The Last of the Golden Age Art Directors

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Art Paul, the founding art director of Playboy, recognized by peers for his innovative design that transcended the limitation of a men’s magazine into a journal rich in editorial and pictorial content, died on April 28, 2018. He was 93. Arguably, he was the last of magazine’s golden age art directors.

Paul was in his late twenties when former ad copywriter, Hugh Hefner, walked into his Van Buren St., Chicago, studio looking for an illustrator for his new magazine. He immediately saw his work on the walls and “recognized the talent of an art director,” writes Jennifer Hou Kwong, director of a forthcoming documentary film about Art Paul.

Paul designed Playboy magazine’s first issue with Marilyn Monroe on the cover and played a key role in the immediate success of the magazine. He created the famous Playboy logo, a Bauhasian rabbit. Bauhausian because of its graphic simplicity, after all he studied the Chicago Bauhaus and adopted its principles of Modern economy and function. He was credited for “illustration liberation” for his innovation in magazine illustration and for using fine artists, including Chicago’s Ed Paschke, Roger Brown and Andy Warhol, as illustrators.

He worked as the chief art director, and later, vice president of Playboy until 1982 when he took early retirement to focus on his own artistic pursuit.

Born and raised up in Chicago, he graduated from Sullivan High School in 1943 and enlisted in the Army Air Corps during WWII. After the war, he attended the Institute of Design (ID), which originally started as The New Bauhaus School by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, whose work Paul admired.

“Paul would take concepts he learned at ID and incorporate them into the magazine and his own artwork,” notes Hou Kwong. Hugh Hefner regarded Paul as “his partner” at Playboy, and Christie Hefner, former CEO of Playboy Enterprises, said that “Art was legendary” in that, influenced by Cip.e Pineles, he was one of the first magazine art directors to blur the lines between illustration and fine art. He hired some of the most important artists of the time to interpret articles as well as Playboy’s playmate and took their artwork on a world tour titled “Beyond Illustration.”

Paul was the well-spring of the talent and change in the design and art fields. In later years, he developed fully as a well-rounded artist—painting, writing, composing music and drawing. He was a wordsmith, poet and romantic.

A feature-length documentary movie about his life, “Art of Playboy” by MoraQuest Media (for preview click on title), has just been completed and will be released in 2018. It features Paula Scher, Brad Holland Kerig Pope, Hugh Hefner and many more. Paul was able to see the rough cut before he died.

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