Fifty years ago today, Time magazine published a California-themed issue, with a special fold-out cover by acclaimed designer Milton Glaser, a longtime SVA faculty member and acting chairman of the College’s board. The final work, seen above, and a preparatory sketch, seen below, are now held as part of the Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives at SVA, and serve as vivid examples of Glaser’s style in that era.
Earlier this year, Glaser—who celebrated his 90th birthday in June—sat with SVA’s head archivist, Beth Kleber, to talk about the Time assignment, bygone production methods and the creative mandate to move on.
Do you remember how this project came about?
Time wanted to make a big deal out of a special section on California. So they decided to use a fold-out to extend the imagery. They wanted it in the way I was working at the time, which was pseudo-psychedelic, or maybe simply psychedelic, using some of the motifs that people associate with California in this style that said, “Time is really cool.” To some degree this was risky for Time, because it was transgressive. They were more interested, usually, in conventional photography and illustration. I guess they wanted to signal, “Hey, this one is different.”
How did you arrive at this style?
First I would do a line drawing, then we would get a full-size photostat of it and paste a product called Cello-Tak—little patches of colored plastic—in between the lines. It was all by hand; it would take hours. Fortunately it was work that could be leased out, so I just did the drawings, and to some degree it was a means of increasing productivity without spending money on high-priced talent.
Of course this method was totally doomed by the computer, because then you could do in minutes what used to take days. But what was interesting was the incredible patience of anybody who did this work. It was like weaving a tapestry or doing a stained-glass window, if perhaps somewhat less elevated.
What do you think about this piece now?
It looks terrible to me. I can’t stand looking at that stuff I did in the ’60s. It just seems so innocent and crude and reductive. Every once in a while one of them looks okay, but otherwise it’s a mess.
Well, I disagree. But I think for any artist it’s hard to look back at old work.
It is hard. And of course you’ve moved away from it for reasons. One is that it was repeated too often. If you do something well, and become noted for doing it well, then people will come to you for it and you will do it until you lose interest but still have to do it, because that’s the basis for your success. That is the heart of what’s wrong with the applied-arts business. You just have to figure out a way out. For me, it was leaving what had become acknowledged as my style and moving to something quite different.
And hoping that everyone would come along with you?
Living in hope.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
A version of this article appears in the fall/winter 2019 Visual Arts Journal.