In June 2018 journalist Aazam Ameen interviewed gallerist Meg Williams for Pulse Magazine's August edition.
Have you been admiring the quirky posters of old Ceylon hung on the walls of trendy Colombo Cafés? Maybe you would have admired them as you walked past the literature section at Barefoot; perhaps you even took one home. But have you ever wondered where these posters come from? Have you ever wanted to know the story behind these posters that represent the golden ages of our Ceylon?
We tracked down one of the co-founders and director of Stick No Bills®, Meg Gage Williams.
Describe to us the beginning of your journey. It began on a wing and a prayer. They say crisis is the birthplace of creativity.
Why Sri Lanka specifically? While both my husband Phil and I were Middle East-based until 2008, I worked in Sri Lanka on and off during the conflict years and Phil was also coming and going; he was one of the lucky ones who survived the tsunami on Hikkaduwa’s shoreline line in 2004. We were both deeply affected by everything we witnessed during those troubled times. But we also fell in love with your beautiful country, with surfing on the south coast and we wanted to become a force for good here. My aunt was born at Joseph Fraser maternity hospital in Colombo in the 1940s into a Scottish, Nuwara Eliya based tea plantation owner’s family. So she was born at the same hospital where we registered to have our second daughter Alexa in 2012. Like a lot of other Brits who find themselves working in 21st Century Sri Lanka, many of my forbears worked in or travelled through Ceylon and I have always appreciated the Anglo-Lankan sense of affinity, shared history and the resultant cultural cross pollination.
Your artwork is rather unique, how do you source the vintage ads? With a lot of difficulty, tenacity and imagination. From Christie’s auction house to the reel rooms of decrepit adult cinemas to bins in Istanbul hotel rooms, we have found our original vintage posters all over the place. Just a few weeks ago we stumbled upon an incredible cache of originals in Galicia, of all places. We have also been lucky enough to receive some originals as donations by collectors who recognize that where copyright permits us, we can help them raise funds for great causes by bringing their originals into production as highest quality, licensed replicas. Most recently Paul Jarvis, curator of the British Airways Heritage museum, gave us exclusive permission to sell our replicas of our original British Overseas Air Corporation poster promoting the first international airline flights to Ceylon in the 1950s. I guess the advantage for British Airways is threefold. First, we give them proceeds from sales of our replicas which help fund the development of the BA Heritage Centre’s incredible international travel poster collection. Second, we set a benchmark of highest quality printing of their legacy brand travel designs. Third in giving us exclusive permission, it sends a strong message out to any slap-dash copy-cat piracy poster companies out there that they are in breach of BA’s copyright, and therefore committing a criminal offence.
Do you create your own artworks as well? Yes. All the time.
Tell us about the team of in house artists if any. We work with the greatest living Art Deco, Mid Century Modern and 1980s retro style poster illustrators. Some are up and coming, others are established. When I first met Phil his nickname was Pinstripe because of his many years suited and booted working at the Financial Times as Head of Consumer Advertising. All that time spent at the coalface of the advertising sector in London, and then as a commercial photographer in the Middle East and the United States, gave him an amazing eye for what we do. I realise I am totally biased but I would say he is in a league of his own in terms of art directing poster design these days. It’s a pleasure to watch his own creative evolution and also to see how he inspires illustrators from Sri Lanka and from all around the world to produce great art, and to then see how we give them greater exposure. Some of them also really appreciate the fact we give proceeds from sales of works they have done with Phil on conservation projects that are a million times more crucial to the survival of the planet and mankind than our work, Design Won’t Save The World But It Damn Sure Makes It Look Good.
Tell me about the No Bill Piece Prize? It’s been a huge success in Sri Lanka - with much thanks to Barefoot, The Academy of Design and Artra Magazine for helping us get going in the first place back in 2014; every week I get submissions from lovers of Sri Lanka based far and wide and its really interesting to see what the contestants perceive as iconic about the island. Often there is too much lazy reliance on software such as Corel Draw and not enough evidence of real talent. Very occasionally we receive outstanding artworks that we instantly know will become best sellers. More often someone submits something promising and then Phil works with them on bringing the image to full fruition for several months. Now we are about to launch the No Bills Piece Prize travel poster design contest in Iberia in partnership with some excellent private and public sector partners and it will be fascinating to see what designs come our way. Handsome cash prizes along with great media exposure await the winners.
Does Stick No Bills® support/have any partners for a good cause? Stick No Bills® believes in giving back. Proceeds from all sales in Mallorca go to Medicos Sin Fronteras. We are also founding members of Greener Galle and sponsors of the Sri Lankan Wildlife Conservation Society, the Galle Heritage Foundation and The Hummingbird Initiative’s mission to bring access to direct water to villagers in remote East Africa. When clients buy our posters they help fund these important eco, humanitarian, archaeological and conservational initiatives.
What’s next for Stick No Bills®, both in terms of Sri Lanka and Mallorca. Posters, posters, posters - more and more cool images celebrating the beauty and the heritage of these two world class travel destinations. I cannot keep up with my husband, we have four new designs launching just this week; two for Iberia, two for Ceylon. We are also experimenting with ground breaking printing techniques that enable to us to print museum standard limited editions and also to expand our mainstream product variants of each image in our collection. This summer in Europe for example, Port Adriano super yacht marina have, in exchange for six months’ usage rights and our design of a bespoke poster for them, funded the production of eight of our Mallorca images blown up to 5 meters tall inside French designer Philippe Starck’s giant industrial frames, printed on a sort of air-tex material that allows the sea-breeze to blow straight through them. We have been so busy I haven’t been to have a look yet but feedback from everyone who has signals that they look immense. Hundreds of thousands of folk will get to enjoy them this summer as Port Adriano plays host to a series of major music events and the frames bedeck the harbour, which serves as the giant outdoor arena. When we were just getting going, I remember Nazreen Sansoni of Barefoot saying “Lets Make It Big” to me, on the day she and Dominic agreed to start selling our designs at their second-to-none bookshop. We have been helped a lot, by so many amazing experts, friends, suppliers, clients and journalists along the way. They know who they are. One prolific British writer who documented our progress in Sri Lanka right from the start is even flying in to Palma next week to cover the inauguration of our gallery on Calle Temple 5, which will serve as the ‘sister’ to our gallery in Galle Fort. At the operational level our amazing team at our flagship in Galle Fort have underpinned our success and, with the consistency of their 8am till 8pm 365 days a year opening hours, enabled our expansion overseas. At the executive level our Sri Lankan business partners have also been INCREDIBLE in a very modest and no nonsense sort of way. We shall be forever grateful to them all.
Meg Williams' interview with Pulse Magazine editiorial team took place in June 2018. All images in this article are © Stick No Bills®, 35 Church Street, Galle Fort & C / Temple 5, Palma De Mallorca."