Originally born in Switzerland, and now residing in Connecticut, Delessert creates work that could be summed up in one word: unnerving. Upon visiting his website, one of the first sentences written in to his biography states the following.
“For more than thirty years this self-taught artist has been translating his-and the world’s-ideas, passions, fantasies and nightmares into the visual language of books, magazine illustrations, posters, animated films, paintings and sculptures. He reaches both children and adults with his imaginary creatures and landscapes, juxtaposing the familiar with the fantastic to clarify this world and create new and lasting universes”
Ok. Reading this the fist time, I thought to myself, “Yeah. Yeah! That seems like a normal artists statement.” And then I reread it, and reread it again, because something didn’t sit right with me. Later I realized that it was the use of the word “nightmares” in such close proximity to the phrase “reaches both children and adults.” I let this sit for a moment while I clicked my way over to the gallery portion of his self-titled website. And then I understood.
Although Delessert’s most identifying pieces are geared towards children, there is an undeniable uncomfortable quality to every single one of them. Sometimes it’s as simple as the unnatural colours of his characters eyes, or their strange, elongated features. It’s hard to put it into developed, educated words, but let me try and explain to you how these pieces make me feel.
It’s almost like these scenes all occur in the opening scenes of CSI Miami, or even worse, Law and Order. There’s always the sense that you’re watching something that you’re not supposed to; or that you’re doing something immoral by observing the scenes Delessert creates. That aside, though, these creepy illustrations have appeared in over 80 books, translated in over 14 languages, and have sold millions of copies world wide. So I’m seemingly alone in the whole crime show sentiment, and the public and professional world is enamoured with his work.
So much so, that his website states: “Twice he was honored by the Premio Grafico of the Bologna World Children’s Book Fair. His illustrations have appeared in leading magazines and newspapers such as The Atlantic Monthly, Le Monde and The New York Times. His animated films include the adventures of the endearing Yok-Yok and creations for Sesame Street.”
His illustrative work’s reputation surpass the threshold of expectation. Delessert boasts a one man retrospective housed by the Louvre, as well as a separate travelling collection that now lives in the Library of Congress in Washington DC. His autobiography, titled “The Blue Bear”, was published by Slatkine Editions in 2015. Perhaps the most remarkable fact of his career is that Etienne is self taught. Still working as an illustrator, his process changed from an entirely traditional approach to a combination of tactile mediums and digital methods. His primary goal of his career, he states, is “to create stories that make children ask questions.” And whether the viewer is a child or adult, there is no denial that Delessert’s work does exactly that, and will for the rest of his promising career. That being said, his work is creepy as hell. Just saying.
Ben Shahn is most well known for his fine art, illustrative and literary works. He was born in Lithuania to parents Joshua and Gittel, but his family was exiled when he was four for revolutionary activities of his father. Continuing his families ideals of speaking out against political injustices, Shahn’s work took on this very characteristic and would for the rest of his career.
He would study at the National Academy of Design, where his main interests would lie in lithography, graphic design, and egg tempera painting. During his travels Shan studied European masters but afterwards shifted his efforts toward a realist style that served as a vessel for his social/political commentary. This came to light in the form of a 23 piece series detailing the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian-American anarchists. Two Italian men had been convicted for murder and were sentenced to execution by electric chair after only a couple hours of deliberation. Afterwards, the case was deemed unconstitutional due to instances of racial-prejudices, refusal of retrial and disregard for political civic liberties.
Shan’s work was heavily influenced by current events as often as it was by the people he surrounded himself with. Walter Evans, Shan’s temporary roommate, worked alongside Dorothea Lange to document the Great depression in rural america under the Farm Services Administration. Evan’s influence can be seen in Shahn’s unflinching confrontation of the human figure, and his acknowledgment of flawed facial features. The same could be said for Mexican painter Diego Rivera. with the depiction of the human form and facial expressions, as well as the politically charged images that appeared in both Shahn and Riveras works. Shahn would assist Rivera with his Rockefeller mural, and would go on to apply Riveras methods to numerous federal mural commissions.
Following the Great Depression, Shahn worked for the Office of War Information. The OWI hired him to create anti-war pieces, but the companies idea of the sentiment differed greatly from Shahns. His pieces lacked the essential nationalistic views that the company advertised, and as a result the OWI would only publish two of his posters. . Afterwards Shahn changed directions and worked with large scale “general” publication companies, including CBS, Time, Fortune, Harpers, and others. Going forward, Shan set high bars for himself. Post OWI, he only accepted commissions that aligned with his moral values.
After the 1940’s, Shahn changed styles from what he called “Social Realism” to “Personal Realism,” which has been described as “a universal expression through the devices of symbolism and allegory, the stylized line, and the colorful palette…he could evoke worlds with a single pen stroke or color overlay.”
In summary, Shahn’s reputation lives on in that he was a powerful political activist who prioritized citizen voice. This is unquestionably displayed in his works surrounding Jewish identity, citizen voice, war protests, and civil political liberties. He inspires countless generations of artists who came after him, his unique style and combination of colour and line gaining a timeless reputation.
“A modern renaissance man — one of a rare breed of intellectual designer-illustrators, who brings a depth of understanding and conceptual thinking, combined with a diverse richness of visual language, to his highly inventive and individualistic work.”
When you think of iconic mid-century design, you think of Milton Glaser. Responsible for some of the most iconic images of North American advertising, Glaser continues to create even today into his late 80’s. He’s the man behind the “I <3 NY” logo, the Bob Dylan poster, and more recently, Trumps famed “Space Force.”
He began to build a name for himself with the co-founding of Pushpin Studios (1954) in collaboration with Seymour Chwast, and would continue the reputation he built for himself by once again cofounding the New York Magazine in 1968. In 1977 he would design the most commonly used logo of all time, the famous I Love NY. Originally Glaser had been bored of the project, not finding a singluar design that did the idea justice, and came to a point where he decided to do the work pro-bono. Thats right, Glaser did not receive a cent for what is now one of the most easily recognizable images in the world. He ended up scrawling down something in the back of a taxi cab and calling it a day.
Glaser boasts a prolific portfolio consisting of almost 400 works, including “posters for Lincoln Centre, Carnegie Hall, Juilliard, the Holocaust Museum… Cooper Union, the Philadelphia Zoo, the 1984 Olympic Games, the Van Gogh Estate… the Metropolitan Opera, Bob Dylan, and others.” (hyperallergic.com)
A short overview of his accomplishments includes, but is not limited to:
Designing over 50 magazines,
Remodeled Washington Post, La Vanguardia, O Globo
Created over 400 promotional pieces in his career
Graphic and Architectural Design
2004 Lifetime Achievement Award
2009 National Medal of Arts
In the way of the psychedelic 60’s, Glaser contributed many influential pieces to the world of music. His work for Bob Dylan remains one of his most iconic works, but also proudly owns works for Aretha Franklin, and others. The work is trademarked by his signature limited colour palette, flat, islamic inspired geometry, and countless historical/artistic references that show through each piece. In a modern sense, Glaser showed his expertise in the realm of 60’s design when he created the graphics for the final season of Mad Men, debuting in 2015.
Although one would typically end a post like this with the classic “In summary…” it’s hard to put the works of Milton Glaser in to a few simple sentences. Only a small part of his career has been covered in this post, and there are years and years worth of revolutionary design that comes with the name “Milton” attached to it. He is often regarded as one of the most influential designers to date, and for good reason. He is equal to the likes of Saul Bass, Paul Rand, Peter Saville, and others, and will always be regarded as a pioneer of modern design, as well as what it means to be a working creator.
“His depiction of sultry, sensual femininity, with a bewildering palette of pearlescent hues, created a powerful image in fifties America – and one of impeccable morality. His quality of light was unique – the highlights burning with adjacent areas of pink and lilac. The reflected light he loved so much seemed to come from beneath, and scattered around the face giving an almost unearthly glow.”
What do you get when you combine pin ups, Monet, and science fiction lighting? Edwin Giorgi. If that equation doesn’t quite seem to add up, the proof is in the pudding; Giorgi was one of the few artists who were able to seemingly combine genres and pull it off effortlessly. At the same time, he appealed to the mass audience by creating works with exciting colour palettes and pop-culture centric images.
For the most part he was self taught, and started his career in advertising and fine art. He possessed a degree from Princeton and left with the full fledged intention to become a writer, but his love of fiction and story telling led him down an alternate path of illustration. Starting out as a copywriter in an agency, he was told the cruel but essential phrase “You would be better as an artist.” Rough, yes, but this pushed him in the right direction.
What made Giorgi stand out so much from his contemporaries was his dramatic depiction of light, colour, and feminine sensuality. Much like Russel Patterson, Giorgi created women who were powerful and sensual, strong in their emotions and structured as a crucial character within the scene. Paired with his expert illustration of light and colour, the figures worked with it to communicate a precise feeling and mood within the illustration. He does so marvellously, as the figures could easily be overtaken by the aggressive brushstrokes and unapologetic use of colour.
His career consisted of illustrations, personal commissions, advertising, and works that accompanied entertainment mediums as well. His work was extremely well received among the public, and his career was long and prosperous.