Archive for March, 2011

Pattern Recognition

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Herbert Bayer, 1950s, magazine cover

Once in awhile, I find a great piece of design I’d never seen. This week, I discovered Herbert Bayer’s cover for Arquitectura magazine. Yes, I’m a sucker for intense color and pattern. But, then, who isn’t? I love when a designer uses pattern to reference cultural ideas. If we strive to create work that makes something mundane spectacular, pattern is a wonderful tool. Giovanni Pintori’s 1949 Olivetti poster uses simple numerals to make a compelling message. These examples look so effortless, and playful, we are led to believe they were easy solutions. Oddly, this is not so. I’ve seen some purty darned ugly patterns in my time. Patterns that make no sense, have no significance, and are simply a last resort created because Adobe Illustrator has a “duplicate” function. So, if you’re thinking, “Gee, I could just make a pattern for the next project. I’d be done in 10 minutes,” stop. It will take more time than you expect, you may fail and fall into a shame spiral. But, if you are patient and work hard, you may create something wonderful.

Franco Grignani, 1955, book cover

Saul Bass, 1957, movie poster

Lou Danziger, 1950, invitation

Hiroshi Konno, 1961, poster

Giovanni Pintori, 1949, Olivetti poster

Recherché, n’est-ce pas?

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

I’ve been looking forward to Todd Haynes remake of Mildred Pierce on HBO. It promised to be closer to the original James Cain novel. The new version has realism similar to 1970s and 1980s movies that were set in the 1930s: The Day of the Locust, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and The Last Tycoon. It all sounds swell. The problem I have is that it’s just rather boring. If I’d never seen the 1945 Joan Crawford version, I’d be all over it like white on rice.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to top the 1945 extreme film noir drama of Mildred’s spoiled daughter Vida’s dialogue:

“If you mean Mrs. Biederhof, I must say my sympathy is all with you. She’s distinctly middle class.”

“I mean, that would have been dreadfully recherché, n’est-ce pas?”

“With this money, I can get away from you. From you and your chickens, pies and kitchens. Everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack and its cheap furniture. And this town…. Its women that wear uniforms. Its men that wear overalls.”

“You think just because you made money, you can turn yourself into a lady. But you can’t. You’ll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a store and whose mother took in washing. With this money l can get away from every rotten thing that makes me think of this place or you!”

The next time you find yourself in a disagreement with your own mother, try some of these. For example your mother may say, “Betty, I just don’t know if I feel like Chinese tonight, how about Sizzler?” And then you can respond, “Sizzler? Sizzler. Well, you’ve never spoken of your people, where you came from, so perhaps it’s natural.”


How to Behave when Facing Frustration

Friday, March 25th, 2011

I’d like to believe that I am a product of both sides of my family. Which, coincidentally, supposedly mirrors the national character. Let me explain. My father’s side, Adams, is Massachusetts, Mayflower, Yankee stock. They are good at following Puritan ideas: working hard gets you closer to God, patience is a virtue, and we show God how pleased we are with Him by not procrastinating in our tasks. My mother’s side is Virginia, Jamestown, and southern gentry stock. They were good at living well, hosting parties, and maintaining the class structure.

I do fine hosting a barbeque and pool party, but I tend to be hard on myself and insist on working hard, being patient, and never procrastinating. When I’m frustrated, or concerned, I handle it, hopefully, with patience and fortitude. This, however, is wearing thin as I get older. When I’m missing critical content and a deadline is approaching, or driving behind someone who is texting and going 12 miles per hour, I’d like to pitch a fit. Not a good WASPy fit, as in, “Gosh darn. Well that’s just wrong,” said quietly, but like our example above. This woman missed her flight. I recommend this example for anyone when you don’t get your way.

Artists and Models

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Joseph Christian Leyendecker: Arrow Shirt Collars ad

It frightens me when students don’t know Norman Rockwell. Before Norman Rockwell became America’s favorite illustrator, J.C. Leyendecker held that position. So, for those of you who are yearning for important illustration history, here it is:

Leyendecker is best known for his Arrow Collar ads and Saturday Evening Post covers. Leyendecker, however, is largely forgotten outside the illustration community. The story behind this is an untapped mini-series.

Leyendecker immigrated to America in 1882. He went to the Chicago Art Institute and later moved to New York with his brother and sister. In 1903, he met Charles Beach, who became his favorite model and lover. Beach was the Arrow Collar man, and received fan mail from across the country. Leyendecker reached the height of his success during the 1920s. Leyendecker and Beach lived lavishly, hosting scandalous parties with New York’s social set. Leyendecker’s brother, Frank, was also rumored to be gay. In the early 1920s, Frank and his sister, Mary, had a spectacular falling out with Leyendecker and Beach. The row ended with Mary spitting in Beach’s face. They moved away, and Frank died alone one year later.

Leyendecker left Manhattan, and purchased a large estate in New Rochelle with a staff of servants. During the 1930s, Leyendecker’s commissions began to slow, and he was forced to scale back his lifestyle. Yes, it’s awful, but he had to let the staff go. He and Beach continued to maintain the estate alone. At some point here, Beach began to limit Leyendecker’s contact with the outside world, and vice versa. Norman Rockwell, a longtime friend, complained that Beach had, “built a wall around him.” In 1951, Leyendecker died with Beach at his side. His funeral was sparsely attended. Whether this was due to his sexual orientation, or the wall Beach had built is speculation. Rockwell, however, did attend and served as a pallbearer. Leyendecker left instructions for Beach to destroy everything. Fortunately, he stopped at discarding the paintings and sketches. He sold these at a yard sale for the high price of seven dollars. In 2004, Christies sold a Leyendecker painting for $209,100.00.

Joseph Christian Leyendecker, Charles Beach model

Joseph Christian Leyendecker, The Courtship

Joseph Christian Leyendecker, Saturday Evening Post, 1919

Joseph Christian Leyendecker, Parade

Joseph Christian Leyendecker, Colliers, 1916

Joseph Christian Leyendecker: Arrow Shirt Collars ad

Joseph Christian Leyendecker: Couple Descending Stairs, Arrow Shirt Collars

Joseph Christian Leyendecker, Scribner's, Harvard University Rowing 1906

Joseph Christian Leyendecker, Saturday Evening Post, 1932

Joseph Christian Leyendecker, Saturday Evening Post, 1931

Reading Between the Lines

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Victor Moscoso, 1967, San Francisco Dance Concert Poster

My father had a binder from work that was indecipherable. Yes, I can read, that wasn’t the problem. The company word mark had be twisted and turned into an insane pattern. That would be fine if he worked for a head shop, or music label. But he worked for an upstanding corporate computer program development firm, ADPAC. He wore a suit everyday. This was before computer companies played Nerf basketball. He explained that the point of the illegible, twisted pattern was to try and read it when you were high. I didn’t pursue it any further, and devoted myself to rational, modernist, legible typography.

As we grow older, we become more like our parents. Now, in my case, I certainly will not be getting high (except on life, because that’s just me), or taking LSD. However, I’ve grown to love the posters that are illegible. The point on all of these was to get stoned, or take acid, or something that puts you in another state of consciousness, and then stare at the poster. If you have a black light this only heightens the experience with the fluorescent inks. If you stare at it long enough, the message will slowly reveal itself. Alternatively, you may imagine yourself to be a piece of pie, in which case the experience is lost.

These images are from the Lou Danziger Archive.

Joel Beck, 1968, San Francisco Dance Concert Poster

Art Paul, 1967, Playboy Magazine cover

Victor Moscoso, 1967, San Francisco Dance Concert Poster

Alton Kelly (Mouse Studios), 1967, San Francisco Dance Concert Poster

Victor Moscoso, 1967, San Francisco Dance Concert Poster

Victor Moscoso, 1967, San Francisco Dance Concert Poster