The Original Mad Men – Saul Bass
“The minimalist auteur who put a jagged arm in motion in 1955 and created an entire film genre……and elevated it into an art” – New York Times
Whom might this refer to? One of the greatest graphic designers of the mid 20th century and master of film title design – Saul Bass.
The Design Museum featured an exhibition of his work in 2004 and, boy, I wish I had gone – I think I was knee deep in keeping one toddler under control and pregnant with another.
To set the scene , 1950’s movie title sequences were forgettable, in fact they generally kept the curtains closed until the film started.
But in 1955, in the film The Man with the Golden Arm, projectionists were asked to pull up the curtains before the film started – and at that point a profound relationship evolved – a relationship which forged creative art and film, and elevated title scenes into an integral part of the film industry.
Saul Bass was already an established graphic designer.Born in 1920, he grew up in the Bronx and studied at the Art Students League in New York.
Bass was introduced to the Bahaus school of thought by a Hungarian graphic designer, Gyorgy Kepes.
Bahaus, influenced by modernism, emphasised a lack of ornamentation – stressing the importance of the function of an object. You can clearly see the influence of this theory in Bass’s work – the cut out arm in The Man with the Golden Arm, the teardrop in Bonjour Tristesse and the swirls in Vertigo.
His approach, as described by Martin Scorcese was “an emblematic image, instantly recognisable and immediately tied to the film”:
Bass collaborated mostly with Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger and Martin Scorcese – creating some of the most famous and chilling title sequences – all powerfully minimalist:
In true Mad Men style, Saul Bass didn’t just leave his mark on cinema. Returning to commercial graphic design in 1974, Bass threw that – one object, one function – approach into some pretty hefty corporate identities:
I think Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce could do with a Saul Bass right now, don’t you?
How beautiful are these?
I must admit I have encountered Bernadette Pascua through Miss Moss not through an extensive knowledge of fashion illustration! Miss Moss is absolutely right, I can’t get enough of her work. They are so simple and subtle in colour but – wow, really pack a punch.
Bernadette is an illustrator based in Brooklyn who started drawing after completing a textiles degree. Not a native New Yorker, Bernadette moved there as a seventeen year old and says:
“I wasn’t into much Fashion then, though it was always around me and I was always lucky to be surrounded by inspiring people. Living in a six floor walk up with a bunch of art kids, I could walk into the then calm Lower East Side in a quick ten minutes, when nightlife there was good and still a bit dirty.”
If only the dirt of South London had the same effect!
Bernadette writes in her very beautifully illustrated blog Decade Diary:
“Today I feel like the luckiest girl in the world being able to do full time freelance Illustration out of a Brooklyn apartment with my long time boyfriend and our adopted Shiba Inu. And an elevator.”
Oh yes….and a gorgeous apartment it is too…….so I’ll have a little bit of what she’s having please!
To see more of Bernadette’s work take a look at her Illustration Archives..
I’ve always wanted a pin up girl tattoo but I’m concerned that she wouldn’t live up my to expectations. Does that sound like a strange desire for a woman? Perhaps, but I’ve always liked pin up art and have recently purchased Taschen’s The Great American Pin up from Urban Outfitters.
My Own Honeyrider
I woke up on Saturday morning with the most horrific hangover, and by 10am I was just praying for the day to end, so I could curl up into the duvet. Ha – no such luck.
Sitting in the car, dark glasses over my eyes, and praying that Mr E’s driving wouldn’t send me over the edge, we passed this little Art Deco shop (Behind the Boxes), which I pass every weekend and always want to go in, but never do.
Anyway Mr E was quite keen to take a look, so we stopped. There were loads of things that I could have quite happily walked away with – and we did succumb to a huge wooden Red Indian, who is starting to scare the crap out of my youngest and a gorgeous art deco lampshade.
As we were leaving I noticed this print in the back of the van, outside the shop, and enquired whether it was for sale. We had to do a bit of bartering but we managed to grap that as well. Not bad for a day which I wanted to end as soon as it had begun!
And what a print it is – you will probably recognise it.
Tina, as she is called, is part of a series that J H Lynch produced for Boots, the chemist.
These retro prints, including those by Tretchikoff, are becoming seriously popular – so I was really chuffed to find one. You might recognise them from Stanley Kubrik’s Clockwork Orange.
Tina, seems to have been quite a favourite muse – along with Nymph, Lisa and Maria (to name but a few):
The funny thing is everytime I look at her I just want to start humming that tune in Dr No – “Underneath the Mango Tree.”
She’s my little Bond girl – and in fact rather reminiscent of Miss Taro, in Dr No – what do you think?
Tretchikoff and Lynch were viewed rather dimly by art critics – who described their work as mass market art.
However, at the time, for those that had lived through the austere post war period, it was a glimpse of the exotic – particularly Tretchikoff’s images of The Chinese Girl, Miss Wong and Lady of the Orient:
Indeed, designer, Wayne Hemmingway is a great defender of this kind of art, saying:
“I’ve got 70 or 80 prints. It is more than just what the art looks like. It is what it stands for. The idea of having a Constable on my wall, I wouldn’t see the point of it.
“A Tretchikoff – it means it’s exotic, it means something about my background and where I’m from and my nan. Art can be all things, it doesn’t have to be something that is beautifully painted.”
“Tretchikoff achieved what Andy Warhol stated he wanted to but never could because of his coolness.”
“If you were to go out and stand with a picture of his in a cool part of any city and spoke with people who understand modern cool, the majority will say good things about it.”
In fact Hemingway and Stella Mitchell’s collection is now part of the world’s largest and best collection of British popular culture – called the Land of Lost Content, and you can now by the prints as fridge magnets and coasters, through Hemingway Design.
But perhaps best of all, the collection has now been reproduced by Surface View, so you can now get your own Tretchikoff or Lynch mural – how cool is that?
I might forgo the mural for a while, or she could scare the crap out of me, particularly after an evening of having one too many!
Personally I prefer my sultry Honey Rider, singing “Underneath the Mango Tree”, in my kitchen!
Who’s Pussyfooting Around?
When I met Jason Brooks and David Downton at the Fashion Illustration event, back in December, they also had a selection of second hand illustration books. I managed to pick up this really cute one on Andy Warhol (which you can still purchase second hand) :
You generally don’t think passed his silkscreens, as they’re so iconic, but these early illustrations, when Andy worked for the likes of Harpers Bazaar and Vogue, are really gorgeous.
Simon Doonan, in the foreward of the book, writes:
” Andy loved flowers. And ladies shoes. And beauty and shopping and drag queens and Russell Wright china and Florine Stettheimer and Carmen Mirandaa and gossping on the phone and American culture and Liz and Marilyn and cookie jars and flirty boys and naughty girls.”
Oh the shoes – the shoes are magnificent!
“When I used to do shoe drawings for the magazines, I would get a certain amount for each shoe, so then I would count up my shoes to figure out how much I was going to get. I lived by the number of shoe drawings – when I counted them I knew how much money I had”. Andy Warhol
and, since there seem to be quite a few Fall 2012 shoe illustrations knocking around, why not throw some future stars into the mix:
Samantha Hahn from Refinery29:
my favourite lady Bernadette Pascua from Decade Diary:
and you couldn’t possibly finish without some illustrations from the masters themselves:
Shoes to dream about!
Practising the Pin Up
Many people think pin-up art started in the 1940s but it actually started way before , since without photography, images could only be brought to life through art. Since Life’s publication featuring images of the “Gibson Girl”in the 1880’s, the centrefold became a standard feature in most magazines. The reader could remove the centrefold and pin it to a wall.
By the 1920s and 30’s pin ups featured the Ziegfield Follies Girls, New York models and movie starlets and were starting to take the form of calendars, magazine covers and hand held cards.
The Second World War brought a special time for the pin up. While troops ventured to foreign lands with photos of their loved ones, they also took with them their favourite pin up.
The pin up boosted the morale of the troops – even General Eisenhower and General MacArthur commented publicly on this phenomenon, citing the help that such images afforded to their men. Or as The Selvedge Yard puts it:
“The pinup was a reminder to troops of what awaited back home, and as us men go, served as the ultimate motivator to the male psyche– T&A. What can I say, we are simple creatures. Maybe you see it as an objectification of women, but the fact is it kept soldier’s morale up in dark, harrowing and uncertain times. It also served to launch the careers of many a young Hollywood starlet.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself!
Perhaps some do see it that way, but it wasn’t only men who were making these illustrations. Yes, big names included George Petty, Alberto Vargas, Billy DeVorss, Gil Elgren but also Mabel Rollins Harris, Laurette Patten, Irene Patten and Pearl Frush.
The images I love are by Alberto Vargas. His pin ups have an ethereal quality to them and I like the way the more unearthly they seem the more they belong to fantasy and the imagination.
Vargas drew his teeth on the Ziegfield Follie girls.
From 1940 – 1946 he was commissioned by Esquire magazine to produce the Vargas Girl. He painted many a star, Jane Russell, Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardener, Marlene Dietrich and Loretta Young but by the late 1940s Vargas and Esquire had gone their separate ways.
Vargas enjoyed a later resurgence with Playboy in the 1960s – having to adapt to a less subtle kind of imagery. He had married a showgirl from Greenwich in the 1930s, Anna Mae Clift, and when she died in 1974 she took with her Vargas’s desire to paint and create. He died in Los Angeles in 1982.
Inspired by Vargas, I managed to find a book called “How to Draw & Paint Pin-Ups & Glamour Girls”, by Walter Foster. It’s quite a find.
It goes into detail about how to draw faces, different positions and how to add clothes or take them off, according to your preference!
I had a particular dress, a particular girl and a particular moment in mind. So I set to work to create my own pin up.
Using watercolour and pen the result is harder and more graphic than the 1940’s-50’s originals – but, I had an image in my mind of what I was trying to create which was a pin-up using my style of drawing rather than a replica of someone else’s. That’s my excuse anyway!
And here she is:
She’s no Vargas Girl – but she has potential!
Like my friend, Mr Selvedge Yard – long live the pin up!
Getting the Hed Kandi Treatment
The week before Christmas I went along to a Fashion Illustration exhibition, arranged by the Fashion Illustration Gallery, in Bruton Place. Expecting the normal rather impersonal affair of an exhibition I was surprised to find an intimate gathering with none other than David Downton and Jason Brooks, in person.
David Downton you’ll no doubt be familiar with – having done many projects with Vogue and, in particular, illustrations for The Golden Age of Couture exhibition at the V&A. There were many exquisite prints for sale including this beautiful one of Doutzen Kroes, or as David said “some model”, in a stunning red dress – backstage at Valentino, apparently being shown how to pose – some model indeed!
Curiously there was another illustrator there, who, pen in hand, was busy sketching a steady stream of visitors. I didn’t recognise the work immediately but after having viewed the portfolio of prints I suddenly realised why his style was so distinctive – the iconic Hedkandi covers – aka Jason Brooks.
Having studied at St Martin’s, Jason’s first assignments were doing sketches of the couture shows in Paris for The Independent. Since then he hasn’t looked back! Jason was one of the first illustrators to use computer technology and his imagnative and flawless images have been snapped up by many luxury brands and record labels. Notably Hedkandi who have sold in excess of 5 million albums, all feature that distinctive uber-modern style.
To be honest, suffering with the flu, I wasn’t feeling particularly uber-modern or stylish for that matter, but these chances don’t come along often. So clutching my array of tissues, I posed and I wasn’t disappointed. I’m sure he knew not to pay too much attention to my puffy eyes and red nose! The sketch is too big to scan straight in so I have had to take a photo instead and will stand proud in amongst some of his other (admittedly more glamourous) works. Spot the difference!!
Funnily enough, as I was leaving the exhibition, Jason was drawing David Downton, who was commenting that there was no way he would sketch with the public watching intently over his shoulder and he sure has a point. This man was sketching as if he was making a cup of coffee – totally effortless. How comfortable must you be in your own talent to allow others to scrutinize your every stroke and be so warm and personable? That in itself must be a gift?
Another illustrator whom I love and whose work was on show was Daisy de Villeneuve. The feel of her work is almost 80s – vintage, with the neon colours and punk hair-dos. But the pieces that I love the most are those that are sketched on scrap lined paper featuing random typed comments. It’s almost as if you’ve just walked in on a half-told story. Daisy’s whole portfolio is shown on her site as well as her series of books >>
Another favourite is Zara Woods (Woody) who creates these wonderful characters such as Starlet, Pick me up Pom Pom, and Small Wonders:
Zara creates “Little Treasures”, which are tiny pendants with individual sketches – let me tell you if I ever have £200 – £300 to dispose of these would be first on my list! Zara has a great site with all her projects and a shop. Definitely worth a visit! >>
So now I have my own little treasure – which I shall frame and cherish – not quite Hedkandi but its probably best not to frighten the children!
That’s all for now folks Cxx