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The works and times of Seymour Chwast

The Obsessive Images of Seymour Chwast

There are a few people left in the world who actually shaped the evolvement of graphic design and illustration, and Seymour Chwast is one of those people. I, for one, was greatly influenced by his works in the 1960s and early 1970s. In the Communication Arts & Design department at Virginia Commonwealth University, the design and illustration departments used Seymour's work (along with a half dozen others) as examples of visionaries who push the visual envelope. Seymour and friends at PushPin studios became our heros.

As Steven Heller writes:

For almost six decades, Seymour has unpretentiously contributed to the culture of the epoch. Unpretentiously because anyone who knows him will attest that he just tirelessly does his jobs with no other ambition than to do them.

The Obsessioneinstein

You will savor becoming acquainted with Seymour in this superb book Seymour - The Obsessive Images of Seymour Chwast. Friend and fellow industry cohort Steven Heller, along with Seymour's wife Paula Scher, bring this character to life in their fascinating essays about Seymour. They trace not only the life and times of Seymour, but the illustration and visual communications arena as well -- and those are the times that brought the world out of a war-time society into the years that would later be called the golden age.

Many young designers, illustrators and visual practitioners think that this kind of greatness just comes; just happens. Today's field offers so many ways to look good and be perceived as a real talent without really possessing what it takes to get to iconic levels. Reading the history and reflections revealed in this book will give this and the next generation of visual artists something to seriously chew on. You'll awaken to the realities of making the grade, and the downright hard work involved. No, it doesn't come over night and it doesn't come to everyone. Rather it comes to a unique few with the vision and diligence to persevere -- to grow, and excel way above all others. Such is Seymour Chwast.

Paula relates a favorite story about Seymour. "If someone wanted a drawing in the middle of the night, Seymour would be the one to get up and draw it." For more than fifty-five years, he was in his studio every morning by 7:30am and stayed until at least 6:30pm, for the sole purpose of making drawings. "If there's a day that he doesn't have any drawings to make, he makes more drawings anyway." This is what it takes. And, this is how the talent and vision takes flight to captivate and motivate a generation of visual artists who follow.

Seymour Chwast comic art

Fidel CastroEnlightened awakening

Stephen Heller once said:

During the mid-to late-Sixties Push Pin was a magnet for designers and illustrators, including James McMullan, Paul Davis, Barry Zaid, Sam Antupit, John Alcorn and George Stavrinos. While decidedly influenced by Push Pin's strong graphic personality, these members also contributed their own approaches to the studio. This collaborative environment has been a significant model for others.
As the book unfolds, we learn about the visual movements and struggles of a young design/illustration studio. Heller takes you through a truly enlightening journey. If you have anything to do with the visual arts at all, then you really won't be able to stop reading. Heller relates the brilliant discovery of The Life of Seymour; The Historical Seymour; What Makes Seymour Run; Testing Seymour's Metal and finally, Seymour: The Legacy. All through Heller's presentation there are "A, HA" and "Gotcha" moments where you realize that you were actually there -- you just didn't realize at the time that Seymour Chwast had something to do with it!

Quoting Heller once again: George Bush McCain poster

By the middle of the 1950s, as the Norman Rockwell epoch drew to a close, Chwast was already known for his unique style of illustration. His playful, expressive approach to type and layout was the point of a new design wave based on revivalism -- a radical alternative to the Swiss formalism of the time. For over 30 years he has continued to ride above the twists and turns of fashion; today his art is even more energized and varied than when it originally altered a generation's perceptions.

After Heller's wonderful history, and then Scher's warm and endearing "Seymour: The Man", we're treated to the man, himself. Seymour authors "The Interview" and opens those secret doors so you can share a bit of the journey. All through the chapter you'll witness the story unfolding in a matter-of-fact manner; as if a simple stroll to the mailbox. But it was (no, is still) making history. Friends, mentors, helpers, partners, and those who influenced Seymour are made as comfortable as an old shoe. But you and I would react differently ... Walt Disney, Milton Glaser, Andy Warhol, Andrew Wyeth, Paul Rand, and the list goes on and on. (You'll want to Google or Wikipedia the names you don't immediately recognize, for another whole education in itself!) You'll learn how the political landscape of the times shaped his early anti-war works. You'll discover how he first became interested in typography, and you'll get rare insights into what went on in his mind while creating some of the most recognizable and memorable pieces in graphic arts history!

Extravagant immersionChildren's Book cover by Seymour

But the best part. Seriously, the really best part, are several hundred illustrations, drawings and graphics from the hands of Seymour that will immerse you in a visual wonderland. And I guarantee that every time you pick up this book, and thumb through the gallery, you'll see all new stuff you didn't see the last time. Savor the charcoal and conte crayon textures. Bask in awe of pin and ink work that defies imagination. But best of all, be enlightened by the thoughts and visual messages these works portray! And if you're a visual communicator yourself -- be thrilled and inspired by the sheer genius in the way messages are delivered to the viewer. A swash here, an ink line there, a color field, maybe, over there -- and suddenly a whole story is communicated in a moment. You look, and suddenly you understand. That's the genius of Seymour Chwast.

Don't wait to get this book. Get it now, so you can get started on this memorable journey; so you can have it longer. Chronicle Books has lavishly published the work in full color on high grade paper stock, hardcover, amassing 272 pages. You won't be disappointed. It will be an endless source of visual and mental delight. Your kids will love it for its playfulness. It's a history book. It's a journal. It's a picture book. It's a coffee table book. It's a friend who will pick you up and entertain you. I will treasure this book just as I treasure my original "Dylan" print and collection of "Audience" magazines. But, I think I'll need to get a second copy. Because when this one is tattered and worn, I'll have a fresh new one to enjoy again with my grandchildren on my lap.

Seymour - The Obsessive Images of Seymour Chwast
Introduction by Steve Heller
Essay by Paula Scher
"The Interview" with Seymour Chwast
Hardcover 9 x 11 in; 272 pp ; 270 color images; April, 2009
Available now at Amazon.com
Also makes the perfect graduation or holiday gift!

Fred Showker
      Editor / Publisher, DTG Magazine

Also, have a great time discovering this icon of the visual communications industry! Be sure to see my previous visit with Seymour!. Click here for a rousing look at works by Chwast.
Also see: Illustration: A Visual History by Steven Heller and Seymour Chwast (Hardcover - Nov 1, 2008); The Push Pin Graphic: A Quarter Century of Innovative Design & Illustration... by Seymour Chwast (Hardcover - Sep 9, 2004); and Graphic Style: From Victorian to Digital by Steven Heller and Seymour Chwast (Paperback - Mar 1, 2001)

Steven Heller is the co-founder of the MFA Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts, New York. He has lectured for 14 years on the history of illustration in the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program at the School of Visual arts. He also was director for ten years of SVA's Modernism & Eclecticism: A History of American Graphic Design symposiums. Remarkable books by Steven Heller include Understanding Design Literacy; Graphic Design Time Line; New Vintage Type; Marketing Illustration; Inside the Business of Illustration and a dozen others we love!

Images here are Copyright © Seymour Chwast

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