Mid-Century in the New Century

• September 9, 2008 • Comments (2)

nothingkeepingyou1 tm Mid Century in the New Century It’s 1952 in America. The war was won, more people have jobs than ever before, and you just bought a house with a white picket fence. Things are on the up and up. Now, fast-forward to 2008. We’re neck deep in traffic, debt, e-mails and basically life is just too darn complicated. Against this backdrop there has been a thread of design harking back to a simpler time. A quaint time. It has many names: retro, mid-century modern, post-modern. There are few designers today that capture that simplicity and charm as well as Frank Chimero.

AC: So Frank, what initially attracted you to this type of work?

Frank: I think I’ve always been attracted to work that’s more graphic. I love simple shapes and flat colors. When I was a kid, I used to love the Sesame Street animations that talked about geometry and shapes and had that type of look. I also have a real love for ideas. I love making them, and I kind of love basking in a good idea, whether it’s mine, or someone else’s. So when I was in school, I was introduced to the work of the likes of Saul Bass and Alvin Lustig and Paul Rand and Bradbury Thompson, and everything that I was looking at just sung to me. It’s the perfect synthesis of the two. Formally, they’re simple, but conceptually they’re clever and dense. (Well, maybe not dense.) Anyway, I love the optimism of all of the work from this period, whether “high design” or not.

AC: It’s all quickly deciphered.

Frank: Yeah. I think that’s it. There’s a certain clarity to them. They wear their message on their sleeves.

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AC: Would you call yourself an artist, or a designer, or maybe something else? Is it even a necessary distinction?

Frank: You know, on my website I call myself a designer and an illustrator. For some reason I never really have considered myself an “artist.” Maybe it’s because I kind of have this romanticized idea of how an artist works? Well, this is completely off base and incorrect, but without an audience in mind. The stuff that they make is for them. It just so happens the good artists have other people interested in what they have to say or think. I know that’s wrong. Ha! I feel like whenever I make art myself, it’s decidedly not glamorous and I always have a specific thing I want to communicate. There’s a direct message and a planned audience.

AC: So you approach art like a design project.

Frank: Yeah, kind of. It’s not like I write out a brief for myself or anything, but I always have something I want to say. I guess I desire my work to be communicative. Otherwise, I don’t see the point in investing the time to make it. But, I guess in the end, all of us designers, illustrators, artists, etc. are just one big family. In the end, we all just make stuff. What it is and who it’s for are just the details.

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AC: In the intro I was mentioning that the type of work you do could be considered part of a movement happening right now in the design world. I personally find it interesting that in such a technological age there is a demand for illustrators who make things that look like they came out of the late 1950′s. Any theories on that?

Frank: That’s interesting. Do you have any examples?

AC: Well Fossil is a very popular brand that is based almost entirely off a library of images created in the 50′s for example. House Industries is basically a vintage type house.

Frank: Yeah. I see that.

AC: Graphic designers ‘harvest’ old print work in a way.

Frank: Yeah, they do. They find old clip art and repurpose it.

AC: It’s almost like the 50′s wasn’t quite done with what it was saying

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Frank: You could look at it like that. Or that maybe we’re correcting an over-correction?

So it’s still relevant in a way

AC: That’s an interesting idea.

Frank: I think what we’re finding is that ideas are always relevant. Technology is not.

Technology dates. Ideas have a much longer shelf-life. I think sort of the honeymoon period with technology is over. Or at least I hope it is. We’ve sort of shaken the infatuation with slick, perfect things. I have a real desire to make things that have my hands all over it.

AC: Maybe we weren’t quite ready for the bleakness of modernism.

Frank: Well, I don’t think modernism is bleak. It may be plain and vanilla, but it’s not bleak. I think there’s an optimism with the belief that one true form of communication can be found, but unfortunately that plan sort of fell through. Effective communication happens through conversation, and conversations are more interesting if you have a viewpoint and a tone.

AC: Exactly. You can’t shake off being a human no matter how much you’d like to.

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Frank: Yeah. it’s true. You can give us a computer, but in the end, artists will be artists, and not computer operators.

AC: Do you wear a fedora and smoke filterless cigarettes?

Frank: Never inside.

AC: Like a true gentleman. Thank you.
Ladies and gentlemen, the marvelous Frank Chimero.

Frank: Thanks! It was a pleasure, Ryan.

Frank Chimero is a designer, illustrator and tinkerer from Missouri, USA. Inspired by the mid-century aesthetic, Frank tries to recapture the sense of optimism, playfulness, heart and charm that’s characteristic of the period. He can usually be found surrounded by many tiny slips of paper with fragments of ideas scrawled on them.

Visit his website at http://www.makemakemake.org

Tags: illustrators, interviews

Category: Graphic Design

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Comments (2)

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  1. brent says:

    Nice article. Fossil hasn’t used artwork from 50’s sources for quite a while though. But that still seems to be the perception out there.

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