“What’s easier now is that I know the approach I need to take. What’s harder is coming up with ideas.”
Legendary illustrator / designer / artist Seymour Chwast joins the show to talk about what it means to continue beyond “legendary” status. We get into his 60-plus-year career and why he can’t slow down (much less retire), the impact of Push Pin Studios, the (de-)evolution of commercial art, his mutant hybrid of typography and design, the process of overcoming the anxiety that Saul Steinberg made all the great work already, the immediate gratification of woodcuts, the reason he makes classic literary adaptations, his interest in different religions’ notions of Hell, how a gay dance instructor helped him avoid the draft for the Korean war, and more! Then, our very first Virtual Memories Show guest, Ann Rivera, drops in on the way home from MLA 2018 to talk about the future of the humanities, her love for Pete Bagge’s bio of Zora Neale Hurston, whether students should be seen as consumers or constituents, the success of the Yale history department’s revamp, the role of the public intellectual, the problems with academia’s insularity, and the novel she returns to every year. Give it a listen!
“We’re in a state of insecurity because we’ve forgotten our public function. And a big part of that public function is to serve the people we’re working WITH, not speaking TO.”
About our Guests
Seymour Chwast is an American graphic designer known for his diverse body of work, and lasting influence on visual culture. Born in 1931, in New York City, Chwast attended Abraham Lincoln High School, before studying illustration and design at the Cooper Union. He is a founding partner of the celebrated Push Pin Studios, whose revolutionary work altered the course of contemporary graphic communication in the 1960s, and continues to affect the field of design worldwide. In 1985, the studio’s name was changed to The Pushpin Group, of which Chwast is the director.
Developing and refining his innovative approach to design over the course of six decades, Chwast’s clients include the New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, and Print, as well as leading corporations, advertising agencies, and publishers both in the United States and abroad. His designs and illustrations have graced posters, packaging, record covers, advertisements, and animated films, as well as corporate and environmental graphics. He has created backgrounds for productions of Candide at New York’s Lincoln Center, and for The Magic Flute, performed by the Philadelphia Opera Company. Chwast is the author of over 30 children’s books, four graphic novels, and several typefaces. Pushpin Editions, the studio’s publishing arm, produces books on the arts and graphic design.
His work has been exhibited in major galleries and museums in the United States, Europe, Japan, Brazil, and Russia, including the influential “The Push Pin Style,” a two-month retrospective at the Louvre’s famed Musée des Arts Décoratifs, and several one-man shows of his paintings, sculptures, and prints. His posters reside in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Library of Congress; and the Gutenberg Museum, Mainz. In 2015, Washington University’s Modern Graphic History Library acquired a complete collection of Chwast’s posters, which will soon be available for study by students and the general public.
Over the years, the major monographs were published: Seymour Chwast: The Left-Handed Designer (Abrams, 1985); The Push Pin Graphic: A Quarter Century of Innovative Design and Illustration (Chronicle Books, 2004); Seymour: The Obsessive Images of Seymour Chwast (Chronicle Books, 2009).
A member of the Art Directors Hall of Fame, and a recipient of the AIGA Medal, Chwast also holds honorary Ph.D.s from Parsons School of Design and the Rhode Island School of Design. He is a frequent lecturer, with recent speaking engagements at Design Indaba, Offset, Point Design Conference, and the upcoming Typographics. Chwast resides in New York City with his wife, graphic designer and painter, Paula Scher.
Ann Rivera is an assistant professor of English at Villa Maria College in Buffalo, NY. She attended Hampshire College along with your humble podcast-host in the early ’90s, which may help explain our mutual wariness of postmodernism. She has made two previous appearances on The Virtual Memories Show, in 2013 and in our very first interview episode.
Credits: This episode’s music is Nothing’s Gonna Bring Me Down by David Baerwald, used with permission from the artist. The conversation with Mr. Chwast was recorded at his home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 Microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. The conversation with Ms. Rivera was recorded at my home with the same equipment. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Cloudlifter CL-1 and a Mackie Onyx Blackjack 2×2 USB Recording Interface. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Mr. Chwast by me. They’re on my instagram.