A short tour of Seymour Chwast’s designs for beer and soda packaging.
Bob Dylan’s brief relationship with Joan Baez was exhaustively documented, but we get interested when that affair highlighted the work of Push Pin Studios. In 1964, Dylan and Baez were photographed at Newark Airport in front of Seymour Chwast’s poster for Booth’s Gin: an incongruous, but not surprising, image of two icons flanking a countercultural message from a corporate advertiser.
Here in New York we’re struggling through a heatwave. Perhaps a good course of action for those lucky enough to reside in air-conditioned high-rise Soho lofts is to keep it cool by lounging about with bright furniture, like the sporty cat in this illustration by Seymour Chwast (undated, but probably for the Frankfurter Allgemein Zeitung).
In the mid-80s Seymour Chwast was approached by Georg Kovacs, Inc. to experiment with furniture in the Pushpin style.
The thing that fascinates me most about Push Pin Graphic is how unpredictable they manage to be all the time. Even apart from the contents of each issue, every promotion contains — no matter how generic the thing as a whole may be — some off-kilter element that has a defamiliarizing effect on the whole endeavor. The Cherie Currie-esque figure here has no other reference anywhere on the page, she’s just hanging out in the margin of the tearaway.
In the early 1970s, Push Pin Studios produced a line of candies under the name “Pushpinoff Sweets.”
In the 1970s, the Mead Library of Ideas held exhibitions showcasing the best contemporary graphic design; they commissioned announcement posters from designers including Tony Palladino, Chermayeff & Geismar, and Seymour Chwast.
In 1971, Phyllis La Farge and Seymour Chwast collaborated on the children’s book The Pancake King, which described the rapid ascent of a young master of the griddle pan. It spoke of the joy of breakfast, the perils of fame, the importance of family and of maple syrup. More spreads from The Pancake King are viewable on Flickr (thanks to Norman Hathaway), and show Chwast’s dexterous use of scale and bleed between spreads, and tidily-set Bodoni. The book was included in AIGA’s Fifty Books of the Year.
In 1979, McDonald’s hired Seymour Chwast to contribute one version of the packaging for the introduction of their new product, the Happy Meal. The promotion cost one dollar, and comprised a hamburger or cheeseburger, twelve-ounce soft drink, a small order of french fries, and a McDonaldland Cookie Sampler (not pictured). Along with their comestibles, the first customers could look forward to discovering either a McDoodler stencil, puzzle book, a McWrist wallet, an ID bracelet or McDonaldland character erasers.
Seymour: The Obsessive Images of Seymour Chwast, with an introduction by Steve Heller and an essay by Paula Scher, came out last April. A lively conversation around the book and the work it included built up in a comments thread at Design Observer last week, which brought in Scher and Heller, along with Michael Bierut, Armin Vit, Lorraine Wild, and others. Some unhappy commenters questioned the significance of his work, and this lead to a pretty interesting consideration of the concept of “dated” art (my favorite writing on this subject is I. A. Richards’ essay “Permanence as a Criterion,” which finds both “dated” and “timeless” problematic from the start).
This label, stuck authoritatively on the back of a mounted board as a bit of corporate identity — complete with the overrule, grotesk “Group Incorporated,” and high-contrast logotype — exploits its context to achieve a kind of reflexive wit, a kind of acknowledgment of what is being put over, that gives it a unifying effect (it is at once more than, and no more than, a “bit of corporate identity”). This is achieved with an unusually unaffected air — a combination that I think has always characterized Chwast’s work.
We recently received a wonderful donation from illustrator and designer Seymour Chwast. He was a founding partner of Push Pin Studios in 1954, along with Milton Glaser, Edward Sorel and Reynold Ruffins. The studio’s name was changed to the Pushpin Group in 1985 and Chwast remains as its director. Here’s a sampling of the 80 posters we received; future posts will highlight original artwork and other printed materials that offer a comprehensive view of Chwast’s influential career.