Electrical Banana

When pitching the idea of doing a book on hippie art to Dan Nadel I had no clue it would end up taking 5 years to finish the damn thing.

It was an odd process, and I want to begin this series of posts about the book by talking a bit about what bits didn’t make it into the book as a way if illuminating what did.

A few of the book’s artists were surprisingly amenable, willingly providing interviews and images, while others required 3-1/2 years worth of pleading/whining before acquiescing. Of course the task of hunter-gathering artwork that was 40-50 years old and not always in the possession of the artist didn’t make it any simpler. The images used in the few books published on the subject seem to have relied on dodgy copies from poorly printed originals or copied transparencies, and I was determined to portray the work in the most accurate way possible.

The further we waded into our initial stages of research it began to dawn on me that the subject of psychedelic art didn’t seem to have a serious book devoted to the subject. That proved to put even more of an onus on the project to ensure our book got it right. After spending a few months looking at various artists we made a shortlist and began to try and track these people down. Dan was keen to include the Bay Area poster publisher East Totem West but I felt they would be better suited to the introductory overview section that was initially conceived to be much larger than what we ended up with for the final book.

I was hot on Victor Moscoso even though Dan protested that he had already been well documented in other publications. I felt he’d never been treated in the proper way but by then our roster had begun to take shape and I began to see that he didn’t fit so well within it. When most people think of psychedelic art they immediately think ‘Filmore Posters’ of the type made famous the world over by Moscoso and Wes Wilson.

I was keen to set the historical record a bit straight by focusing on artists that were hugely influential to others but perhaps hadn’t received the proper recognition or were only known within their own countries. Psychedelic imagery blossomed on a global and multi-media scale and I was hoping the book could communicate that, along with showing that it was prevalent in areas outside of simply promoting rock concerts.

Sadly we were unable to agree terms with the late great Michael English whose work I felt, clearly illustrated the progression from Pop to Psychedelia.

And our attempts to reframe the work of Peter Max never came to fruition despite Dan’s valiant attempts (anyone want to buy an old Peter Max Manhattan Yellow Pages?).

Our final loss was the brilliant English illustrator Alan Aldridge. We were able to make contact and conducted a stonking interview with him in LA, but could never quite extract all the necessary images we required from him.

However, after suffering recurring calls from ace image researcher Angela Wyman to include a woman, and having given up after deciding there just weren’t any of merit - we started studying the Dutch art collective The Fool and subjected Dan to an intense bong walkabout in Amsterdam in order to interview former member Simon Posthuma. We then started to focus on their primary image-maker Marijke Koger. I’d drawn a blank in trying to track down her whereabouts, but Angela was finally able to find her and she readily agreed to be included.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be updating this blog with a bit more background on the book and some images that didn’t make the final cut. We’ll also be having two book events, one in Los Angeles at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA on April 22nd at 3pm which will include a visual presentation followed by me interviewing Marijke Koger. The other will be in New York at MoMA PS1 on April 29th from 4-6pm. I’ll be joined by the magnificent Dan Nadel along with psychedelic explorer Gary Panter. We will be showing some ultra rare film clips by the artists themselves, some never shown before, having a chat and displaying a few pieces of memoribilia used in the making of the book.

Please feel free to pitch in and post any questions you might have or to recommend subjects you’d like to see covered in future posts.

Roger Black

by Norman Hathaway

Back when I was a young designer living in Seattle, two of my designer friends that were former New Yorkers introduced me to Roger’s work. Publication design was a new niche to me and it lead to a more serious study of ‘proper’ typography. At the time Roger was the art director of Rolling Stone and had started to refine the former California hippie look the publication was known for.

His work at that time was well known and regularly imitated. Since then he went on to design for most major american publications and create a large consultancy that he still runs to this day for both print and web clients. Unfortunately whenever I try to explain the importance of his work to younger designers, it’s very difficult to find examples online from that period, so hopefully this post will serve to aid that.

Whenever I assess a publication designers skills, the first thing I do is to look at the less splashy components of a publication - the table of contents, the classified ads etc. in order to see what kind of detailer they are, and whether they actually get their hands dirty.

This is a good example of typographic detailing, particularly in comparison to competing publications in america during the 70s. Black is a traditionalist, yet not a luddite. HIs work blended classic typography with modern production techniques and imagery.

Good examples of using faux dimensional effects to allow photos or type elements to pop out from the page, which was unexpected considering how starched the pages are.

Another signature look was the use of drop shadows, seen here on the large R, the Records panel and the cover heads. Outlining and shadows were rarely used in other publications. These provided a signature look as well as being a clever solution to the poor registration inherent in printing 4-color onto newsprint.

Editorial spreads

Four opening pages from the Rock & Roll section using unusual color palettes for the time.

Editorial spreads

Beautiful illustration by Daniel Maffia featuring the custom type designed by Black with Jim Parkinson.

Rolling Stone eventually ditched California for New York, where the magazine reduced its page size and introduced Black’s new logo as well. Below is the cover for the 10th anniversary issue featuring Parkinson’s hand-inked X.

Odd overlapping cover headline

Editorial pages

Less important pages treated with equal amount of care. Consistent use of typefaces throughout the publication gave the entire publication a unity that was later weakened by successive art directors as they adopted a ‘spread as one-off poster’ approach.

Beautiful Hunter S Thompson spread featuring Black’s trademark use of over the top scotch rules, which went on to be rapidly copied by other designers.

Anyone interested in further study should to try and obtain back issues of the large format Rolling Stone as its scale was an important component of its great impact.

Doug Johnson

By Norman Hathaway

Jesus Christ, he answered.

After a couple of years of sleuthing, Dan Nadel found his number and rang it, and there he was, still in New York, still had all his original art, and seemed flummoxed that we knew who he was and were interested in finding him.

Strange, that - considering Doug was one of the most respected illustrators during the 1970s, holding his peers in awe with his mystifying technique.

When we were assembling the final roster for my book on ’70s illustration, Overspray, Doug just missed the final cut. Dan loved his work but we decided he wasn’t a Californian so out he went, but his work haunted us, so we continued our quest to locate him and were thrilled once we had. 

Aside from being a successful illustrator for magazines, Doug painted the famous Judas Priest album covers

and the poptastic packaging for Cosmic Candy.

His style was quite graphic and was nearer to that of a poster designer, which was unusual back then as most illustrators were working in either a more photorealistic vein, or a winky cartoony style as popularized by the Pushpin mafia.

So Dan and I went to visit Doug at his loft in Manhattan.

And we were finally able to pepper him mericlessly for several hours about his career. Sadly for him he is such a gentleman that he was unable to prevent Dan from ransacking his home as he dug out piece after piece of his beautiful original illustrations.

Doug was born and raised in Toronto where he had done some fashion illustration as well as editorial work, before pulling stakes and moving to New York in 1968. He explained to us that he was coming from the drawing-based expressive illustration look of Bernie Fuchs and Jimmy Hill:

a style that would later find its apotheosis in Bob Peak. Doug quickly found work, but eventually tired of his style and wanted to experiment  with a new look for which he later became famous. In 1970 he took the summer off and developed his painterly approach with two assignments: A Society of illustrators Call For Entries poster and a series of pictures about football for Sports Illustrated.

Doug, and Charles White III, with whom he a shared a studio (complete with astro turf, deck furniture and an umbrella) in the early 1970s, were instrumental (following after Push Pin) in shifting illustration from being about literal or expressive representation into something more free form and improvisational

which was in sync with pop culture, i.e. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Eugene Ionesco and nostalgia.

But if Pushpin was design-centric and, to a degree, polite, Doug’s work, like Charlie’s, was image-based, intent on roasting your eyes with vivid, colors and forms, pushing the medium so it could compete with other pop media of the time. He seemed to have cracked a way of taking the work of earlier graphic drawers such as Hohlwein:

and Bernhard and modernizing it. Almost overnight Doug’s new style was a huge success and he was inundated with commissions from Life MagazineEsquireTime, advertising accounts and record sleeves

Doug’s trademark was to blast hard highlights on top of a more traditional and considered image, so it kind of fucked with your head

Usually illustrators that possessed a strong graphic style weren’t always the best draftsmen, but Doug obviously could draw and paint. Yet he still felt compelled to stomp on the accelerator and keep layering all this STUFF onto a perfectly fine picture until he wound up with these odd hybrid images. Upon initial glance the paintings seem quite traditional, but the longer you study an image, it’s as if you’re in the early stages of a Hollywood dream sequence, where everything starts to wiggle and blur a little bit. This beautiful painting of a tennis player is a perfect example of his peculiar vision

It’s very difficult to ascertain what order it’s been painted in. I was always impressed by what appeared as a very laissez-faire attitude towards plopping a lot of casual brushwork onto a beautifully painted and considered and - basically completed illustration. This marriage of the planned with the improvised was unique to Doug. 

Illustration is a fickle beast, and Doug stayed busy into the early 1980s, but as the industry changed it became a hell of a lot less fun. Art directors were less and less inclined to allow him to cook up his own solutions, and became increasingly prescriptive. But Doug had a sideline going that would prove to be his parachute out of illustration. In 1974 he was hired to create an image for a a theatrical production of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide in Brooklyn.

He continued working with this production company throughout the decade, eventually becoming a partner, and then forming Dodger Theatricals, which produced  Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, for which Doug designed posters, print advertising, and sets, including Ain’t Misbehavin’, The Big Boat and Tommy.

A funny aside: Early on Doug needed to have some typesetting done for a newspaper ad, and realized he didn’t possess the know-how to mark up the type for the typesetter, so he called on his friend Herb Lubalin for advice. Herb looked at his typewritten text, mumbled a few words and spec’d the type for him. Needless to say Doug’s theatrical phase has been hugely successful and has long since allowed him to ease out of the illustration work that had become to be a bore. Some of his last “straight” illustration jobs were a remarkable series of album covers for Judas Priest in the 1980s. 

One virtue of heartlessly ransacking an artist’s studio is looking at originals to see, well, just how tough these guys really were. Doug is a badass. His originals are just perfect. No repair work or signs of hesitancy are to be found anywhere. He supplied us with examples of color roughs done for two projects

which were done at quite small sizes, then enlarged for the final paintings, which were then executed as airbrushed and flat gouache base paintings, then studied and finally completed with additional layers of hand painting and subtle spray effects

He was no slouch in the work-until-you-drop department. 

It was an awfully fun day spent in the company of a master illustrator any student of image making should know about. Doug is awesome. We love Doug. 

Video of Doug discussing his Ike and Tina cover

Art Then

Art Chantry by Norman Hathaway

The first time we met was in the lobby of a worn-out office building on Seattle’s waterfront back in the early 1980s. We both had studios there but had never run into each other. He complimented my work and shook my hand. I was headed out but as he was getting into the elevator he blurted out, “Name two designers that have most  influenced your work.” I answered him and he said, “Leave it to you to name one guy I don’t know”. He was stroking his chin as the doors closed.

I knew then that we shared a thirst for uncovering information on talented people that were overlooked by the lame media of that time. I already knew that Art was a talented design technician. It was immediately obvious to anyone who saw his work. He was doing things differently than everyone else. He had his traditional skills down, but had obviously been woodshedding, working on reinvigorating old school repro techniques and proudly rejecting the soulless, yuppified styles that so thoroughly ruled that time.

Back then, Art seemed to be giving it a go at being a proper professional designer. His office was neat and modern, he entered all the right design competitions and was working for a wide variety of clients. His work was distinctive, but mostly for it’s vitality and technical confidence.

Happily for all of us that soon started to change. Bursts of sarcasm, wit, anger and a rejection of conventions began to take root. At that time Seattle was, more or less, still a hick town, and Art’s work stood out from all the warm grays, neo-calligraphy and wide letterspacing that was popular at the time. But the minute design underground that existed – The Rocket– and the tiny arts and cultural design scene slowly hightailed it out of town (including myself) to greener pastures..

During a visit back home, Art offered to buy me lunch so I met up with him at his new studio. It was apparent upon entering that Art had shitcanned any pretense of presenting himself as a button-down designer. He was collecting outmoded typesetting and repro equipment that only a “mother” could love. His space was a more relaxed shambles, now resembling a proper workshop. He quickly showed me a few pieces of work, including the Night Gallery poster, which still looks as magnificent now as it did that day. For me, that piece signified his complete rejection of attempting to pander to the client or audience. As opposed to his usual ironic or humorous takes on retro advertising, this time he completely omitted the joke or any of his usual eye candy. We are left with an abysmal advertising image of the type we are all too familiar with and have learned to ignore. There was absolutely no way to view this as appealing. Reading the text in an attempt to solve this state of confusion, we become even more thoroughly baffled. It is simply WRONG. The poster makes us question the ultimate effect of the the low-rent visual languages that have been surreptitiously fed to us over the years.

We lost touch with each other a bit after that visit. A few years afterwards I started to notice whenever anyone learned of my acquaintance with him, they would freeze and exclaim “You know Art Chantry ???” Obviously his reputation was growing. Later still, while in a bookshop on Charing Cross Road I ran across his book Some People Can’t Surf and marveled at the intimidating mountain of work he had produced. Page after page of subversive designs that contained a muscleman’s clean and jerk power, while simultaneously retaining a sense of fun and a celebration of the grotty underbelly of forgotten white trash design idioms.

Most people that turn away from more lucrative work and choose the difficult path, pay for it with a oneway economy ticket to obscurity. Nothing pleases me more to see Art lauded and embraced for being the true original that he is.

Some of Art’s posters are available here