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Jennifer Morla, photo: Jock McDonald

I was in Las Vegas yesterday doing a speaking engagement for AIGA Las Vegas and Mohawk. The term "design rock star" was thrown about quite a bit. While this might seem flattering, it's remarkably unsettling. I'm just me, kind of a bozo. A "design rock star" is someone like Jennifer Morla. Since we're on a roll with powerful women designers in San Francisco, Jennifer must be included. She is from the generation that followed Marget Larsen and Barbara Stauffacher Solomon. She began her career when San Francisco was a field of Michael's (Vanderbyl, Cronin, Mabry, Manwaring, Schwab...). See no girls here. Jennifer entered the scene and stood as tall (sort of) as the dudes.

Jennifer made and continues to make work that could only be made in San Francisco. It is playful and light, Victorian and sleek, dark and complex. Like San Francisco, the work is a study in contradictions. A DWR catalogue has organic imagery of a bird set, not in a forest, but on a minimal modernist white background. Jennifer's felt screen uses forms that would typically be constructed with materials such as lace, but are re-presented with a utilitarian textile. The Mexican Museum recasts Frida Kahlo as a large set of photo-mechanical halftone dots, denying the painterly or sentimental representation typical of Kahlo. Each project slams one form against another creating work that is always unexpected and wonderful.

I can't say that envy is a big part of my emotional composition. I know that everyone has their own wacky shit going on even if the exterior looks perfect. And like every designer, I have the sensation of joy and discovery when I find a designed item that I wish I'd done. However, when Jennifer showed me her solution for the Clorox 100 Anniversary book, I was jealous. I was envious that she did something so remarkable and simple using the Clorox plastic material as the cover, and I would never have thought of that. And I was really envious that she owned that artifact. I wanted to have it for myself. This is pretty positive proof that a solution is great. I regret my sinful thoughts of envy, but excuse myself as it was caused by the extraordinary. And she has the most magnificent laugh.

 

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Being Not Square

I have never taken Lysergic acid diethylamide, or acid as they say on the street. I don’t endorse revolution (except for our original one in 1776). I don’t own any clothing with fringe or tie-dye. I get up every day, go to work, pay taxes, and keep my front yard neat. I am square. I’m the establishment. But, as you know, I did spend formative years in the Haight during the late 1960s. My parents were never pleased that I ended up so square, but they would be pleased that I love counter-culture culture. I love the colors, the attitude, the optimism, and the naïveté.

In San Francisco, in the late 1960s, a group of counter-culture characters formed the Diggers. This group was a theater troupe and endorsed a non-capitalist society without money. They provided free food service in the Panhandle every day, arranged places for homeless hippie teens to “crash”, and opened a series of “Free Stores”. They gave free concerts with the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company. The Diggers are the originators of some of your favorite sayings: "Do your own thing" and "Today is the first day of the rest of your life". The Digger Bread, which was baked in coffee cans at the Free Bakery, popularized whole-wheat bread.

The Diggers did not "fall apart," they evolved and integrated with other groups: The Free Bakery, the Gypsy Truckers, and my favorite Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers, and became the Free Family.

Arthur magazine provided some new knowledge to me about the posters and broadside. Novelist and poet Chester Anderson and his protégé Claude Hayward, created the “Communication Company,” or more commonly, “Com/Co.” According to Claude, the broadsides were “handed out on the street, page by page, super hot media, because the reader trusted the source, which was another freaky looking hippie who had handed it to him/her.” This quite possibly was my mother or father.

Very pretty pretty pretty

Warning or congratulations: There is some nudity above.

The first movie we see as a child leaves an indelible mark. Many of my friends cite the following: The Sound of Music, Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, even the bizarre Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The first movie recall seeing was Barbarella at a theater on Van Ness in San Francisco. I am convinced the typographic strip scene for the titles began my love for typography. It’s interesting that Barbarella was made in 1968, the same year 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001 is a hard-edged technologically driven vision of the future. Barbarella is soft and sexual. They share a connection to psychedelia. The final scenes of 2001, and most of Barbarella are clearly about an altered mind experience. While I love 2001, Jane Fonda’s fur lined spaceship is ingrained on my soul. If I had a spaceship and needed to spend months in space, I’d much rather have her groovy carpeted van version with the sexually ambiguous computer, over the pristine Discovery One and Hal (wait he’s sexually ambiguous also).

Gentle people with flowers in their hair

This is San Francisco by Miroslav Sasek

For some reason, people tend to assume I’m from Boston and was raised in a strictly Calvinist New England setting. If you’ve seen a recent speaking engagement by me you know that’s not true, and you probably left with bad dreams for weeks. When I was four, my parents moved to San Francisco to live in the Haight (Haight-Ashbury). This was 1968 and the Summer of Love was still in full bloom. Our upstairs neighbors were members of Big Brother and the Holding Company, Janis Joplin’s band. My mother bought a grand Victorian bed from one of the Grateful Dead guys and gave it to my grandmother as a Christmas gift. My parents were free spirits, which is the opposite of me. I have several items from that time: my Dad’s Hendrix records, some Richard Brautigan books, a collection of Fillmore posters, and the book, This is San Francisco.

The book shows some of San Francisco’s famous spots: Fisherman’s Warf, Coit Tower, and the cable cars. But, I love the less famous but specifically local images: the maze of streetcar and bus wires, the flower stand shaped like a cable car, and the Chinese styled street lamps of Chinatown. There is a Jesuit saying, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” This certainly must be true visually. Even with years at art school, and over two decades working in the design industry, I look at these images and say, “Yes, this is right.”

This is San Francisco, Miroslav Sasek

This is San Francisco, Miroslav Sasek

This is San Francisco, Miroslav Sasek

This is San Francisco, Miroslav Sasek

Sean, Panhandle Park, 1968