Remembering Three Artists

Today I was reflecting on my goals for 2014. Inspired by this blog post by creative coach Kathleen Shannon, at the beginning of the year I wrote down how I wanted to feel in 2014 (versus the normal resolutions that say “I want to do this,” or “I don’t want to do that anymore”). One feeling was fruitful. That feeling was important to me from a creative standpoint. Being fruitful meant being abundantly productive: drawing, painting, designing new work for clients that feels vibrant and authentic.

I admire artists. I live with one. I know many. I know the challenge an artist’s life can be. And the incredible rewards. With today’s passing of Maya Angelou, I wanted to reflect a bit on her life, and the life of two other great artistic pioneers that passed away this month. These three were originators in their art. Admired, loved, and sometimes loathed for their bold work. They all lived  lives full of intrigue and interest, always fruitful in their creative canon. I thank them for their inspiration.

Massimo Vignelli 1931-2014

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Design legacy Massimo Vignelli’s work spanned book covers, shopping bags, furniture, and corporate logos. Clients included American Airlines, Ford, and IBM. The brochures he designed for the National Park Service are still in use today. Vignelli’s work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York.

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He was one of the original information architects, designing from a place of clarity, coherence, and discipline. However, when his 1972 New York City subway map was released, many riders found his map to be unclear. Instead of a literal translation of the subway lines weaving like “spaghetti” throughout the city, Vignelli depicted them as uniform strips of colors running either straight up and down or at 45-degree angles, similar to diagram of the movement of electricity. “Who cares?” Vignelli said of his critics.”You want to go from Point A to Point B, period. The only thing you are interested in is the spaghetti.”

“Massimo, probably more than anyone else, gets the credit for introducing a European Modernist point of view to American graphic design,” Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, said. Bierut worked for Vignelli for 10 years and the two stayed in close contact. From Bierut’s eulogy at Design Observer, he says “Up until the end … he was still curious, still generous, still excited about design.”

H.R. Giger 1940-2014

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Mostly known for his design the monster from Ridley Scott’s Alien, H.R. Giger was a Swiss surrealist painter, sculptor, and set designer. His work took on a doomed style that depicted human bodies in a cold, interconnected relationship. His style was full of creatures which he called his monsters, and openly said that his work was shaped by his own night terrors. His work was well known and celebrated in popular culture, primarily science fiction. Giger took great pride in collaborating with a myriad of music industry and film artists. His designs for film include the Alien trilogy, Poltergeist 2, Species, and Prometheus. His artwork has been on album covers for Celtic Frost, Debbie Harry, and Danzig.

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Norwegian curator Stina Hogkvist said his work was “very existential. What makes up a human being; when does a life start, when does it end; what is natural and what is unnatural. It’s always interesting and always relevant.”

Maya Angelou 1928-2014

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American author, poet, and lecturer Maya Angelou is well known for her lyrical poetry. Spanning a career of over fifty years, she was a dancer, calypso singer, streetcar conductor, single mother, magazine editor in Cairo, administrative assistant in Ghana, and friend or associate of some of the most eminent black Americans of the mid-20th century, including James Baldwin, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X.

Brave in her artwork and her social politics, she has openly discussed being a survivor of rape at a very young age. Her memoir series, which started with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, details her life up until age 40. Caged Bird became a bestseller, probably the first book that struck down the stereotype that black women’s lives were unworthy of autobiography. On why she created her work, she said “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Watch her recite her Million Man March poem.

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