nouveau psychedelic

by Jesse Marinoff Reyes ( Jesse Marinoff Reyes Design, Maplewood, N.J.)

The much-admired and widely-collected “nouveau-psychedelic” poster artist Steven Cerio is—I’m happy to say—a very old, dear friend and colleague of mine going back more than twenty years. Cerio became one of a regular cadre of illustrators that I worked with after I’d been named design director of Guitar World magazine in 1989, and with whom I would continue to collaborate with regularly over the years—even clandestinely, so to speak, when I would occasionally be asked to analyze less-than-perfect instructions from less-experienced art directors Cerio may have been working with at the 11th hour and including the dozen-odd years I spent at Penguin Books where working with artists purely from the standpoint of my taste and preferences was virtually nonexistent (there Cerio provided an uncredited cover background on a philosophy title, and art for a credited back cover for a Jack Kerouac book). Those years were the most painful for me, as I missed the ability to work with the illustrators and photographers I’d most identified with, and with whom I’d spent many years developing a rapport.

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Cerio had been a raw yet sophisticated talent when I first met him, sent over to show his work to me by Florian Bachleda, then a young associate art director at the Village Voice. Easy to get along with (like Jack Kirby and R. Crumb, our birthdays are only days apart), yet literally burning with a passion for art that I rarely found even amongst the amazing pool of talent that inhabited the orbit of publications in the early-1990s. His work was breathtaking, yet initially challenging to apply to so-called commercial graphics—but for a suggestion or two that would render a transition from purely personal expression to one that could flourish in a design and art direction context without robbing it of its vitality and originality.

Once that transition was made—”overnight” I should add—Cerio would contribute to the bulk of my tenure at Guitar World, my body of work at the Village Voice, and the development of the look of Urban Outfitters’ in-house, pop-culture broadsheet publication, Slant (not to mention a side project here and there): spot illustrations, feature spread illustrations, typography-only pieces, covers, posters, comics. This example posted, plucked from that portfolio, a cover for one of the Village Voice’s once-numerous and exciting supplements, the Rock & Roll Quarterly (which I was art director of in 1994). Art direction of this cover literally consisted of a few grunts and nods, as by then our working relationship had become smooth and effortless—like the adage of the “old married couple” we could finish each other’s sentences—or rather, sentences on impact, visual interest and focus, storyline and narrative. He got “it.” Or I got “him.” I’m sure many of you art directors reading this have similar working collaborations. Great when it happens, ain’t it?

From humble beginnings in the underground and semi-mainstream, Cerio would go on to do work for some of the biggest media companies in the country yet still retain his edge and his originality. He’s carved out a particularly impactful career as a result of the “gigposters” phenomena, becoming a poster designer with a signature look and critical acclaim as a modern-day psychedelic practitioner—leading to numerous gallery exhibitions, all the while remaining himself, not manifesting an alternative identity as a “fine” artist separating his printed work from what shows in the galleries (indeed, his drawings and paintings really just being aspects of what he’s always done, and that can hang effortlessly next to a poster for The Residents). A prime example of following one’s vision yet being open minded to the “world around you.” We’ve been friends for so long that it’s hard to believe that our working relationship was confined to really just five (very busy) years—yet that friendship does not exaggerate my evaluation of his work as being among the most unique I’ve ever known. He is one of perhaps only two artists in a nearly 30-year career whom I regard this way.

For more on Steven Cerio:

The Village Voice Rock & Roll Quarterly, Autumn 1994 edition
Illustration: Steven Cerio
Design: Jesse Marinoff Reyes
Art Director: Jesse Marinoff Reyes
VV Design Director: Audrey Schachnow*

*In the interests of posterity, it should be noted that Schachnow did not have anything to do with the production and direction of this issue of the R&RQ.
— with Steven Cerio and Jesse Marinoff Reyes.

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