Archive for July, 2012

Brilliant Corners

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Paul Bacon, Saint Jack by Paul Theroux, 1973

Last week I had lunch with one of my favorite designers, Michael Carabetta. Since Michael is the creative director at Chronicle Books, the subject turned to, yes shocking, books. Michael suggested I look at Paul Bacon’s work. The more I researched Bacon’s work, the clearer it became that this was a remarkable treasure of incredible work. The book and album covers are energetic, surprising, and spontaneous. They never feel forced or overworked. Yesterday, I briefly fell in love with a new cookbook’s design. Then, after looking at Bacon’s work, I quickly recognized how the cookbook was desperately overdesigned.

Bacon’s love for jazz is apparent in the work. It feels open and clear, never rigid or constipated. However, the spontaneity should not be misunderstood as easy. The ideas are big, smart, and beautifully crafted. We can look back and say, “Times were different. You could walk in a room, present a solution and everyone would cheer. The they’d head out for martinis, cigarettes and flirting.” But, like today, I’m sure everyone had an opinion and wanted something different. Bacon’s work is a testament to the ability to express an idea articulately and sell it. There is obvious passion here.

James Victore’s article on captures Bacon’s essence beautifully. I love that he can, “tell a joke so dirty that it would singe off yer eyebrows.” This reminded me of my great friend Doyald Young, and that made my day.

Paul Bacon, Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Paul Bacon, The Big Drink, The Story of Coca-Cola by E.J. Kahn, Jr., 1960

Paul Bacon, Freedom Suite by Sonny Rollins, 1958

Paul Bacon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, 1962

Paul Bacon, Roman Guitar by Tony Mottola and His Orchestra, 1960

Paul Bacon, Thelonious Alone in San Francisco by Thelonious Monk, 1959

Paul Bacon, 5 by 5, Thelonious Monk, 1959

Paul Bacon, We Bombed in New Haven by Joseph Heller, 1969

Paul Bacon, Chet Baker in Milan, 1960

Paul Bacon, The Other Side of Benny Golson, 1958

American Psycho

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

AdamsMorioka, Luxe Business cards, Ships Ahoy

When I decided to go to CalArts, my mother said, “Well, once you’re eighteen, you’re on your own.” I’m not sure if my parents lack of interest or support was due to my choice of school, art school over Harvard, or because they were too busy arguing to notice. They seemed confused about my college until I graduated, telling friends I was at CalTech. The upside of this was absolutely no interference with any of my own decisions. The downside was the financial responsibility to pay for college on my own.

I hate that some of my students now have similar financial struggles. This is the time they should be free to focus on becoming the best possible designer and finding their own distinct voice. I do what I can personally with the scholarship fund but this can’t solve someone’s entire college expenses. When asked me to design a set of business cards, I was interested. They are the best quality, printed on beautiful Mohawk Superfine paper. When they told me I could dedicate the Art Center Scholarship Fund as my charity, I was thrilled.

Now, this is one of those classic “do whatever you want” assignments. These sound great, but lead to sitting at my desk staring at a blank pad of paper. So, I thought about cards I want. First, I’d love a set of nautical themed cards, and a set of vibrant patterns and color, then, disturbingly, a set of really depressing places. The nautical and pattern cards are perfectly logical. Who doesn’t want nautical business cards, or bright and cheerful color and pattern.

I admit the depressing cards are odd. But I love the idea of shaking someone’s hand, smiling and handing out a business card with an image of a place of despair. These are the spaces where people gave up. They stopped trying. They are about lethargy and exhaustion, places where all else failed. What could be more fun?

To paraphrase Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, “I don’t ask for much.” Now I’m asking that everyone spread the word, order some cards, look better when trading business cards, but most importantly, help a young designer as they struggle financially.

AdamsMorioka, Luxe Business cards, Ships Ahoy

AdamsMorioka, Luxe Business cards, Ships Ahoy

AdamsMorioka, Luxe Business cards, Pattern and Colour

AdamsMorioka, Luxe Business cards, Pattern and Colour

AdamsMorioka, Luxe Business cards, Pattern and Colour

AdamsMorioka, Luxe Business cards, Sad Places

AdamsMorioka, Luxe Business cards, Sad Places

AdamsMorioka, Luxe Business Cards, Sad Places

The Third Act

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Cecil Beaton, Truman Capote in Morocco, 1947

My first job was as a designer at The New York Public Library. Beside a major screw up when I handled a business card run for the executive team containing a misspelling, The New York Pubic Library, I had a wonderful time. In 1987, I designed the materials for an exhibition of Truman Capote artifacts. I asked the print and photograph division head for an image of Capote for the poster. He gave me a telephone number and suggested Dick might have a photo. Surprisingly, Richard Avedon answered the phone and asked me to come over to see a photo he took of Capote during the filming of In Cold Blood in Kansas.

I won’t go into Capote’s entire biography. In brief, Capote grew up in a chaotic environment, moving between relatives, an alcoholic mother, and stepfather. His first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms was a critical success and bestseller in 1948. Over the next decade, he became one of America’s most celebrated authors.

Part of Capote’s success was his genius at self-promotion. He used his sexuality as a counterpoint to the accepted idea of macho masculinity in post-war America. His portraits are clearly gay, often seductive, and always flamboyant. He tackled subjects that challenged polite society. In his short story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly is clearly a prostitute.

In 1966, Random House published Capote’s book In Cold Blood. The book is based on the 1959 murder of the Clutter family in rural Kansas. During the writing, Capote developed a close relationship with one of the killers, Perry Smith. After Smith’s execution, Capote changed. It was as though his childhood terrors caught up with him.

In the 1960s, Capote’s friends were New York society, upper class women who shopped and gossiped. His black and white ball in 1966 was the party of the decade. In 1975 Esquire magazine published excerpts from his unfinished novel, Answered Prayers. He based the short story, “La Côte Basque 1965,” on the secrets of his society friends. In turn, they rejected him. This led to years of alcoholism, drug use, and endless parties at Studio 54. Capote died in 1984 at 59.

What I find remarkable is the split between Capote’s life pre and post In Cold Blood. The ability to overcome a tragic childhood was lost. We are taught to expect stories of a hard childhood, incredible struggle, success, and a happy ending. In this instance, the narrative took a turn toward tragedy. It was as if his psyche was a sweater, and one thread began to unravel it.

For further reading: Capote: A Biography.

Sean Adams, Truman Capote poster, Richard Avedon photo, 1987

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Truman Capote, 1947

Carl Van Vechten, Truman Capote, 1948

Jerry Cooke, Truman Capote, 1947

Irving Penn, Truman Capote, 1948

Cecil Beaton, Jane Bowles and Truman Capote, 1947

Richard Avedon, Truman Capote, 1955

Neil Fujita, In Cold Blood, 1966

Richard Avedon, Perry Smith and Truman Capote

Irving Penn, Truman Capote, 1965

Robert Mapplethorpe, Truman Capote, 1981

Richard Avedon, Truman Capote, 1974

Defense of Garish Acts

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Alois Carigiet, 1935

A few weeks ago I attempted to repaint my living room in sophisticated silver grey. This was a mistake. What looked beautiful in the Restoration Hardware catalogue looked like a prison cell in my living room. If I wanted to interrogate visitors, or slam them up against a wall with a shiv this would be perfect. I called my trusty painter Jeirro and he repainted it back to aqua and watermelon pink. Clearly I am doomed to what others refer to as bad taste or garish color.

In defense of garish color I point to some of our finest designers, Paul RandArt PaulTadanori Yokoo, and Paul Bruno. We think of these people as refined craftsmen. But did they shy away from magenta and orange, purple and lime green? No. They embraced it and ignored the calls from the sophisticated elite, “More beige, please.”

I’ve often used the baby mobile argument. If beige mobile and a brightly colored mobile are presented to a toddler, he or she will always gravitate toward the bright one. The bad things in life, rotten meat, deadly deep water, and coffins are dull and grey. The good things, non-poisonous berries, swimming pools, and pink Cadillacs are bright and cheerful. This is why clients react badly when presented a baby shit green poster, and cheer for the bright yellow and happy pink one.

Paul Bruno, 1903

Paul Rand, 1964

Paul Rand, 1964

Henry Williams, 1968

Tony Roboiro, 1968

Tadanori Yokoo, 1969

Art Paul, 1967

AdamsMorioka, Mexico website, 2009

The Ballad of the Hermetically Sealed House Trapped in Time

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

The groovy napkin thing, mid 1960s

After my grandparents passed away, we cleaned up their house, fixed the heater, bought new beds and linens, and left. The plan was to visit as a family every month or so. But everyone gets busy and the months pass. My sister, Heather, moved to Hawaii. This made get-togethers even harder. We still manage to get together as a group each July 4th. It’s odd to open the door and find the hermetically sealed house, virtually unchanged since my grandmother redecorated in the late 1960s. We’ve considered splitting up the furniture, art, and objects, but there’s so much we have no idea where to start. And my grandmother’s style ran toward the western Victorian genre. I’ve considered bringing one of the sofa sets, marble topped tables, and Victorian gas lamps home, but I think I would have an odd result. At best, the design would have the feeling of the Haunted Mansion, at worst, Liberace.

We still find odd items in the drawers. I found a huge set of 35mm slides last weekend, and a really groovy napkin thingamajig. I remember this napkin set from our ranch. It was in the guesthouse bathroom and went with the red, white, and blue Americana wallpaper. We never used them because they seemed so fancy. I look at this now, and try do determine the rationale. Someone made the decision to green light this design. I try to imagine the meeting; “I’m seeing an oddly drawn guest towel set based on the menu of a Victorian bath house. But make sure it’s wonky.” In any event, I like these along with the ancient packages of Dixie cups.

The Haunted Mansion/Gunsmoke style at the house