by Art Chantry:
one thing i’ve taught myself to do while thrifting is to always ALWAYS dig through old stashes of classical records. i used to skip over classical records when i found them at yard sales and thrift store boxes. i’m just not that into pop music pre-1900, ya know? can’t help it, i’m just not. i do enjoy bach and beethoven and a couple of others, but mostly, i just find it complicated and clunky and turgid. sorry, just the way it is.
however, even the most die-hard classical collector has weak spots. it may be a interest in jazz pianists or maybe a pop record they were given for xmas. it may be an infatuation with a pretty cover or even a secret love of country western swing. you can just never tell what you are going to find in a stack of old classical records. you may have to look through 200 disks, but that ONE RECORD can be a hell of a little gem.
case in point: i was digging through at least 100 classical records in a box at a sale. endless dull looking covers, dull sounding performances, dull and dry text explaining everything to you like you’re stupid. you what i mean. and then – there IT was! an absolutely pristine mint copy of the “Swingin’ Medallions” Lp “Doubel Shot Of My Baby’s Love”. what the hell it was doing in this stack of boring classical records? it’s anybody’s guess. but, i got it for a dime! man, that was a nice moment.
but the other reason i always check out classical records is for the covers. most classical records have incredibly erudite and utterly generic covers – picture of the composer, picture of the conductor, picture of the entire symphony. always some scripty ‘tasteful’ type and lotsa of text denoting good breeding and lotsa big multi-syllable words. often entire sets of 40-50 records with identical covers, names changed to sell to the innocent. but, they’re always in excellent condition, because most classical buyers are prissy condition freaks, or they only buy them to own, not to listen to,
HOWEVER… in almost every stack of classical crap you’ll find a cool designed/illustrated cover image of some sort. really famous illustrators by the likes of searle or frasconi or richard powers or milton glaser, who all did dozens and dozens of classical record covers in their early days. it didn’t pay much money. but, it was fun stuff and you were able to show off and build a portfolio. it’s sort of like paperback book covers back in the early days, with todays’ superstars doing them for $300 a pop just to make rent and hope for a better paying clients down the road.
this is one example i found. to begin with, i like listening to this record becasue it’s kurt weill (especially with parts sung by lotte lenya – an amazing singer). but, any designer will immediately recognize this famous image by seymour chwast (one of the founders of push pin studios). i’ve seen this illustartion in text boks all my professional adult life, but it’s seemingly never shown with the associated copy – always as a lone-standing illustration. i had no idea it adorned a record cover (and for music i liked!) finding this was one of those heart stopping moments of pleasure. an epiphany – “oh, so THAT’s where this image is from!” a crummy, bad selling classical record cover.
of all the styles that seymour chwast has worked in over the decades (and there have been many), this style has always been my favorite. i love the crudeness of the work. it’s all stencil-cut with an exacto knife. i can’t exactly tell if it’s cut out of paper (art supply companies came out with wonderful pre-printed sheets fo PMS colored paper back around this time) or that letterset brand colored stickum film stuff. as i look closely at this image, i see evidence to support both materials. maybe he used both?
at any rate, whenever i think of seymour chwast’s best work, this is the style of image that my mind dredges up. labor intensive, well crafted, startlingly fresh and original craftsmanship. brilliant. “all in color for a dime.”
…he other day i found a mario lanza record cover that had a beautiful portrait of ol’ mario done by richard m. powers! turns out that ‘mr. surreal sci-fi cover guy’ was also a terrific historical portraitist….yeah, i’ve owned many variations of the weill/lenya material. lotsa live performances. that image by chwast was probably used over andover again. i have no idea when he actually did the image. the copy i have is date74 – which is years after he quite this style. so, i just don’t know….
…but push pin is massively important studio in the history of late 20th century american graphic design. they were the first true “post-modern” design studio. they paved the way for so many things that followed that without them, we wouldn’t have the graphic design we have today. they’re THAT important. but, sadly, there’s no definitive book on their history. there’s a good product that steve heller did a documentation book on their ‘push pin graphic’ magazine history (which is as close to a formal monograph as i’ve found). there was a slim volume published by CA magazine press back int he late 60’s (unfortunately all in B&W). there’s also monogrpahs on a few of the principles of the group (chwast, glaser, etc.) and they tend to be florid puff-piece celebrations of their “genius”. but, beyond that you’ll have to rely on trade magazine articles (print, CA, graphic, etc. etc. etc.) modern graphic design is very badly documented. what is written is usually fulla shit,too. it’s being written by art snobs and not design people. so, it’s a strange slant out there….