When I was in my late teens, contemplating art school as the first step forward in my search for something I could make a living from and that I really loved, there were certain names that were the centre of my universe from pop stars (Elvis, Buddy, Eddie etc), a bit of cool jazz (Parker, Coltrane, Monk etc), old school artists (Rembrandt, Modigliani, Vincent, Picasso etc), and the new breed of artists (Hockney, Peter Blake, Jasper Johns, Rauschenberg etc). And then there were . . . graphic designers!
‘Graphic design’ was a fairly new term in the 1950s. Before then it was known as ‘commercial art’ with images of men in tweed jackets with leather patches on the elbows, hand-lettering ads for the daily papers and dull posters for the sides of buses. But when I left school in 1962 ‘graphic design’ was deemed to be very cool. In England there were studios such as Fletcher/Forbes/Gill, run by Alan Fletcher, Colin Forbes and Bob Gill, who were the forerunners of Pentagram (still going strong today), and in the United States there were designers such as Reid Miles, Alex Steinweiss, Saul Bass and Burt Goldblatt and there was Push Pin Studios. Who were Push Pin Studios? Even the name sounded intriguing. Push Pin were four designers – Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast, Reynolds Ruffins and Edward Sorel. Chwast, Ruffins and Sorel opened their doors in New York City in 1954 with Glaser joining them three years later and, after a few changes, Glaser and Chwast ran the studio between them for the next twenty years.
Push Pin’s ethic was to reject all the old traditions of commercial art and to promote “reinvigorated interpretations of historical styles” and this they certainly did in spades, becoming the forerunners of exciting and invigorating graphics, typeography and illustration.
Milton Glaser came to public notice in the mid-sixties when he designed and illustrated a poster as an insert in the 1966 album Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits. Based on a self portrait by Marcel Duchamp, it shows Dylan in silhouette with wonderful 60s psychedelic hair, and his name at the foot in Baby Teeth, a typeface designed by Glaser.
Along with Martin Sharp’s 1967 poster of Dylan as ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, it graced many a student’s bedsit wall, and with his lozenge-shaped logo in the top right corner Milton Glaser’s name lodged firmly in my brain. Apparently the print run for Glaser’s Dylan poster ran to six million but try and get your hands on an original print today and you’ll be looking at spending several hundred pounds!
And in 1968 Glaser created this poster of Aretha Franklin with big hair and in full voice for the November ’68 issue of the youth culture Eye Magazine, which sadly ran for just fifteen issues and was gone a year later. Nevertheless this poster of the Queen of Soul today hangs in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC.
Milton Glaser left Push Pin in the 1970s and opened his own studio, Milton Glaser, Inc. The studio is still very much in business today.
Glaser designed countless logos during his career, including ones for DC Comics, Brooklyn Brewery, the World Health Organisation, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, New York magazine, Electra Records and Asylum Records.
In 1977 the State of New York hired ad agency Wells Rich Greene along with Glaser to come up with a logo for the city of New York to promote tourism. In a taxi on his way to the first meeting Glaser sketched out on a scrap of paper the logo which was to pretty much make the City of New York’s name and ID for eternity. Based around the LOVE work of art created by Robert Indiana, with the letter I , a heart shape, and the letters NY stacked in a group of four. It is said that Glaser passed on his fee, claiming that “he loved New York so much that he gave his work to the city for free, hoping it would become public property.”
The logo certainly seems to have done the trick as the State of New York earns around $30 million per year from the sale of mugs, baseball hats, t-shirts and other merchandise. After the 911 attacks on the city Glaser updated his logo to say “I Love New York More Than Ever.”
But sadly Milton Glaser is no more. He passed away in his beloved New York from a stroke and renal failure on 26 June, his 91st birthday.
Only weeks before, New York had hit its apex in the Covid-19 pandemic with countless people dying or sick. Between sessions of his dialysis, Milton had been contemplating the pandemic and what it meant to the people of New York City and had been working on a project which he hoped to distribute to school students across the city, and hopefully the country, that would unite them and us just as ‘I ♥ NY’ had done. He had been working on a graphic treatment of the word ‘Together’.
Speaking to Jeremy Elias of the New York Times, Ignacio Serrano, Glaser’s graphic designer and studio manager said, “There was no business plan. It was about connecting people through art. He would use the example of, ‘If you like Mozart and I like Mozart, we already have something in common. We have a bridge.’”
Milton Glaser: “I did that in order for it to be universal in the same way that ‘I ♥ NY’ was. I want this identity to be adapted by others who are not New Yorkers. This is of course a world problem, not a New York problem.”
Goodbye Milton Glaser. Rest in peace.
June 26, 1929 – June 26, 2020