The Daily Heller: Brace Yourself for Larry Vigon

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Larry Vigon has been making cultural iconography and commercial imagery for over 50 years. Serious Play is his two-volume monograph, a look back at his 50 years of art direction, design and personal work. More than a portfolio, in the book the Los Angeles–based Vigon tells many backstories about the making of some of his most well-known images in rock and pop music history. Also featured are quotes from clients and collaborators. I asked Vigon to tell me about the genesis of Serious Play.

What triggered the creation of Serious Play as such a grand two-volume, two-ton tome?
In 2020 I taught a class here in Santa Barbara, “The Art of Journaling,” with my artist friend Thomas Van Stein. It was during COVID, so the class was small (only eight students) and it was outdoors. Even with the restrictions, the students loved the six-week course. One of the students turned out to be a wealthy patron of the arts. She enjoyed what I had to say and was impressed with my body of work, and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. She wanted to sponsor the publication of a no-expense-spared retrospective of my career. There are so many talented artists out there that deserve a retrospective. What an incredible gift. All artists need a patron, but few are fortunate enough to find one, much less have one choose you. I had been meaning to archive my over 50 years of design projects, sketches and paintings. This was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. 

I exaggerate about the book’s weight, but it is one of the heaviest design books I’ve seen. Did you produce this yourself as publisher?
This is not a self-published book. I did design and supervise the production of this book set but I did not put up the money to fund the project. Also, any money coming in from the project goes into a special account to promote the book and an upcoming gallery show.

I know your work, but to be honest, on the East Coast, you as a designer are not a household name. Is this tome designed to rectify your position in the design pantheon?
This is an odd question for me. I honestly have not considered my position in the design pantheon. I just do my work with passion. Whether it’s a famous rock band or a first-time artist, a high-paying logo or a free one for charity, I give it 100%. I have been recognized for my achievements—The New York Art Directors gold award for editorial design, two articles in Graphis magazine (14 pages), International Performing Arts poster of the year presented to the UCLA head of Performing Arts at the United Nations, nominated for a Grammy for album cover of the year, to name just a few. I don’t seek out these awards; the clients submit my work. I’m honored and thrilled to receive these accolades but I’m never thinking about them as an end product when doing a design job. When I’m designing I’m having fun, hence the book title, Serious Play. My approach is to keep my ego out of my work. If you are worried about what others think of you, then you are fucked. I learned that from Peter Beard early on. I will leave it up to others to decide where I fit in the design pantheon.

The work is divided between personal and art direction. Do you have a preference?
I do not have a preference; I love both disciplines. Throughout my career I have tried as much as possible to combine my personal work with my commercial work, paintings, drawings, etc. I felt it separated me from other designers that now have all the same design programs. Lately I am doing more personal work but I’m still busy with design projects. I recently finished a logo and website for Mick Fleetwood’s new store in Maui. I’m also doing an album cover for a North Carolina–based band and I’m donating my time to design a logo for a local arts project.

What of all the professional work would you point to as your most iconic, well-known or highly visible?
The most visible work I have done is my album cover design. I did six packages for Fleetwood Mac, including Rumours, that have sold 50 million copies to date. The Rumours logo is one of the most famous logos in pop/rock history, seen by hundreds of millions of people. I’ve been told many times that seeing that cover instantly brings back all sorts of memories—”the first time I heard that music,” “meeting an old love or breaking up,” “my parents played that album all the time,” etc. If my work can evoke those feelings, that is success to me. I have done a number of other multimillion-selling albums for Chicago, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Counting Crows, Boney James and more. The other high-visibility project in a different category is C.G. Jung’s Red Book, which is the most significant psychoanalytic publication in the last 100 years and has now been translated into eight languages. I am very proud to be a part of psychoanalytic history.

Would you put yourself into any stylistic grouping? Your influences appear to run from modernism to eclectic ones. How much debt do you owe, and to whom?
My two most influential teachers at The Art Center College of Design were Jayme Odgers and Roland Young. I feel these two instructors really taught me how to think conceptually. Also, an ongoing collaboration with Jayme was always a learning experience. Discovering Milton Glaser and the Push Pin Studio was a life-changer for me. Other influences are the Dada movement, Miro, Klee, Bacon, Modigliani, Picasso and so many more. The world around us is so inspiring.

As this book attests, you have contributed to the culture of design and the design of culture. What do you want to do now that this work is archived for the ages?

At the risk of sounding corny, this archive is just part of the journey, not the destination. I love the creative process, be it design or painting. I think I will most likely die with a paintbrush in my hand. Now that COVID is on the way out I would also like to get back to teaching. I have picked up a lot of knowledge over the last 50-plus years and I enjoy passing on what I have learned and am still learning. As you have seen on Facebook, I never stop.