The nuances of the cover to “From Cliche to Archetype” practically make it a little poem as much as bravura instance of typographic design. The font choices are perfection — Cooper’s proud plumpness giving way to the stylish severity of Univers. The rest of the covers, better known, are equally stunning and seemingly predict entire swaths of graphic design trend. Prescient cat, this one.
Mesh & Lace, 2016, 11″x13″
Collage, paper, acetate
Was poking around the internet looking for a hi-res cover for this Bert Jansch double album I was digitizing. On the original twofer CD it was the size of a postage stamp. Gorgeous piece of work when you can really take it all in, no?
A fine specimen of Trashius Romanticus Novelus, circa 1977, excavated at the Goodwill on Rt. 73 in Maple Shade, New Jersey.
There’s a reason when the news hits that so many of us instinctively reach out and gather our memories of first hearing ChangesOneBowie / Because that wasn’t a record, it was a door. A magic door. Here’s how it was magic. Because if you knocked on it, it opened easily, and you could go in and just boogie. But. But. If you pushed on it just right, if you were bent, just so, you tumbled through — and you never stopped falling. And as you fell, year after year, your freak flag just kept unfurling. And as you fell & flew you wondered — when do I get to the bottom? And there is no bottom. It’s just Bowie all the way down. Today every freak flag flies at half mast. Goodbye David Bowie.
Another lesser known Hipgnosis design that I happened upon when researching the Bad Company Desolation Angeles cover a few posts below. The search begins…
The design group Hipgnosis has been justly & exhaustively feted for thier amazing psychedelic realist album covers for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and other zonked heavyweights (an amazing gallery here, you could get lost for hours). I had no idea they were behind the artwork for Bad Company’s 1979 record Desolation Angels, which stopped me cold when I was crate digging one afternoon. It was strikingly clever example of that developing 80s graphic sensibility that found its apotheosis in Patrick Nagel’s work for Duran Duran. It has everything to do with the power of stark flat white throwing all other colors into hyper-bright neon-electric contrast — if cocaine could design album covers they would look a lot like this.
[RERUN: Hauling this out of the early days of the blog. I’ve been on a protracted vintage video game and pinball bender lately. Atari’s iPad port of my beloved Tempest is damn near perfect and I’ve been playing it a ton. As such this early appreciation of the stone cold perfection of this game has been on my mind. So, here, then…}
The screen graphics of the classic video game Tempest represent a kind of summit of design and beauty – the finest expression of a very limited language. In the case of Tempest that language was vector based rendering. Vector monitors were used in video games from the mid 70’s to the early 80’s. The technology was derived from oscilloscopes – the image is projected by an electron beam onto the glass. Image a laser light show sped up to produce a lasting image and you’ve got it…
Many classic games were made using this technology – Asteroids and Battlezone as well as the first Star Wars game. While they all had their aesthetic charms, Tempest is in a class of its own. All vector games have a certain elegance and simplicity. The problem arises in the crudity of the renderings – the poor approximations of tanks, asteroids, and X-wings forever marks these games as primitive gestures of an evolving technology. Tempest is exempt because it is derived from the technology itself. What would a world defined by glowing geometric unshaded lines look like? Pretty much like Tempest.
Its beauty lies in the fact that it is in harmony with its own rules and limits. Hence the extremely elegant compositions – uncrowded, with a well balanced sense of scale. The color scheme is vibrancy itself, strong underlying blues, wonderful pops of pink, green, red, and yellow. And the physics of the electron beams give everything a deep saturated glow.
That same harmony extends to playing the game as well. Most games rely on clumsy and stunted translations of real world movements like running, jumping or flying an ostrich. Tempest moves in accordance with its nature – spinning and firing. That’s what makes it so satisfying. Once you understand its strange parameters you have a complete experience on its terms – a dynamic, I think, that is fundamental to the idea of art.
Some Herman Miller curios… Came across a few of these posters last weekend hanging in a excellent restaurant in Cincinnati. They were from a celebrated series of posters created by Herman Miller designer Steve Frykhom from 1970 to 1989 to announce the company’s yearly staff picnic. It began as an offhand assignment from an executive and Frykhom’s desire to satisfy a screen printing jones. The first salvo won that years AGIA award. In 1980 the Museum of Modern Art added seven posters to its permanent collection. Very few images abound online, the best are these tiny guys from the Herman Miller blog.
Below these are invitations to the 1961 opening of Herman Miller’s short-lived and Textiles & Objects Shop. It was overseen by celebrated designer Alexander Girard. It was a notion well ahead of it’s time – a rigidly curated mix of found objects as well as products and textiles he designed for Herman Miller. Both announcements feature remarkably original design styles that have come to be profoundly influential these days. Again, very little by way of imagery or further history about the shop sloshing around online.
Diagrams and fashion spreads from a book called For you! Girls! published in the Soviet Union in 1965. I found it in a profoundly random box of discarded books and cassettes in the “free trade” corner of a U-Haul self storage warehouse in Philadelphia. It was published by something like the Committee for the Literature for Popular Sciences & Medicine (My Ukrainian provides an imperfect guide to the Russian) It’s a comprehensive guide to the Soviet Girl, with a strange mix of propaganda, health and fitness tips, fashion spreads, and aspirational portraits of female astronauts, seamstresses, soldiers, and miners. Odd, fascinating, unsettling in the soullessness of the sloganeering and the gap between the lightheaded lifestyle spreads and the grey reality of Soviet life… but as often is with this stuff, aesthetically compelling – a mix of constructivist graphics, great type, and high key black and white photography.
This, I covet. It’s the original costume sketch for the Wonder Woman TV series. It was designed and drawn by Donfeld, – Hollywood bon vivant, four time Academy Award nominee for costume design – who’s heyday spanned the 60’s to the 80’s. Besides the costume for Wonder Woman, his other lasting contribution to Western culture was designing Jill St. John’s costumes in Diamonds Are Forever. All this while dedicating himself tirelessly to keeping Jacqueline Bisset looking foxy – a great, great man. Anyway, in 2005 this treasure sold for $2,390 at auction (It was originally inscribed and given by Donfeld to his good friend, actor Richard Chamberlain.) I vow to you, if I ever make my pile, someday this will hang proudly on my wall.