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4 Corners: An interview with Emory Douglas

As a black teenager growing up in East Sheen, I was inspired by the historical contribution of the Black Power and Civil Rights Movement in the US, and influenced by leading black political figures and community activists such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King; Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown; Huey Newton and Bobby Seale – and the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in particular. The Black Panthers’ base in Oakland, California was a universe away from the genteel, suburban niceties of south west London, but as an aspiring artist and designer I could not help but be captivated by the powerful and evocative imagery they projected and the striking graphic designs they created. Both the medium and the message had a profound influence on my development as a creative professional and certainly instilled a desire to use design as a tool to promote and tackle social issues and human rights issues that continues to this day. The Black Panthers’ pioneering political visual communications were the handiwork of a truly gifted and visionary man, who served the party as Minister for Culture from 1967 to 1980. A man who in my wildest dreams I could never have imagined that I would one day have the honour of interviewing and the pleasure of introducing you to today. Brothers and Sisters please pump your black, gloved fists up for Mr Emory Douglas.

Emory Douglas

Emory Douglas, Revolutionary Artist, Designer and Minister of Culture of The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (1967-80).

What’s your background?

My art background is basically as a self-taught artist with a minimum of professional training. I attended City College in San Francisco off and on from around 1964 to 1966 and majored in Commercial Art.
That educational practice introduced me to the basic graphic designing elements such as figure drawing, sketching, illustration drawing, lettering, layout and design, pre-press production, the offset printing process, the basic animation process and how to critique and evaluate one’s work. This was my only academic graphic design training prior to my actual on-the-job training.Free+All+Political+PrisonersSource: Emory Douglas

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

As a youth I was in and out of detention centers, I will say for illegal activity not sanctioned by the state. While there I would do mostly landscape art – nothing with any social meaning. A year or so after I got out I decided to attend City College of San Francisco. The councillor at the detention center heard of my decision to attend college and suggested I take up art. When I went to enroll I mentioned to the college councillor
I would like to major in Art and he suggested I major in the Commercial Arts, which I did. Thereafter the whole idea of my going to school was to try and break into commercial art by becoming a designer, art director or illustrator. I heard of people who were making good money in those fields so I wanted to join them. However,  after a while I began to see and realise that there was really only an elite few that made it and became successful and they were mostly the white students, particularly the ones who had relatives or close family friends with ties to the commercial art field. While at college I developed my graphic art skills to a professional level, where they would send me out on job assignments. I worked at a silk-screen factory where I learned the silk-screen printing process. I also worked at a downtown store in San Francisco where they sold fine wine goblets and silverware doing layout, cutting and pasting of advertisements and preparing display signs for their store window displays. Also there were paying jobs that came in from various departments at the College for graphic design work such as sign lettering and technical illustrations where I along with other art students who had developed our skills to a basic professional level were offered these jobs.Malcolm+X+SpearsSource: Emory Douglas

What challenges did you face in achieving your ambitions to break into the industry?

Certainly there were challenges, because this was at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Firms weren’t hiring blacks, so it was particularly difficult for African- Americans and there were many racial biases and obstacles to overcome. But at the same time that’s how I got involved in political artwork. For example, the whole time I attended City College there was only me and sometimes one other black person who were enrolled in the Commercial Art classes of about 20 students per class. Also there were graphic styles that I created which one of the instructors expressed to me wasn’t commercial enough, so for a while I had to go along with that whole framework of how they programme you to produce artwork for your portfolio with a certain commercial style that was considered acceptable when it came time to looking for a job or going for job interviews. The graphic styles I personally used I had to just put that to the side until later on. I remember one time as a class assignment to create a magazine layout I created one similar to EBONY magazine (the most prominent African-American magazine of the time) and the teacher pulled me aside and said how much he appreciated what I had done. But he added that to be honest with me, it would be another 10 years or so before ideas like mine would be accepted. Eventually it was the Civil Rights, and human rights pressures and campaigning against discrimination that began the process for black people getting into the commercial arts industry during that period.Paper+BoySource: Emory Douglas

Who and what are your greatest inspirations?

As a youngster growing up it was my mother – she was legally blind and worked hard as a single parent.
 There was an artist I knew named Charles Bible, he lived downstairs from where I lived and he would mass-produce multiple paintings of the same image of Malcolm X every year for the anniversary celebrations of Malcolm’s life. I would talk to him about his assembly-line production process and his painting technique and he would explain both of them to me. The information he shared became very helpful when I began doing some portrait paintings over the years. There was also the Black Arts Movement (BAM), which I made artistic contributions to during and prior to my joining The Black Panther Party in late January 1967. Then there was this calendar I would see as a child at my aunt’s house. Every year it featured artwork by a black artist named Charles White, which had a real impact on me. Politically, I was inspired by the politics and artwork that was being created at the time – particularly the work of the Cuban poster artists of OSPAAL (Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America), and from China, Vietnam, the Anti-War movement and Palestine. The Cuban artists used to remix some of my artwork they saw in the Black Panther Newspaper and created some amazing solidarity posters that they would share around the world – that was very exciting and inspiring.End+to+RobberySource: Emory Douglas

What is the project you are most proud of?

I would say the best piece of work would have to be a volume of work that maybe tells a story – and therefore it would be my body of work for The Black Panther Party. But there are also volumes of work that I’m doing today that I feel strongly about and that I am pleased and satisfied to be able to make a statement on current issues and in a more contemporary way than what I did back then.Free+LandSource: Emory Douglas

What would be your dream project?

If I were younger, my dream job would probably as the head of a company, art department or organisation dealing with basic human rights and enlightening and educating people and using art as a language to communicate with people.Black+PantherSource: Emory Douglas

Who in your field do you believe deserve credit or recognition?

There are many, therefore I prefer not to drop names because I’m sure to remember later that I forgot to mention many others I should have, who are also amazing artists and great communicators through their art.ObamaSource: Emory Douglas

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Whatever you do stay focused and practise your craft. And if you’re doing political artwork or social commentary art make sure you know the basic politics of whatever social issues that may concern you. Have fun! Don’t do it because it’s a fad, do it because you believe in it and understand that the creative process will be an ongoing life long journey.Endangered+SpeciesSource: Emory Douglas

What’s next for you?

To continue doing what I’m doing, creating artwork that deals with quality of life issues, basic human rights violations and concern for the struggles and challenges of oppressed peoples in this world.

For more information visit www.emorydouglasart.com.

Big thanks to Maurice Cherry of Revision Path for his help in facilitating this interview.

Network:

EUROPE:

‘RETURN OF THE RUDEBOY’ is an original exhibition created and curated by prolific photographer and filmmaker Dean Chalkley and creative director Harris Elliott, which showcases a sartorial subculture through a series of portraits, installations and set pieces. Runs until 25 August 2014 at Somerset House, Terrace Rooms, Strand London WC2R 1LA. Admission FREE. For more information visit www.somersethouse.org.uk.

KERRY JAMES MARSHALL: PAINTING AND OTHER STUFF is an exhibition of the work of the American artist across venues in Madrid and Barcelona. The exhibition is divided between two venues. At the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid there is a focus on historical works and paintings, while the Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona includes more recent works, not only in painting but also in other media such as drawing, photography, video and installation. Exhbitions run until 26 October 2014. For more information visit www.fundaciotapies.org.

THE CARIBBEAN:

40 VOICES is an exhibition encompassing film, photography and an art installation in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Culturama event in Nevis Culturama (Nevis ). Through open, emotive and unguarded interviews of forty Nevis residents, 40 Voices aims to create an empowering film that will capture a snapshot of the feelings, opinions and attitudes of Culturama into one seamless loop. The exhibition runs from Sunday 27 July – Sunday 10 August 2014. For more information visit www.culturamanevis.com or chantimedia.com.

THE US:

DESIGN FOR SOCIAL IMPACT, an exhibition offering a look at how designers, engineers, students, professors, architects and social entrepreneurs use design to solve the problems of the 21st century. The exhibition features projects that address a variety of challenges in the areas of Shelter, Community, Education, Healthcare, Energy and Food & Water. Each category highlights solutions taking place locally, as well as ways in which these challenges are being addressed around the world. The exhibition is on view at Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA) through to 3 August 2014. For more information visit www.museumofdesign.org. 

AFRICA:

21 ICONS: PORTRAIT OF A NATION, a poignant and inspiring multi-media exhibition by 21 Icons and Mercedes-Benz South Africa, opened on Youth Day, 16 June 2014 at the Museum of African Design in the Maboneng Precinct, Johannesburg. In celebration of 20 Years of democracy, the two-month long exhibition features portraits and short films of 21 of South Africa’s greatest social masters including Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Sophia Williams De Bruyn, Ahmed Kathrada, Nadine Gordimer and George Bizos. 21 Icons: Portrait of a Nation: Presented by Mercedes-Benz South Africa will be on exhibition at MOAD for the first time, through to 17 August 2014. For more information, please visit www.moadjhb.com/21icons.

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

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4 Corners: An Interview with Mo Woods

If race equality progressed at the same rate as technology, we’d be living on an amazing planet right now.

Yet, here we are in 2014 and there is little doubt that the playing field for people of colour looking to break into the world of design and visual communications is still not level. However, our profile designer this month is one man who has managed to break through and scale heights that befit his 6’ 10” frame.

A self-confessed perfectionist, and prodigious college basketball talent, whether working previously with the likes of design legends such as Pentagram or now as senior visual designer with technology giant Yahoo, he always brings his best game. And as co-founder of a pioneering social project that is helping introduce under-priviledged, inner-city kids to the world of design, he’s someone we can all certainly look up to.

Please be upstanding for Mr Maurice Woods.

Maurice Woods

Maurice ‘Mo’ Woods, graphic designer, co-founder of the Inneract Project and senior visual designer, Yahoo.

What’s your background?

My roots are in visual communication design. I received a Bachelors of Fine Arts Degree and a Master’s Degree from the University of Washington in Seattle. This is a great programme that taught me crucial fundamental skills I still use today. If you are at all serious about being in this business it is imperative that you find a good school with solid teachers that push you and have a good mix of other talented students.

CultureBusThe CultureBus logo was designed while at Pentagram

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

Well, my trajectory was not typical. I got into design via basketball. I was granted a basketball scholarship to play at the University of Washington, and after realising I might not make it to the NBA, I had to decide a major. My mother actually suggested I try graphic design, because I ‘liked to draw’. From her suggestion I took an intro to graphic design course. After the first class, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to be a designer.

What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

I don’t think I thought of getting into the profession as a challenge. I think I had a personal challenge, and that was to prove that I could be good enough to work with the best designers in the business. I guess you can say that basketball had a profound influence on me. In a way, I think it was the competitiveness that sports ingrains in your spirit that makes you want to win, all the time. I was that way, although I never expressed it. It was more of an inside goal I had to reach. I would do anything I could to achieve the success I believed I could achieve.

Miles+DavisEnvisioning Blackness in American Graphic Design Poster Series, 27” x 40”

Who and what are your greatest inspirations and influences?

I have a ton of influences. There have been a lot of people who inspire me, not just creatively, but through encouragement, sincerity and advice. I would say that some of my biggest design influences are Doug Wadden, Tony Gable, Kit Hinrichs and Chris Ozubko. I became very close to all of these guys and collectively, I learned a lot of what I now know through them. Doug Wadden and Chris were teachers of mine in both undergraduate and graduate school. They always gave me good solid advice, pushed me to move forward, and were a part of my growth in key phases of my career. Tony Gable, from a creative standpoint, was the first African American designer I encountered. Ironically enough, I stumbled across Tony’s work as I was entering into the school of design. I saw a poster he did at a poster shop. I asked the owner of the shop and he told me about Tony, and I connected to him through this way. Much like my trajectory into design, key experiences in my life I believe shaped the career path I have now. Tony, ‘til this day is still a good friend. Kit Hinrichs was an important person. I learned a lot from him. He probably does not even know it. I always tried to learn from everything down to the way he presented, to his incredible work ethic. Kit has been in the business for a very long time and ‘til this day still is usually the first one in the office and one of the last people to leave. I found that to be extremely inspirational and a trait I felt I needed to learn from. Especially from someone who has had a career as good as he has. 

NikeFrom a series of concepts developed for a project for Nike on an all-black basketball team that thrived in the United States in the period between 1904, when basketball was first introduced among African Americans on a wide scale organized basis, to 1950,

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

Hmmm, I get asked this a lot and the answer is none. I am actually very bad with this. There is not a single project that I feel was just right. I am a bit of a perfectionist. I always see way I could have made a project better. It is a curse and a blessing at the same time. However, the thing I am most proud of, currently is the Inneract Project. This is a free programme I started to expose inner-city youth and communities to careers in design. It is my life’s work. It inspires me because I have seen the work we do impact the lives of young people. As Inneract Project continues to grow, I get excited about the potential of our program developing a greater appreciation of design in the schools and inner-cities.

RobotsRobots exhibition that took place at the Experience Music Project Museum, Seattle. Designed while working at Pentagram

What would be your dream job or project?

My dream design job was to work at Pentagram Design. I worked there, so now I am working at Yahoo. There, I am working on my next current interest, interactive design. I consider myself very fortunate to able to work at this company.

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition.

Most of the people I think would deserve the credit, already have the credit. Those who I know who don’t get enough credit, don’t care. I am one of those people. I, like so many others, do it for the love. But, make no mistake, we want to get paid fairly to do it too.

FistImage created as part of “Envisioning Blackness in American Graphic Design” project.

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

The best advice I can give someone is to make goals for yourself, and never stop working til you get there. It sounds sort of like a cliché, but it’s not, really. It is actually pretty simple, and pretty much proven to net you some success. I wanted to be the best, and my competitiveness and work ethic would not let me give up. I practice my skills everyday. If I am putting together a Word doc to send to someone, I am thinking about the format. When I am at home, and moving things around in my house, I tend to think about composition, balance and symmetry. I admit, it is a compulsive behavior, but those little things have helped me fine-tune my skills and now I can work rather quickly and effectively when designing something for someone. It is the daily practice that enhances your skills — working everyday to get better.

What’s next for you?

The next step for me involves my fascination with technology, interactive design, education and community awareness. These areas of interest will more than likely influence the next big thing I do. We will have to see what happens next.

For more information visit www.inneractproject.org

Network:

EUROPE:

Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK is the UK’s largest ever exhibition of mainstream and underground comics, showcasing works that uncompromisingly address politics, gender, violence, sexuality and altered states. It explores the full anarchic range of the medium with works that challenge categorisation, preconceptions and the status quo, alongside original scripts, preparatory sketches and final artwork that demystify the creative process. Open until 19 August 2014 at The British Library, 96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB. For more information visit www.bl.uk

THE CARIBBEAN:

Anything with Nothing: Art from the Streets of Urban Jamaica. The National Gallery of Jamaica is pleased to present an exhibition of street art from Kingston and environs. The exhibition is on view at the National Gallery until 11 July. National Gallery of Jamaica, 12 Ocean Blvd, Block C, Kingston, Jamaica, (W.I)
For more information visitnationalgalleryofjamaica.wordpress.com

THE US:

When the Stars Begin to Fall: Imagination and the American South queries the category of ‘outsider’ art in relation to contemporary art and black life. With the majority of work having been made between 1964 and 2014, the exhibition brings together a group of thirty-five intergenerational American artists who share an interest in the U.S. South as a location both real and imagined. Runs until 29 June 2014 at Studio Museum of Harlem, 144 West 125th Street, New York, New York (212) 864-4500. For more information visit www.studiomuseum.org

AFRICA:

Rotimi Fani-Kayode Retrospective: Autograph ABP presents the first major Rotimi Fani-Kayode museum retrospective in Africa. Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s photographs constitute a profound narrative of sexual and cultural difference, seminal in their deeply personal and political exploration of diaspora, desire and spirituality. In his large-scale colour and black and white portraits, the black male body becomes the focal point of a photographic enquiry: ancestral memories and a provocative, multi-layered symbolism fuse with archetypal motifs from European and African cultures and subcultures, inspired by what Yoruba priests call ‘the technique of ecstasy’. Runs until 18 June at Iziko South African  National Gallery,  Cape Town, South Africa. Visit autograph-abp.co.uk/exhibitions/solo-exhibition for more information.

POPCAP 2014 Call for Contemporary African Photography. Now into its third year, POPCAP ’14 welcomes contemporary photographic portfolio submissions for its annual competition. Five winners will be selected by a panel of 18 international judges. The winners will all be invited to exhibit their work internationally at five open-air POPCAP exhibitions in Basel and Berlin during the European month of photography and with the Cape Town Month of Photography, Lagos Photo Festival and Addis FotoFest. Deadline 1 July 2014. You can apply here.

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

Nine Fine Design Pioneers

This month, in recognition of the US celebration of Black History Month, Four Corners breaks from convention to profile not one person, but nine people. Taking a moment to reflect on some of the historical achievements of African-American creative pioneers. The short biographies presented can in no way do justice to these esteemed people, but instead are designed to stimulate your natural curiosity to look further into the contribution made by these extraordinary men and women. Although all of the people featured here are no longer with us, they each made an indelible mark on the cultural and creative landscape and blazed a trail for others to follow. #Respect.Stamp featuring Madam CJ WalkerStamp featuring Madam CJ Walker

Sarah Breedlove, aka Madam CJ Walker, cosmetics designer, marketer and entrepreneur (1867-1919)

Way, way before Oprah, there was Sarah Breedlove, or Madam CJ Walker as she is more commonly known. The first child in her family born free from slavery just after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, this incredible woman made her fortune designing, developing and marketing a highly successful range of beauty and haircare products for black women via the business she founded, Madam CJ Walker Manufacturing Company. Regarded as the first US female self-made millionaire, Walker proved herself to be a great philanthropist, using her wealth to support many black organisations such as the NAACP plus a number of schools, orphanages, individuals, and retirement homes. Her achievements have been celebrated by many prominent institutions, most notably, The National Women’s Hall of Fame and on a postage stamp as part of the USPS Black Heritage USA series. For more information visit www.madamcjwalker.com.O, Sing a New Song (1934), by Charles DawsonSource: University of Illinois  O, Sing a New Song (1934), by Charles Dawson

Charles Dawson, illustrator and designer (1889-1981)

As one of Chicago’s leading black artists and designers in the 1920s and ’30s, Charles Clarence Dawson made his name creating illustrated advertisments for beauty products and many of the major black businessmen and entrepreneurs of the day, including the pioneering black filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux. Born in Brunswick, Georgia to hard-working parents, and a student of Booker T. Washington’s famed Tuskegee Institute, he more than paid his dues working a variety of odd jobs to pay the tuition to become the first African American admitted to the Arts Students League in New York. He later went on to attend the Art Institute of Chicago, was a founding member of Chicago’s first Black Arts collective (the Arts & Letters Society) and an integral part of the New Negro Movement in the visual arts or more commonly referred to as the ‘Harlem Renaissance’. For more information visit www.aiga.org/design-journeys-charles-dawson.Into Bondage (1944) by Aaron Douglas, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, WashingtonSource: Sarah Stierch  Into Bondage (1944) by Aaron Douglas, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington

Aaron Douglas, illustrator and designer (1889-1975)

Another leading figure and architect of the Harlem Renaissance, Aaron Douglas’ bold geometric and angular illustrations alongside the philosopher, Alain Locke’s insightful prose, featured prominently in the landmark 1925 publication, The New Negro. His work enabled the formation of a new visual language that embraced a distinct African heritage. It was a style that found its way onto many a publication cover and would later become known as ‘Afro-Cubism’. His work also translated beautifully into designs for wall murals, the best example of which is calledAspects of Negro Life’ created in 1934 for the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library, or as it is now called, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. For more information visit www.aiga.org/design-journeys-aaron-douglas.The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (1961), Paul Williams was consulted on the designSource: brew books The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (1961), Paul Revere Williams was consulted on the design

Paul Revere Williams, architect (1894-1980)

At the height of his career, Paul Revere Williams was popularly described as the ‘architect to the Stars’. This is an incredible accolade and achievement, not least for someone who was orphaned at a very young age, but also as a African American growing up through times of some of the most overt racism imaginable. In spite of all this, and encouraged by a foster mother who nurtured his education and artistic talent, he let his work ethic and perfectionist nature speak for itself. Earning academic awards, winning competition prizes and the respect of  both colleagues and clients along the way, he founded his own architectural practice in 1922 and became the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects in 1923. For almost 40 years, his home designs were commissioned by the Hollywood elite of celebrities, movie stars and powerful and wealthy Californian individuals. For more information visit www.paulrwilliamsproject.org.Pan American Unity Mural (1939), created by Diego Rivera with Thelma Johnson-StreatSource: Joaquin Marinez Rosado Pan American Unity Mural (1939), created by Diego Rivera with Thelma Johnson-Streat

Thelma Johnson-Streat, painter, illustrator, muralist and textile designer(1911-1959)

Against all the odds, this exceptional African American ‘Renaissance-woman’, gained recognition from an early age through her Art. A passion, which she expressed through many different channels and subsequently gained recognition for all of them. Whether working with celebrated Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera; becoming the First African-American woman to have her work exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art, New York; as a teacher and activist promoting cultural diversity through art; or performing a dance recital for the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace in the 1950’s; it was all done with her customary grace, style and sophistication. For more information visiten.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thelma_Johnson_Streat.Emancipation Proclamation stamp (1963), by Georg OldenEmancipation Proclamation stamp (1963), by Georg Olden

Georg Olden, designer and art director (1929-1975)

A man very much after my own heart, Georg Olden produced outstanding commercial work for some of America’s biggest corporations. As CBS’s Head of on-air promotions, in the early days of television, he pioneered the field of broadcast graphics, supervising the identities of programs such as I Love Lucy, Lassie and Gunsmoke, under the wing of leading art director, William Golden. If that wasn’t enough, he turned his attention to advertising, winning shelfloads awards and mentions in Graphis and Art Directors Club annuals continuously. In fact, the Clio Awards statuette of which he won several, was designed by him in 1962. He was the first black American to achieve an executive position in major corporation and also went on to become the first African American to design a postage stamp; a broken chain commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Not bad going for the grandson of slave. For more information visit www.aiga.org/medalist-georgolden.Mr Magoo. The Mr Magoo animated series was directed by Frank BraxtonSource: Kevin Dooley Mr Magoo. The Mr Magoo animated series was directed by Frank Braxton

Frank Braxton, animator (1929-1969)

Let’s paint the scene. America. The 1950s. And Jim Crow laws of racial segregation are still in place. How the hell does a black animator get his foot in the door as an animator at Warner Bros Animation? Well, the story goes that animator Benny Washam walked into the office of his production manager Johnny Burton and said, ‘I hear Warner Bros. has a racist policy and refuses to hire blacks.’ A furious Burton wheeled around in his office chair and shouted, ‘Whoever said that is a liar! It’s not true.’ ‘Well then,’ said Washam, ‘There’s a young black animator outside who’s looking for a job. Guess he’s come to the right place.’ That man was, of course, Frank Braxton, who went on to become part of the team at the legendary Chuck Jones unit at Warners. Many of Jones’ amazing cartoons of the 1950’s would contain substantial contributions from Braxton. He also served as a director for The Bullwinkle Show, Mr. Magoo, Charlie Brown TV specials and early Cap’n Crunch  commercials. For more information visit jimhillmedia.com/columnists1/b/floyd_norman/archive.US Embassy in Tokyo (1976), designed by Norma Merrick SklarekSource: jarsyl US Embassy in Tokyo (1976), designed by
Norma Merrick Sklarek

Norma Merrick Sklarek, architect (1928-2012)

As a first generation African-American, born in Harlem to Trinidadian parents, Norma Merrick Sklarek would go on to accomplish many more ‘firsts’, building an unparalleled career as a pioneering women architect. She became the first African-American director of architecture at Gruen and Associates in Los Angeles in 1966. Sklarek became the first black woman to be elected Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980. In 1985, she became the first African-American female architect to form her own architectural firm: Siegel, Sklarek, Diamond, which was the largest woman-owned and mostly woman-staffed architectural firm in the United States. For more information visiten.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norma_Merrick_Sklarek.Fairchild Channel F (1976), designed by Jerry LawsonSource: Mulad Fairchild Channel F (1976), designed by Jerry Lawson

Jerry Lawson, video games designer (1940-2011)

His name may not be as synonymous with the gaming industry as PlayStation and Nintendo, but Jerry Lawson’s innovative technological design and engineering work helped pave the way for them to follow. For Jerry made history when he created the first ever cartridge-based video game console, The Fairchild Channel F. Hailing from humble beginnings in a housing project in Jamaica, New York, his passion and talent for technology was to take him far, becoming Head of the Fairfield Channel F project where he and his team designed many of its prototyped components. Always looking to push the systems capabilities beyond just cartridge gaming, they put together a daring initiative called TV Pow, which was the first, and only video game played via broadcast television. For more information visitclassicgames.about.com/od/classicvideogames101/p/JerryLawson.

Network:

THE U.S:

Acasa 16th Triennial Symposium On African Art at the Brooklyn Museum will consider the full range of topics related to the arts of Africa and the African Diaspora currently being addressed by ACASA members, from considerations of the archaeological and archival contexts of historical African art to examinations of emerging artistic practices on and off the continent. Like the accomplished Lega elder who once used a three-headed sakimatwemtwe figure, ACASA members look to the future and the past, simultaneously. For more info visit www.acasaonline.org

THE CARIBBEAN:

Bermuda International Film Festival (BIFF) 2014. Since its inaugural Festival in 1997, BIFF has remained steadfast in its mission statement: to advance the love of independent film in a community welcoming to filmmakers and filmgoers and to encourage and inspire young Bermudians to capture their very special narrative through the lens of a camera. This year’s festival runs from 21-27 March.  For more information visit www.biff.bm.

EUROPE:

Still Fighting Ignorance & Intellectual Perfidy: Video Art From Africa presents a selection of African video art that stands beyond the clichés that remain associated with the dark continent and the postcolonial image. It seeks to bring viewers closer to idiosyncratic readings of African video art and its thematic concerns, which are largely ignored. Runs 13-30 March at BEN URI Gallery & Museum, London, United Kingdom. For info visitwww.benuri.org.uk.

“Haute Africa” – At Photofestival Knokke-Heist 2014. From March up to June 2014, Knokke-Heist will once again focus on contemporary photography. The highlight of the festival is the outdoor exhibition, entitled “Haute Africa”, in which international leading artists and photographers such as Martin Parr, Wangechi Mutu, Zanele Muholi, Viviane Sassen, Yinka Shonibare and many others offer an alternative perspective on the contemporary African continent.For more info visit fotofestival.knokke-heist.be/en

AFRICA:

‘Du Bois in Our Time’ Final presentations of works by Ghanaian and UK artists, Bernard Akoi-Jackson, Adwoa Amoah, Ato Annan, Yaganoma Baatuolkuu, Serge Clottey, Kelvin Haizel, Kwesi Ohene-Ayeh , Mawuli Toffah, and Mary Evans. Mullti-media and site specific works will be presented in the Du Bois Museum and Mausoleum after several months of reflecting on the legacy of civil rights leader and Pan-Africanist, W.E.B. Du Bois, in our present era.
Opening events will include a discussion, talk with artists and scholars, poetry and workshops over the 2 days. The entire programme of ‘Du Bois in our time’ Accra was sponsored by the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne. For more info visit www.nubukefoundation.org

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

4 Corners: An Interview with Archie Boston

As summer officially draws to a close here on British soil, we head to the sunny climes of the US and specifically Los Angeles to interview a man I am proud to call a friend and whose contribution to the design and advertising landscape is immense. I first interviewed Archie Boston two years ago, (in fact it was my first-ever professionally published interview) and discovered a man with humour, humility, passion, creativity and deep sense of integrity. Values that shine through in his body of work, and in particular a series of uncompromising self-promotional adverts he created with his brother Brad. Two years on, his courage and conviction remain resolutely intact, as I’m sure this interview will testify. Over to you Brother Archie…Self-promotional poster for Boston and Boston

Self-promotional poster for Boston and Boston

Archie Boston

Boston served two terms as president of the Art Directors Club of Los Angeles, is one of 35 design pioneers named by Graphic Design USA magazine and was honoured as Outstanding Professor of the Year in 2004 at California State University Long Beach, where he has taught for over 33 years. He published his memoir, Fly in the Buttermilk in 2001, created historical documentaries on 20 Outstanding Los Angeles Designers, in 1986, and is the first African American recipient of the prestigious AIGA Fellows Award.Self-promotional poster for Archie Boston Graphic Design

Self-promotional poster for Archie Boston Graphic Design

How did you get started in your field of expertise?

I received my BFA degree in Advertising Design with Honors from Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, California.  My first job after graduating was as an art director at Hixson and Jorgensen Advertising.  My second job was as a partner in, Boston & Boston Design, where I worked for two years, then returned to work at Ketchum Advertising as an art director for eight years.  I received a Masters Degree in Liberal Arts from the University of Southern California in 1977. Then, I opened Archie Boston Graphic Design and became a Professor at California State University where I worked for 30 years until I retired from teaching in 2009.Self-promotional poster for Boston and Boston

Self-promotional poster for Boston and Boston

What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

My biggest challenge was racism.  However, rather than be on the defensive, My brother Brad and I went on the offensive and published promotional pieces that were provocative, memorable, daring and different. That approach shock the establishment, but opened the door to many unbiased clients who admired our courage and worked with us in spite of what others thought. However, another problem was that there were many mediocre designers and clients who were afraid of working with a minority firm that they thought we were too talented for the work they did.We've Come Too Far to Turn Around

We’ve Come Too Far to Turn Around

Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?

My greatest influences were art directors and designers like Georg Olden, Lou Danziger, George Lois, Saul Bass, Paul Rand, Brad Boston, Herbert Lubalin, Jack Roberts and Robert Miles Runyan. My greatest inspiration was and still is Jesus Christ, My Lord and Savior. I cannot think of any designer that was the same, yesterday, today, and forever.  Great design is timeless.Christmas card

Christmas card

What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?

I am most proud of my first book, Fly In The Buttermilk, memoirs of an African American in Advertising, Design & Design Education. This book should be a must-read for anyone in advertising, design or design education. This book will be around for future generations of designers who believe in the gospel of good design. I am also proud of the interviews I videotaped in 1986 of 20 Outstanding Los Angeles designers, while on sabbatical.  Some of the designers featured were Saul Bass, Louis Danziger, Marvin Rubin, Jim Cross, Jack Roberts, Ken Parkhurst, Robert Miles Runyan and many more.Cover for Boston's Fly in the Buttermilk book

Cover for Boston’s Fly in the Buttermilk book

What would be your dream job or project?

This might sound wacky, but my dream project would be to spread the gospel of design spirituality throughout the world. We, as designers, don’t talk about religion and how it influences our creativity. Many of us think that it has no place in our profession. I disagree. I consider myself an apostle of design. Apostle means advocate, follower, believer, supporter, devotee, or scholar. Surely, after all my years in advertising, design and design education, I qualify for this position. So why don’t you follow me in spreading the gospel of design?Christmas card

Christmas card

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

I believe my brother, Brad Boston, deserves recognition because he was a better designer than I.  He was like John the Baptist.  He baptised me into design by making me do my assignments over as a student.  I followed his advice until it was time for me to step out in faith.  The rest is history. Marvin Rubin, my other instructor, at Chouinard Art Institute, who helped me to see the reality of the business, encouraged me to be daring and imaginative.  Marvin also rented Brad and I space in his office until we moved into our own. Nick Mendoza, my friend and former classmate, who founded the first Hispanic advertising agency in Los Angeles, Mendoza Dillion and Associates.  He went on to become a creative director at Young and Rubicam and from there to become an international director of television commercials. I cannot end this section without mentioning, Louis Danziger, my mentor, however, he has received his recognition many years ago and is still considered an ‘Art Center College of Design treasure’. Finally, I believe that God deserves credit and more recognition in this field.  You might think that he is not a person but I believe that He is in all of us.Work for Pentel

Work for Pentel

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

My advice is to be honest. Be happy. Be Yourself. Be courageous. Be imaginative. Be passionate about your work. Be the best that you can be.  Follow your intuition. Don’t settle for mediocrity.  Work hard. Read. Question the establishment. Don’t worry about being politically correct. Respect your teachers.  Enter your work in student design competitions, to find out what professional judges think.  Remember, throughout your career to always strive to do excellent socially responsible work.  And finally, don’t take yourself too seriously.Self-promotional poster for Boston and Boston

Self-promotional poster for Boston and Boston

What’s next for you?

Since I turned 70 years old last month, my perspective has changed about design.  I want to add spirituality to every aspect of my life, including my design.  I have created some controversial work that was not politically correct and in some cases blasphemous. However, I still stand by that work. Now, I see life differently.  I would like for future design generations to consider trusting in a higher power.  I believe that God has led me down my path and there were bumps in the road, but I never would have made it without Him.

Archie. The Apostle of Design

You can visit Archie’s website at www.archbosgd.com.

Network

THE U.S:

2013 Aiga Design Conference: Head, Heart & Hand will celebrate the best in design and explore three interrelated aspects of the profession: design strategy, social impact and craft. This event will provide a platform to the participants to discuss about some focal points such as design for social impact and design as craft. The conference will take place October 10-12 at Minneapolis Convention Center. For more information visitdesignconference.aiga.org

THE CARIBBEAN:

Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival: First held in August 2007, the popularity of theCaribbean Sea Jazz Festival has soared since its inception. This two-day event will this year be held on the 4th and 5th of October 2013 on the small island of Aruba. Initially inspired by a number of other such festivals like the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Netherlands and Saint Lucia Jazz, Caribbean Sea Jazz’s goal is to create a stage for local and regional music talent, showcasing them alongside big names in the Jazz world. Running on a small budget, this wonderful event is not just about music, but also exhibits the best of the Aruban community. For more information visitwww.caribbeanseajazz.com

EUROPE:

Afro Supa Hero is a snapshot of a childhood and journey to adulthood, shown through a personal collection of pop cultural heroes and heroines of the African diaspora. Jon Daniel’s action figures, comic books and games offer an insight into the experience of a boy of African Caribbean heritage growing up in 1960s and 1970s Britain, in search of his identity. Runs from 14 September – 9 February 2014. For more information visitwww.museumofchildhood.org.uk

AFRICA:

Ghana Fashion & Design Week: An impressive range of local and international designers and exhibitors will be participating in the upcoming second annual Ghana Fashion & Design Week. The event will bring together Ghanaian and International fashion, media and industry professionals and fans. Selected designers from around the globe will deliver an exciting selection of creative designer’s collection during the catwalk shows, with a diverse range of Exhibitors hosted at the contemporarily styled PopUp Exhibition Salon during the event. The event will welcome international press, media, and buyers. The catwalk show is scheduled to take place over two days from the 11-12th October 2013. For more informationemail:info@ghanafashiondesignweek.com

If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.

v-isionary: Georg Olden

In 1945, before Jackie Robinson played Major League baseball, or Marian Anderson sang at the Metropolitan Opera, Georg Olden, the grandson of a slave, took a job with CBS. There, as head of the network’s division of on-air promotions at the dawn of television, Olden pioneered the field of broadcast graphics. Working under CBS’s art director, William Golden, he supervised the identities of programs such as I Love LucyLassie andGunsmoke; helped produce the vote-tallying scoreboard for the first televised presidential election returns (the 1952 race between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai E. Stevenson); and collaborated with esteemed artists and designers, including David Stone Martin, Ed Benguiat, Alex Steinweiss and Bob Gill.

Olden was widely celebrated in his day. The 1981 reference book 250 Years of Afro-American Art: An Annotated Bibliography notes that between 1951 and 1960—the year Olden left CBS to work in advertising—his name appeared 108 times in Graphis and Art Directors Club annuals. By 1970 he had won seven Clio awards and had even designed the Clio statuette in 1962, a figure inspired by Brancusi’s Bird in Space sculpture. Olden was respected not only for helping to usher TV from a fledgling industry into a golden age, but also for serving as a model for black America. Ebony magazine profiled him several times in the 1950s and ’60s as one who had grasped the opportunities offered by a new communications medium and risen to an executive rank. But it was far from easy. In 1954,Ebony reported that of the 72,400 people employed full-time in television, fewer than 200 were black. The jobs included “print-machine operator” and “wardrobe mistress.” “Acceptance is a matter of talent,” Olden told the magazine in 1963. “In my work I’ve never felt like a Negro. Maybe I’ve been lucky.”

By all accounts, Olden was endowed with many graces. Nina Blanchard, the writer of a 1965 Elegant magazine profile, observed that he was “awesomely handsome, extremely male, and very polite, all of which can be momentarily unsettling for a woman attempting to conduct a serious interview.” Arthur Young, a college classmate, remembered Olden’s “thriving wit and sense of humor.” Eve Lee, Olden’s niece, who is a professor of German at the University of Southern California, recalled, “I never saw him angry; I never saw him in a bad mood. Even when my brother [Everett] was teasing him, he just laughed it off.” The advertising luminary George Lois, who worked at CBS in the 1950s, also remembered Olden as someone who could take a joke: “I would say, ‘Georg, you’re one letter away from greatness!’”

Olden appeared to have settled on the unusual spelling of his first name when he was in his early twenties and occasionally sold cartoons to The New Yorker. “You have to do something to attract the attention of the magazine editors,” he later told Advertising Age in 1963. He was born George Elliott Olden in Birmingham, Alabama, on November 13, 1920, the son of a Baptist minister whose own father had escaped slavery and fought in a black regiment of the Union Army during the Civil War. Olden’s mother, a New Orleans beauty from whom he apparently inherited his much admired looks, was a classically trained singer. Advised to abandon her husband for an operatic career, Olden’s mother instead performed at concerts and recitals around Washington, D.C., where the couple eventually settled with Georg and his older siblings, James Clarence and Sylvia. (The latter, under her married name, Sylvia Olden Lee, grew up to be a renowned musician and teacher. She was the first person of color to work at the Metropolitan Opera, where she coached many notable divas and has been credited with helping to bring about the groundbreaking appearances of both Marian Anderson and the baritone Robert McFerrin, Sr.)

Olden attended Dunbar High School in D.C. and nearby Virginia State College before dropping out shortly after Pearl Harbor to work as a graphic designer for the Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA. When the war ended in 1945, his OSS supervisor recommended him to the agency’s communications director, Colonel Lawrence W. Lowman, who in civilian life was vice president of CBS’s TV division. From a one-man operation involved with six programs a week, Olden eventually headed a staff of 14 in charge of 60 weekly shows. When he joined the network in 1945, there were 16,000 TV sets in the entire U.S. By the time he left in 1960, there were 85 million sets, one for every two Americans.

Olden might have rested comfortably at CBS, but he soldiered on in corporate America, surmounting obstacles that barred many other people of color from advancement, despite the efforts of the civil rights movement. In 1960, he took a job as television group art director at the advertising agency BBDO. Ebony magazine photographed him in his windowed office on Madison Avenue and described him admiringly as “an artist, a dreamer, a designer, a thinker and a huckster.” In 1963, he joined an elite department within the ad agency McCann-Erickson. That year, he became the first African American to design a postage stamp—a broken chain commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. At a White House ceremony with Olden in attendance, President John F. Kennedy praised the stamp as “a reminder of the extraordinary actions in the past as well as the business of the future.”

Georg Olden helped to ensure that future by inspiring other designers of color. Lowell Thompson, Michele Y. Washington and Frank Briggs are contemporary practitioners who have each claimed him as an inspiration and worked to bring his contributions to light. So it is infinitely regrettable that he soon parted company with the industries within which he blazed such notable trails. Olden died in Los Angeles in 1975, at the age of 54. In a posthumous edition of Who’s Who, he supplied his own unconscious epitaph: “As the first black American to achieve an executive position with a major corporation, my goal was the same as that of Jackie Robinson in baseball: to achieve maximum respect and recognition by my peers, the industry and the public, thereby hopefully expanding acceptance of, and opportunities for, future black Americans in business.”

Olden succeeded in his ambitions. For the design field there is no higher symbol of respect and recognition than the AIGA Medal. And today there are African Americans running corporations such as Time Warner, Merrill Lynch and American Express. He left this world prematurely, but Olden is survived by his legacy of creative and professional accomplishment that deserves to be treasured.