When an Artist Dies, Heartbreak Follows
photo by Priscilla Rattazzi
Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them. – George Eliot
On Monday, I saw a news item that made me catch my breath, Jean-Claude Suares of Harrington Park, illustrator and graphic designer, dies at 71. I remember immediately thinking about the J-C Suares I knew that I had been exchanging emails with about the possibility of doing a class for HOW Design University on magazine cover design. My heart broke when I realized it was my friend.
I met J-C in 2009 at a previous job. Our first exchange was a heated debate about brand vs. umbrella brands. He made some great points, but was never condescending or patronizing. He could have been. He worked with top magazine publications, wrote books and illustrated for the New York Times and The New Yorker, as well as other major publications, but you wouldn’t have known it.
I was charged with writing a press release announcing him coming on board. His release got more views than any other I sent, including the new CEO’s. I should have guessed then that he was someone important, but he never let on. He didn’t look like an artist or illustrator. He looked more like a compassionate gangster, which is an oxymoron, I suppose, but J-C was complex. His face was kind and his eyes full of life, but I never saw him without an expensive suit on. I did see pictures of him with his polo ponies in a team uniform once, but that’s about as casual as he got.
At a corporate dinner once, I met his beautiful wife, Nina Duran. “We have a wonderful life,” she said to me then. I envied that. She was thankful and happy for the life they shared.
Even recently, when J-C wrote me back, his passion for his work was undeniable:
KATHY, OF COURSE, I’M INTERESTED. THIS IS WHAT I DO. To date, I’ve designed more or less a thousand covers for over 100 magazines from The Atlantic to Discover to Fast Company.
I would have bragged much more than J-C about 1000 covers, but I don’t think he even knew his legacy. Last night, I reached out to graphic design legend Seymour Chwast, a regular contributor to PRINT magazine, who worked with J-C when he was just starting out.
“I don’t recall precisely when or where we met,” said Chwast. “After Milton Glaser left Push Pin Studios, I was looking for other activities for the studio. J-C came at the right time. He needed design help for the books he wanted to do.”
In addition to J-C’s illustrations, he was very proud of his books on dogs and cats as well as other things.
“We produced The Illustrated Cat, The Illustrated Flower, The Literary Dog and The Literary Cat. We called our book packaging business Push Pin Press and we were partners,” added Chwast.
The New York Times wrote a nice eulogy for J-C, acknowledging his work, “Jean-Claude Suares, an illustrator who radically altered the way editorial illustration was used at The New York Times as the first art director of its Op-Ed page.”
It’s never easy saying goodbye to talented people. Buried with them are ideas that were never born, unsketched illustrations that are forever lost. And, even the work that is left behind, the illustrations, they have a sadness all their own.
Read about J-C Suares’ work at JCSuares.com