linear madness and crazed impulses

Jesse Marinoff Reyes:

The Village Voice
January 4, 1994 issue
Illustration: J.d. King (b. 1951)
Art Director: Jennifer Gilman
Design Director: Robert Newman

JMR Design

…as in the past few posts I’ve drawn attention to, an illustrator I’ve known and worked with who shares alliterative or analogous qualities with a historic predecessor—nothing unusual, we all have them to a degree. It’s not really a matter of style, even if there is a shared technique (Stephen Kroninger and John Heartfield look nothing alike) but more a kindred sensibility—and in my view, a latter day “as important as…,” or “fulfilling, revitalizing the same niche as….” I will lump into that lot J. D. King. The obvious antecedent here, if we are forced to draw some common ground to, even acknowledged admiration for, would be the classic jazz LP artist (as most would associate him with) Jim Flora.

True enough, King shares Flora’s jittery rhythms and staccato patterns in his more ambitious compositions (like this one), something like a be bop sensibility in a rock ‘n’ roll medium (many illustrators have tried to emulate Flora now that the noted artist’s work and career have been revived in mainstream consciousness—three lively monographs in the past decade—but King isn’t one of them). King’s work is not an invocation of Flora’s style. King’s linear madness is a construct of its own crazed impulses, purée’ed through an Alexander Calder or Stuart Davis cosmopolitan sense of humor. One runs into King’s spot illustrations every now and again in organs like the New York Times, but even the grey lady has missed the boat on King’s true genius—something the alternative newspapers like New York Press and especially The Village Voice took ample advantage of in the glory years of the late-1980s and the 1990s. King could compose a montage like no other, in image and typography—an outgrowth of his foray into alternative comix back in the late-1970s and ’80s and having to draw every single thing himself (captions, word balloons, title typography, et. al.).

I certainly took advantage of that when I was art directing publications in the ’90s. Sometimes I’d just send King the headline-subhead-byline copy and have him draw it (“Don’t worry J. D., I’ll worry about where to put it”) and been able to craft dramatic layouts with typography that had tremendous integrity, texture and rhythm—and was just beautiful to look at. A be bop sensibility in a rock ‘n’ roll medium.

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