” he explains. I’m far more interested in tone and texture and material than I am on a general message. That’s the grey area for me. I’m not saying anything with my personal sculptures – I’m sure there could be stuff that could be said about them but it’s just an excuse to express myself in a different way.”

Gary Card
Gary Card, photo by Katie Coleslaw