The Daily Heller: 90 Years of Obstinate Productivity

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Note: These are the remarks I made at Seymour Chwast's 90th birthday dinner in New York on Aug. 16. Today, Aug. 18, is his big Nine-Zero day, and we're celebrating with a sampler of his self-portraits.

I’ve actually known Seymour for 50 of his 90 years.

I first met him when I was 21. Push Pin was redesigning Screw magazine, and I was the art director.

I would never have imagined then that 15 years later, we would become friends (thanks to Ed Sorel), and would do 20 books together and various other things, including intros and outros, bios, articles and interviews.

He’s been my best friend now for 37 years.

Seymour is what I call Obstinately Productive.

During the lockdown, he wrote and illustrated four children’s books, published a monograph titled Poster Man featuring his 120 greatest posters, and completed an eclectic guide to Hell (scheduled for release in Fall 2021, lord willing), which includes some of the most heavenly satiric drawings he’s ever done of every netherworld known to humankind.

If you know Seymour like I do (and you do, or you wouldn’t be here tonight), it’s no surprise that he accomplishes as much as he does in the time it takes us to write a shopping list—or that even this incredible output is never enough to satisfy him.

So while I was toiling on writing the copy for Hell, Seymour was having an earthly delight working on a series of (at last count, 80) new portrait paintings inspired by the flamboyant Mexican Lucha Libre wrestlers best known for their weirdo masks and superhero costumes.

How he transitions from children’s picture books to Hell to Lucha Libre may seem schizophrenic, but it is Seymour’s nature to make art no matter what the circumstance.

A couple of weeks ago, at a video shoot that Seymour and I did for AIGA, I asked a question I’d never asked him before: What would you do if you weren’t an artist?

Without a moment’s hesitation, he said: “I would have opened a candy store.”

That’s Seymour! I guess there’s still time.

I’d like to paraphrase the motto for one of my favorite brands, Sara Lee: Everybody doesn’t like something, but nobody doesn’t love Seymour Chwast.