Tea for two

July 30th, 2013 by Beth Kleber

Milton Glaser Collection Box 94 Folder 5. Postcard for the Russian Tea Room, c. 1972. The blini is born.

Perhaps you aren’t familiar with the fact that Peter the Great, the effective but tyrannical leader who expanded and modernized the Russian Empire in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, was a fan of Dutch cheeses and meats served with fruit preserves. You and Peter may have something in common. Milton Glaser created these charming postcards for the Russian Tea Room in the early 1970s; they feature the trademark he designed for the restaurant (see also his contemporaneous menu and matchbook). The RTR was founded in 1927 by former members of the Russian Imperial Ballet; despite numerous owners, bankruptcy, and closure from 2002-2006, the iconic restaurant retains its opulent interior.

Glaser works in a thin, uninterrupted line here, demonstrating the influence of Giorgio Morandi, with whom Glaser studied while on a Fulbright in Bologna. Glaser writes in Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Overlook Press, 1973):

“Morandi taught only hard ground etching with a needle, perhaps the most fundamental way of drawing outside of using a stick in sand – just a single unweighted, untextured line incised into a metal plate. I’ve never gotten over my surprise at the expressive capacity of such a simple technique.”

Milton Glaser Collection Box 94 Folder 5. Reverse side of blini postcard for the Russian Tea Room, c. 1972.

Milton Glaser Collection Box 94 Folder 5. Postcard for the Russian Tea Room, c. 1972. The softer side of Peter the Great.

Milton Glaser Collection Box 94 Folder 5. Reverse side Peter the Great postcard for the Russian Tea Room, c. 1972.

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Man in the shadows

July 12th, 2013 by Zachary Sachs

Milton Glaser's cover design for Wilfrid Sheed's People Will Always Be Kind, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (1973)

Wilfrid Sheed, who died in 2011, was a sharp, flinty prose stylist too often overshadowed by his more explicitly experimental or social-commentary-oriented contemporaries. The acerbic flavor of his art may be best enjoyed in Max Jamison (1970). The next novel, People Will Always Be Kind (named after a line in a Siegfried Sassoon poem) was less heralded but continued to refine his style and adapt it to the world around him (somewhat comparably to Saul Bellow’s middle work). In Dwight Garner’s sensitive appreciation, he emphasizes Sheed’s biting essay style:

“Mushy reviews are a breach of faith,” he declared, and the skin on his compositions was salt-crusted. One review began: “Of Ezra Pound, as of Bobby Fischer, all that can decently be said is that his colleagues admire him.” Another began this way: “Scott Fitzgerald is a sound you like to hear at certain times of the day, say at four in the afternoon and again late at night, and at other times it makes you slightly sick.” Another stated: “Books about suicide make lousy gifts.”

He wanted to live in a world in which one could find “Gershwin playing all night in penthouses, while George Kaufman fired one-liners into the guests and Harpo scrambled eggs in their hats.” Milton Glaser’s cover, with its punchy color combined with austere but evocative line, seems neatly suited to such a world.

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Dusty and the Duke

May 17th, 2013 by Zachary Sachs

Milton Glaser Collection: Box 75, Folder 1. Cover of Life Magazine.

A year before his 1970 illustration for an Elliott Gould cover story in Time magazine, Milton Glaser was called upon to contrast two major screen actors for Life: Dustin Hoffman and John Wayne. Compared to the ambivalence and wide-angled social scope of the Gould article, though, the story in Life volleys commonplaces back and forth between the liberal-introvert Hoffman and the macho-conservative Wayne and the fact that their roles tend to follow the same example. The latter is “strong, decisive, moral, and nearly always a winner,” whereas Hoffman is “conspicuously short on these qualities.”

Milton Glaser Collection: Box 53, Folder 20. Sketch for Life Magazine.

In contrast to the many sketches with multiple angles and styles for the Elliott Gould art, Glaser seems to have struck on fairly early to the approach in this assignment, with the double-decker illustration imitating a widescreen aspect ratio, and conflating the actors’ personalities and their presentation in their films. On the bottom half, Glaser’s adapts his full-color psychedelic style to a Sergio Leone-ish close up on the Duke, while at top a lonely, small, disconsolate Hoffman is rendered in black and white. (See also?)

Milton Glaser Collection: Box 53, Folder 20. Sketch for Life Magazine.

Though the article lacks much in the way of penetrating insight (the photographs, by John Dominis, are better), both actors give good quotes. Dustin Hoffman has this advice which perhaps some would like to pass along to Tom Cruise: “I don’t think that at 50 you should be doing what you did when you were 30.” Admittedly, this alludes to his intention to become primarily a director—an ambition that was never really realized (forty years later, he has only one credit, 2012’s Quartet). At the end there’s a joke that Hoffman’s next role is a Western (of sorts) Little Big Man, and although “it would be fun to report that Duke Wayne has signed to play a bisexual Russian art critic who foments a campus revolt,” he, too, would be wearing a cowboy hat in his next part, in Chisum.

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Everyday is like Sunday

April 18th, 2013 by Beth Kleber

Milton Glaser Collection Box 34 Folder 1. "Milton Glaser after Seurat" mechanical, undated.

Throughout his career, Milton Glaser has made a project of creating not-quite-faithful reproductions of the work of the masters he reveres: works after Giorgione, Degas, Monet, and Piero della Francesca are all part of his collection in the Glaser Archives. “Milton Glaser after Seurat” is unique among the group in that he adapts the subject but not the technique. Glaser replaces the original’s dots with Push Pin-style thin black lines and broad swaths of bright, flat color (achieved with cello-tak in this, and many other, mechanicals from the time); yet, Seurat’s and Glaser’s slightly distorted figures are perfectly compatible, and Glaser does hit upon the conspicuously missing element – a comfy lawn chair. Overall, the effect is far sunnier, and though this piece is not dated, I’d be surprised if it weren’t created around the same time Glaser and Push Pin were advancing their influential brand of pop-psychedelia.

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Transparent things

February 11th, 2013 by Beth Kleber

James McMullan Collection Box 3 Folder 11. Tearsheet for Esquire, 1971.

Nabokov’s Transparent Things was first published in the December 1971 issue of Esquire, accompanied by watercolor illustrations by James McMullan (the novella, sans illustrations, was published in book form the following year). McMullan sometimes works in a kind of adapted hyperrealistic style, but the result often carries elements of surrealism; other pieces are fully committed to incongruous juxtapositions. McMullan’s dreamy paintings for Transparent Things were printed in black and white (or, rather, black and green), but we’re lucky to have one original piece.

James McMullan Collection Box 3 Folder 11. Original art for Esquire, 1971.

James McMullan Collection Box 3 Folder 11. Tearsheet for Esquire, 1971.

In a 1972 interview, Nabokov addressed critical misperceptions about the book:

Reviewers of my little book made the lighthearted mistake of assuming that seeing through things is the professional function of a novelist. Actually, that kind of generalization is not only a dismal commonplace but is specifically untrue. Unlike the mysterious observer or observers in Transparent Things, a novelist is, like all mortals, more fully at home on the surface of the present than in the ooze of the past.

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Odd bird

November 21st, 2012 by Zachary Sachs

Looks like a regular ocellated fellow, with one significant difference. Cross-reference for flowers sprouting from heads: Utopia Records, and this poster for Push Pin Graphic. (Typeface is Glaser Stencil, which appeared on other Poppy productions as well.)

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Skeleton key

November 13th, 2012 by Beth Kleber

Milton Glaser Collection Box 19 Folder 5. Columbia Records. Album cover art for "Death & the Maiden", undated.

Forever potent and still open to interpretation despite its ubiquity, the skeleton has surfaced many times in the early work of Milton Glaser. Glaser has exploited its (sometimes comic) menace with both expressive rendering and exploration of the shape of the skull. His art for Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden”, which would make an excellent album cover for several other musical genres, incorporates powerful swirls of flat color similar to his Dylan poster, but to a vastly different effect.

Below, a sketch and the printed final work for a magazine article on the economics of the international drug trade.

Milton Glaser Collection Box 61 Folder 19. Vista Magazine sketch, late 1960s-early 1970s.

And hey, a couple of poppies are growing out of that skull.

Vista magazine illustration from Milton Glaser: Graphic Design (Penguin, 1973).

For the great iceberg lettuce boycott of the early 1970s (entering the 1972 Democratic National Convention, Ted Kennedy welcomed the crowd with “Greetings, fellow lettuce boycotters!”), Glaser sketched one threatening head of lettuce. I’m not sure this art ever made it into production, but he used a similar idea for the grape boycott a few years earlier.

Milton Glaser Collection Box 40 Folder 12. Poster sketch, c. 1972.

Finally, a sketch and printed final piece from an unidentified publication.

Milton Glaser Collection Box 63 Folder 8. Sketch, undated.

Glaser traded in the gestural fairy of his sketch for a more traditional version.

Milton Glaser Collection Box 93 Folder 2. Illustration unknown publication.

See also: Henry Wolf’s x-rays.

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Paris in your pocket

September 14th, 2012 by Beth Kleber

Seymour Chwast Collection Series 7. Bic Parfum slide, c. 1989.

In 1988, Bic launched a fragrance line, hoping, somehow, to bring the convenience of their pens, lighters, and razors to the world of perfume. The French company touted their product as “the world’s first fine French perfume that combine[s] high quality with affordable pricing and a stylish, portable design.” Four fragrances were produced: “Jour” and “Nuit” for women, plus “Bic for Men” and “Bic Sport for Men.” The pocket-size bottles were designed to resemble Bic lighters and sold for $5 in the same drugstores and supermarkets where other Bic products were made available.

It was a classic case of overreach (despite the “Paris in your pocket” pitch of their advertising) and Bic Parfum tanked, because it turns out people don’t want to buy French perfume from the same people who make their disposable lighters and plastic pens. Production and distribution in most markets ceased in 1991, though apparently it is still produced and sold in Iran.

However, let us not find fault with the charming packaging for the US designed by Seymour Chwast. His typically bright and playful illustrations adorn several versions he developed for the brand.

Seymour Chwast Collection Series 7. Bic Parfum slide, c. 1989.

Seymour Chwast Collection Series 7. Bic Parfum slide, c. 1989.

Seymour Chwast Collection Series 7. Bic Parfum slide, c. 1989.

Chwast experimented with several different approaches; the examples below are more type-centric.

Seymour Chwast Collection Series 7. Bic Parfum slide, c. 1989.

This one gets closest to the glamor and exoticism generally favored by fragrance companies in the 80s.

Seymour Chwast Collection Series 7. Bic Parfum slide, c. 1989.

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Purple passages

August 14th, 2012 by Zachary Sachs

Mockup box of Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet, published 1957-60. Covers illustrated by James McMullan.

James McMullan did the art for Dutton’s 1961 paperback box set of Lawrence Durrell’s tetralogy, The Alexandria Quartet. Durrell’s most famous work, it was that rare success, both critical and commercial. The first one, Justine, was my favorite novel at one time, though now—perhaps because I was too young when I read it, or otherwise because of subsequent damage to my long-term memory—I can’t remember much about it, plot-wise. Stylistically the prose is very lush. Justine opens:

The sea is high again today, with a thrilling flush of wind. In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of Spring. A sky of hot nude pearl until midday, crickets in sheltered places, and now the wind unpacking the great planes, ransacking the great planes …

McMullan’s covers are done in a mixture of earthy soulful browns for the box; and emphatic oranges, emerald, and purple on the individual covers. The figures here are sketchier than much of McMullan’s more familiar work, and maybe that helps to convey the frenzied emotional states of the characters in the books (the title characters, as I recall, are involved in romances with many vertices, Durrell courts the comparison of his treatment of “modern love” with Einstein and Freud and also Sade). McMullan’s images for Taractan also seem pertinent.

Though the series is occasionally counted among “the greatest novels of the twentieth century,” its star seems to have dimmed more than many of its peers on those sorts of lists. It’s possible the books are—not to their detriment necessarily—too much a product of their time. The author, in the preface to his Paris Review interview, is colorfully painted in:

Lawrence Durrell is a short man, but in no sense a small one. Dressed in jeans, a tartan shirt, a navy-blue pea jacket, he looks like a minor trade-union official who has successfully absconded with the funds. He is a voluble, volatile personality, who talks fast and with enormous energy. He is a gift for an interviewer, turning quite stupid questions into apparently intelligent ones by assuming that the interviewer meant something else. Though he was rather distrustful of the tape recorder, he acquiesced in its use. He smokes heavily, Gauloises bleues. When at rest he looks like Laurence Olivier; at other times his face has all the ferocity of a professional wrestler’s.

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All Together Now

August 1st, 2012 by Beth Kleber

Milton Glaser Collection. "Gian Carlo Menotti's Help, Help, The Globolinks!" adapted by Leigh Dean and illustrated by Milton Glaser (G. Schirmer, 1970).

Gian Carlo Menotti’s sci-fi opera for children Help, Help, The Globolinks! tells the story of instrument-wielding children who ultimately fight off an alien invasion. The Globolinks land on Earth in front of a school bus to a score of sinister electronic sounds, seeking to destroy all they touch. Humans who come into contact with the Globolinks are rendered speechless and are ultimately transformed into one of them. Only music can save the day, as the children from St. Paul’s School discover they can defeat the Globolinks with their voices and instruments. Menotti’s opera premiered in Hamburg on December 21, 1968 (here’s a clip from a 1969 production); it was performed in English at the New York City Opera in December 1969. The libretto was adapted for a children’s book in 1970, complete with illustrations (based the original production) by Milton Glaser.

Sound familiar? Though somewhat more earnest in tone (but not without an element of camp), Help, Help, The Globolinks! set up much the same conflict as 1968′s Yellow Submarine; it’s not much of a leap to imagine the children of St. Paul’s School taking on the Blue Meanies. Looking at the broad swaths of flat, eye-popping color, the bulbous shapes, even the human figure proportions, it’s easy to see the stylistic similarities shared at the time by Milton Glaser and Yellow Submarine‘s art director Heinz Edelmann (though Edelmann made a sharp turn away from psychedelic art after the success of that film).

Offset German film poster by Heinz Edelmann, 1969 from "Electrical Banana" by Norman Hathaway & Dan Nadel, 2011.

Still from "Yellow Submarine" (1968).

Milton Glaser Collection Box 45 Folder 6. Original art for "Gian Carlo Menotti's Help, Help, The Globolinks!"

Milton Glaser Collection Box 45 Folder 10. Original art for "Gian Carlo Menotti's Help, Help, The Globolinks!"

Milton Glaser Collection Box 45 Folder 4. Original art for "Gian Carlo Menotti's Help, Help, The Globolinks!"

Milton Glaser Collection. "Gian Carlo Menotti's Help, Help, The Globolinks!" adapted by Leigh Dean and illustrated by Milton Glaser (G. Schirmer, 1970).

Milton Glaser Collection. "Gian Carlo Menotti's Help, Help, The Globolinks!" adapted by Leigh Dean and illustrated by Milton Glaser (G. Schirmer, 1970).

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Containerlist

A treasure trove of art and graphics from The Milton Glaser Design Archives. Rare, unseen printed work, original art, and drafts for design and illustration by Glaser, Heinz Edelmann, Seymour Chwast, George Tscherny, James McMullan, and others. For even more design ephemera and art from the School of Visual Arts, see also http://containerlist.glaserarchives.org.

PBox World

by Dan Nadel

The Pbox Bibliography

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