groovy roots

For a project about nineteenth century letterpress I'm working on, I was looking into the pendulum swings of criticism about "Victorian" design. I put air quotes on the term because anyone with the slightest knowledge of nineteenth century styles– decorative arts, fashion, whatever– can see that Victorian is cruelly broad brush stroke. It's a term that has been tainted by 20th century prejudices. By the 1920s "Victorian" was the zinger, the punchline, the descriptor flung like a dead fish. It's amazing how critics of the 20th century –through the 1960s at very least–were coolly dismissive of all things with a 19th century aesthetic. And that was when they were being kind. I cant think of another period so freely reviled and ridiculed.

All this by way of saying that by the 1950s and 60s a few avant garde* souls like Push Pin Studios (Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast et al.) were thumbing their noses at The Man or his stand-in, Swiss Modernism. Rediscovering the cast off visual detritus of the 19th century they made use of posters, engravings, old wood and metal type that were surely lying around in junk stores.

Designers in alternative genres, especially, created a cult look combining vintage display type, Art Nouveau patterning and kaleidoscopic drug- induced positive/negative visual vibrations. I had never stopped to think about how much of Psychedelia had its roots in nineteenth century visual reference, beyond the Victor Moscoso/Alphonse Mucha connection. With the Hippie epicenter in San Francisco, the old Victorian rooming houses and cheap apartments must have had something to do with it as well. And of course, the concept of a Decadent, Symbolist, absinthe-soaked, opium-toking nineteenth century must have seemed very appealing (and familiar) indeed.

Addendum: At bottom right is an 1840s watercolor of quasi-military protesters, which put me in mind of Yellow Submarine immediately....

*(The very avant garde, I suppose, had been Dadaists like Ernst, in the 20s-30s, who incorporated 19th century engravings and type into collage.)

Artwork from OldHandbills.com :
Rick Griffin 1967; William Henry 1968
William Henry, 1968
Bob Schnepf, 1968
Victor Moscoso,1967
Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse, 1967


covers of efficiency, personality and mentality

* * *

I've discussed my feelings before about the sorry state of American magazine covers (specifically Vogue). Whether today's newsstand staples are matched against the magnificent images created in the heyday of cover art illustration or the dynamism of later photography, they are spiritless pack animals merely conveying cover taglines. So, here again with a selection of the lost art of the magazine cover.

By chance I discovered several sites out there that present selections of vintage magazine covers. The particular site I landed on featured a range of titles—including American Photoengraver, Successful Farming, Everyday Engineering, and the spicy Artist and Model. In other words, not comprehensive but worth some time...

This 1904 issue of Physical Culture ("the magazine of efficiency, personality and mentality") caught my eye with its hand drawn type and ornament. The spare and theatrically retouched photograph of the lady diver (or is she demonstrating good form in a calisthenics position?) seems pretty daring to me. In later years the magazine tackled such topics as "Milk Diet Cures Opium Habit" and "How I Stopped Coughing."

The Electrical Experimenter from 1915 appears presciently "futuristic"–like the sci-fi that would dominate 1930s pulp magazines, rather than the 19th century conception of the future as populated with flying omnibuses. That "interstellar" ship is quite a bit like the Death Star, no?

Gangland Stories strikes me as rather merry. I think it must be the "syncopated" Jazz Age title type.

When I stumbled across Everybody's Magazine, I thought the name was pretty silly. Evidently, though, it had been quite high-profile and important title for investigative journalism in the early 20th century. Features included pieces by Booker T. Washington, Eugene Debs, and Upton Sinclair ("The Condemned Meat Industry" May, 1906). Wow. Early on, the magazine published an article (by progressive writer-journalist Frank Norris) exposing corrupt business dealings in agriculture. Another article soon followed on the treatment of miners. By then Everybody's was established as a Muckraking rag sheet of record–— in line with McClure's and Cosmopolitan. Theodore Roosevelt (who coined the term "muckraking" I think) wrote a pro-war/US involvement article for Everybody's in 1915 (remember, we didnt get involved in WWI until 1917). But alas, Everybody's gave up the good fight in March, 1929.

Everybody's covers: the somewhat off-putting orange "Frenzied Finance" issue from 1905 is interesting to me because it is modeled in clay and then photographed, or at least I think it is, in the manner of claymation images of decades later. At bottom is an amazing and devastating cover
from 1911, despite the fact that the very important title, "The Passing of the Idle Rich," is difficult to read.

I just now noticed that the 4 Everybody's covers shown here have slightly different artwork for each masthead.
Magazines in the first half of the 20th century would often change their masthead/title logo—sometimes with every issue. Vogue was genius with that– the name could be conjured from the smoke from an ingenue's cigarette, or formed from clouds, or it might be lights on a marquee. In this case, Everybody's merely looks like someone can't leave well enough alone...


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...