I always wanted to be Seymour Chwast. I can remember the day I got The Push Pin Style in the mail back in 1971. I was like a kid at Christmas, I poured over every image, read it cover to cover and left it on the night stand kind of like when I was a kid I would take my Christmas presents to bed with me that first night—this was that kind of night. The volume was a hardcover, slipcased catalog of the studio's exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris—the Louvre no less. The exhibit travelled all over Europe, South America and Japan. The book reprints over 448 examples of the studio's innovative design work for advertising, book and record covers, magazine illustrations, posters and other graphics by the members of the studio.
Sure it wasn't just Seymour's work I was looking at but his made the most impression on me; I wanted to draw like Seymour. I hadn't felt that way since grade school when Harry Miller was the best drawer in class and I was a distant second; his poster of the Easter bunny graced the third grade classroom wall until I asked Harry if I could have it and then it became my treasure. The Push Pin Style had a major influence on my career as an illustrator and designer, it shaped my view of illustration as a powerful art form, it showed me how design and illustration can work together, it opened doors to all sorts of possibilities. It planted firmly in mind that one day I too would be working in New York. I had just graduated from college in Austin, was starting an advertising agency and wanted to combine strong concept, wit and illustration in all our projects. Push Pin Style showed me that it could be done.
The folks at Push Pin revolutionized illustration—there's a wonderful interview with co-founder Edward Sorel in this issue of 3x3 where he talks about the early, heady days at the studio and how warm the reception was to their new style of illustration and design. I'm not exactly sure how we illustrators arrive at our style—perhaps a series of happy accidents—but you can certainly trace back influences in every illustrator's work. Mine relied heavily on Alan Cober, Murray Tinkleman, Seymour Chwast, Franklin McMahon and R.O. Blechman and yet as I finished copying each style it all melted into something that looked like none of the above. Or perhaps parts of the above.
It was interesting to see that it happens with all artists. Coincidentally I watched a program on Marcel Duchamp this weekend and discovered that Duchamp started out interpreting the styles of the times imitating Cezanne, Monet, Picasso—my art history classes never covered his earler paintings. He moved from style to style discarding one for another until his ultimate triumph: his Cubist-riff Nude Descending the Staircase. Then he stopped painting. He once said that he grew bored with each style once he had mastered it; he didn't become the Duchamp we know until after he stopped copying. The Ready-Made—the non-art is what he's famous for; with this he was totally original.
I'm often puzzled and dismayed when I see work that is so heavily influenced by present-day illustrators, my hope is that these illustrators too are just on the brink of creating something truly original and not just a copy.