Arena Stage in Washington D.C. just announced its 2016/17 Season and I designed one of the posters for The Lillian Hellman Festival. Arena has a strong history of illustrated posters and it's always an honor to add to the series. Watch on the Rhine is a play set at the beginning of World War II in a big suburban house with a plot that includes family tension, a mysterious visitor, three kids, Nazis and a briefcase full of cash. Warner Bros. made a version in 1943 with Bette Davis. Marsha Mason will star and Arena requested that she be featured in the poster design.
The wonderful Nicky Lindeman was the Art Director, and she asked for a design that would have a strong period feeling. I thought that the war posters of Abram Games and Edward McKnight Kauffer would be a good starting point. Nicky managed to shepherd this one through with a minimum of revisions.
I’ve been working for a few years with LA Metro making illustrations that can be used in a variety of formats, a project that has grown from a series of three posters to over 100 images. These pieces are used in advertising, commuter information, and online as part of LA Metro’s expanding program to bring mass transit to Los Angeles.
It’s been a real pleasure working with Creative Director Michael Lejeune and Melissa Rosen, Art Director at Metro Design Studio. My job is easy on some pieces, “give us a cool look at an existing light rail line, or new bus,” and more difficult on others “we don’t know exactly what this should be but we need an image that ties light rail to Metrolink, but without showing a specific train.”
When we started, one of the things Michael and I talked about was the great original Disneyland attraction posters by Bjorn Aronson. We both liked that modernist poster style for showing complex images in a clean, clear way. There’s a lot of people involved on these, engineers looking for accuracy in the structures and graphic designers making sure I get the correct font on the sides of the trains.
The Arena Stage in Washington DC has been producing beautifully illustrated posters for years. Art director Nicky Lindeman called to see if I’d design a poster to be part of their 2014-5 season, for “Five Guys Named Moe.” a musical revue of Louis Jordan songs written by the great actor Clarke Peters (The Wire and Treme.) Anyone who has listened to Louis Jordan records knows that his music is filled with a lot of energy and humor, and chickens. I tried to bring some of those qualities to this design.
These pieces from the Harlem Renaissance served as inspiration for the style of the poster, Winold Reiss, left, Miguel Covarrubias, right.
I also brought a little Juan Gris to this one.
Rough thumbnail sketches, the story begins when five guys named Moe pop out of a radio to give advice about life, drinking and big-legged women.
Last week I get an email from Shanti Marlar, Creative Director at The Hollywood Reporter that says they have a cover that she thinks I’d be perfect for, it’s about Hitler, would I be interested? That’s the kind of e-mail you read twice.
Turns out the cover story is a book excerpt from the forthcoming ‘The Collaboration, Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler’ by Ben Urwand. It’s a shocking story about how Hitler actually affected the movies in America. Before World War II the US studios were very concerned about losing the German export market for their films and worked closely with the Nazis to gain approval on finished films and scripts. Shanti had seen a piece I did for The New York Times that was in the style of the Stenberg Bros. Russian film posters and thought a combination of Hitler’s face and Hollywood imagery in that avant-garde style would make a good cover.
Round 1 sketches
OK, so a cover illustration that features the worst human being in the history of the planet. I start by getting myself on a few NSA Hate-Group-Watch-Lists by Googling photos of Hitler and Nazi propaganda and begin working on sketches. I had my doubts about the Stenberg Bros. concept since they were busy in Russia in the late 1920s and we were talking Nazis and late 1930s, but the overall propaganda vibe seemed to work, and only Steven Heller would think I didn’t know my poster history. Shamelessly lifting one of Vladamir and Georgii’s most famous images that has a camera lens replacing the eye of a man, I worked up six designs and sent the sketches to Shanti, but I was thinking ‘This will never fly, Hitler’s not appearing on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter.
Round 2 sketches
Cool heads prevailed at The Reporter offices. Maybe it was actually seeing sketches of Hitler right next to their famous masthead, or maybe it was the recent dust-up over the Boston Bomber’s appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone, or maybe it was something else all together, Shanti and her editor decided we should try some other approaches. So the next day, I send over five ideas that utilized a combination of Nazi propaganda and 1930s Hollywood imagery with a fairly wide range of emotional impact. Nazis are tricky, even when you’re dealing with a scholarly piece of history an illustrator has to be careful.
The backlot water tower with a swastika replacing a studio logo was chosen. This idea seemed to strike the delicate balancing act required for the cover, Nazi imagery hasn’t lost it’s power to shock or offend, but it’s a tough book about some tough decisions made by studio heads in the turbulent years just before the war. Anyway, it’s online now and soon to be cluttering up the newsstand outside Book Soup.
It doesn’t happen every day that you meet one of your heroes. When that meeting turns into a friendship and then a collaboration, you know you’ve been blessed.
Wynton and I met almost twenty years ago, for a poster project that we both signed. Since then I designed a poster for The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival that depicted him in his Crescent City hometown, we’ve worked together on two books, and I spent a week out on the road with him and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra making sketchbook drawings.
Wynton has won a Pulitzer, nine Grammys and numerous other citations and honors, he has been an inspiration to many, many musicians and people who are making their way in the world as artists. Whenever we meet, he always acknowledges the accomplishment of survival with the words “So, we’re still out here.”
I’ve admired so much about him, the way he leads fifteen of the greatest jazz musicians of any era in the JALC Orchestra, the way he sits with young musicians who bring their instruments to a concert hoping for advice from the maestro, and his thoughtful writing and lectures on the important place that jazz music holds in our history and culture. I’ve seen him working on a symphony in a hotel room with no piano, and I’ve seen him stay late after a gig talking to fans until it’s just him and the guy locking the place up.
Tuesday is Wynton’s 50th birthday. There has been a week-long series of concerts at JALC’s Rose Theater featuring special guests and some serious swing. I wish I was there acknowledging the accomplishment.
Sketches for New Orleans Jazz & Hertiage Festival, 2002
Colored-pencil sketch for poster
Seventeen color silk-screen poster
Wynton at soundcheck in Atlanta
Here's a preview of our second book for Candlewick Press, our first book, Jazz ABZ is still in print, (turns out kids love books with Coleman Hawkins in them.) The new book is a picture book for young readers about sounds titled Squeak, Rumble, Whomp Whomp Whomp! We're trying to get it finished while we're still on this earth. It's scheduled for Fall 2012.
This weekend is the official opening of the new West Hollywood Library. The city asked me to design a poster for the event and also for the 10th Annual West Hollywood Book Fair. They are very proud of the new building designed by Culver City architects Johnson Favaro, it’s been praised as one of the best pieces of public architecture in LA in a decade.
I worked with my friend Rikki Poulos and the Director of Public Information for West Hollywood, Helen Goss. Right from the start, we knew the main image of the poster would be the new building, these four comps show some possible approaches. The top left design with echoes of Matisse and Le Corbusier was chosen.
I added a stack of books with a mix of typographic styles for the Book Fair poster.
Surprisingly, there are people walking the earth that can’t name the four Beatles,and who don’t know about Randy Newman’s music except for his songs for Pixar and Disney pictures. He’s one of my favorite songwriters,so when Center Theatre Group called about a poster for a new musical based on Newman’s songs, I said yes immediately. The challenge was to make a poster for a show that was in the process of being written and cast. The musical is based on Newman’s album “Harps and Angels” and a number of his other songs from through the years. Directed by Broadway veteran Jerry Zaks, the production is described as a compelling, honest and humorous commentary on what it is like to be born, grow up, fall in love, and live and die in America. The cast includes Michael McKean and Katey Sagal, and it will have its world premeire at the Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center in Los Angeles on November 10. Charity Capili was the art director on this one and she managed to get this approved by everyone involved without any drama.
Some sketches from the first round that weren't chosen.
Everyone liked the idea of Randy's silhouette with the titles inside. Here's a few color options we tried.
Carluccio’s, a wonderful chain of Italian restaurants in the UK, called for a poster with a vintage travel feel to promote their olive oil from Puglia. It’s part of a summer campaign to promote food from different regions of Italy. I’ve admired the level of attention given to their graphics and packaging, and I was happy to lay this one on them. They still owe me a meal next time I’m in London.
Posters by Karen Murray, Lucia Gaggiotta and Adrian Johnson