Just a few weeks ago, eight award-winning graphic design innovators walked into a museum. They’re the panelists for “Record Breakers: Artists Who Revolutionized Visual Music Culture,” a special event being held in conjunction with a free exhibition, Revolutions 2: The Art of Music. And this is all happening on a hill in the midst of Glendale, California’s Forest Lawn Cemetery and Park.
If your knowledge of Forest Lawn ends at Evelyn Waugh, Aimée Thanatogenos, and Jonathan Winters, then you’re badly in need of an update. The museum has exhibited Matisse, Goya, and Rembrandt and more recently, Vroom: The Art of the Motorcycle, In Search of Tiki, and the first Revolutions, from ten years ago. Revolutions 2, which opened in late February, is the largest ever, with more than 175 pieces, many being shown for the first time. It’s meant as a visual celebration of the most admired, respected, and enduring images of music over the past 100 years. On display are artworks in a variety of media for albums, posters, and other promotional materials.
Interested in music & design? Explore American jazz album covers of the 1950s and 1960s in this essay by Victor Margolin.
Among the three dozen artists in the show are Rick Griffin (known for his late-1960s psychedelia), Roger Dean (British prog rock), and Paul Rogers (hipster jazz). There’s John van Hamersveld’s billboard comp for “Exile on Main Street,” Drew Struzan’s oil and acrylic paintings for Alice Cooper and Canned Heat, Mike Salisbury’s photos of George Harrison and Tina Turner, and even a lovely Al Hirschfeld gouache and ink portrait of the Nat King Cole Trio.
Chronologically, the exhibit begins with radical editorial cartoonist Art Young’s ink drawings from the 1920s and ‘30s and the illustrations by Alex Steinweiss, who came up with the concept of the record album cover design in the 1940s and developed it through the ‘50s. It progresses right up to the present, but with particular emphasis on the ‘60s to the ‘80s. That’s the era when creativity in music packaging and promotion was at its most energetically intense and vibrantly innovative. It’s also when the “record breakers” who presented that day had produced their most radical and distinguished music industry work.
Ernie Cefalu, who conceived the Rolling Stones’ iconic tongues logo in 1970, began the talk. He credits himself and others on the panel for actually having “invented branding.” David Edward Byrd concurred, citing his 1969 Woodstock poster as “one of the first examples of branding.” Mike Salisbury talked about how he used branding to launch Michael Jackson’s career, which you can read in my interview with him, here. (Incidentally, Jackson, Nat Cole, and many other musical celebrities are a permanent part of the grounds’ 300 acres, along with Disney, Bogart, and Liz Taylor.) Rhino Records creative director Hugh Brown, airbrush master Charlie White III, David “Pep Art Movement” Willardson, former bootleg album artist William Stout, and logo and lettering legend Michael Doret also generously shared their insights and insider anecdotes about the entertainment graphics biz.
Art critic and curator Shana Nys Dambrot, who moderated the panel, considers the graphics from that golden age to be about a specific idea, “the idea that it wasn’t just stuff that looked cool or moved a record, and it wasn’t just because something had to go on the cover of an album. The art flowed out into this time where it became completely inseparable with the music. You hear the Rolling Stones and you think of the logo. You see the logo and you hear the music and it all comes together in a beautiful way.” She also views the Record Breakers dialogues to be “about how that happens – where this magic comes from.”
Michael Doret expands on this point: “That magic happens over time. It isn’t something you can create; it isn’t something you can instill into a piece of art. It comes from the audience. It comes from everywhere.” Doret, whose music jobs represent a very small portion of his output, still gets fan mail for his now-iconic Kiss album covers. “I started to realize that this didn’t happen with any of my other work. This was purely something that happened with the work that I did relating to music. It has a lot to do with the associations that people make, and I starting thinking back to my own experience listening to music. I was making this connection in my head where the art and the music became one. Sadly, that is something that’s going to be of the past. Young people today are just downloading the music or listening to it on Spotify or Pandora, and there are no graphics at all any more. So they’re no longer going to be able to make those associations. This show represents a certain point in time. Sadly, this may just be the end of it.”
In any event, Revolutions 2 will end in just a few weeks, on August 2nd. It’s a unique opportunity to experience a visual symphony – smartly orchestrated by museum director and curator Joan P. Adan – of revelations and inspirations as well as revolutions.
More images from the exhibition:
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