Tag Archives: 1970s

Overspray: L.A. Looks Like You

The 2008 coffee table book Overspray: Riding High with the Kings of L.A. Airbrush Art came to my attention while seeking artwork for my Don’t Make Me Over mix. The book delves head-first into a scene that was a red hot confluence of L.A. style and rock ‘n roll-fueled merchandising, as practiced by four of its biggest proponents. Oddly, however, this labor-intensive art style hasn’t enjoyed a resurgence in the same way that other art and design movements of the period have had.

That’s too bad – at the very least, this stuff is very evocative of the ’70s. I can definitely remember digging it as a teen, even though the part I latched onto came at the very tail end of this movement. My first alluring peek was (don’t laugh) in the overstuffed musical classic Xanadu – recall how the Michael Beck character worked as an artist reproducing album covers at billboard size? The brief scene at his workplace showed all these covers done up in that plastic pop-art style, and to me it seemed like the coolest job ever. I later found more art in that style within the pages of a book called Fame 2, which had me hooked. Up to the late ’80s, I’d still see examples of that hyper-slick artwork within the pages of Rolling Stone, or plastered on the free wall calendars they’d hand out at Tower Records every December.

The artists profiled in Overspray – Dave Willardson, Charles White III, Peter Lloyd, and Peter Palombi – all indulged in that style. As the book plainly demonstrates, however, each one put his own stamp on his work. Willardson’s was the most retro-slick and technically accomplished of all (and my favorite), responsible for iconic pieces such as the Rolling Stone cover that literally interpreted Steely Dan’s name and American Graffitti‘s cheerful carhop. White’s stuff was a lot more funky and hallucinatory, where photo-realistic scenes bump up against Maxfield Parrish-inspired fantasy-scapes. Lloyd brought on the weird with his imaginative, spacey LP covers and kinky illustrations for magazines like Oui. Palombi’s nostalgic, irony-drenched scenes astonished with their playfulness and expertly rendered surfaces. Along with absorbing interviews with all four men, the book reprints big and colorful representative samplings of their work. It also has a rather self-indulgent introductory essay, printed in a hard-to-read peach script font, that sets the scene in a smug way (you can easily skip that part and get the jist in the interviews). In the end, I ended up envying these guys for being in there at such a fantastic, creative time, and also admiring the painstaking technique and work ethic required to master the airbrush.

P.S. I still want that Xanadu guy’s job.

Another nifty thing about Overspray is the dust jacket with different designs printed on both sides which enables the book to have four unique covers, one for each artist profiled. The book can be ordered at Amazon.com here.

Dave Willardson LP art for the Spinners, 1978.

Charles White III illustration for National Lampoon, 1972.

Dave Willardson art for American Graffitti soundtrack LP, 1973.

Charles White II art for the Rolling Stones (1973); Star Wars (1977).

Peter Lloyd illustration for Oui magazine, 1975.

Peter Palombi magazine cover illustration, 1975.

Field Trip to Hades

Recently, our local library held a huge sale of cast-off books, movies and music which filled a space formerly occupied by a Mervyn’s department store. Considering its size, the sale was a bit of a bust – but I did find a few goodies. An oversized booklet published in the ’70s by the U.S. Department of Transportation, geared toward elementary school teachers, was one. Un Viaje al Aeropuerto/A Trip to the Airport jumped out at me because of the strange cover art – psychedelically colored kids gazing at an airplane set against an oppressive, cloudy sky.

Un Viaje al Aeropuerto follows a boy named Carlos as he and his class take a field trip to the airport. About two-thirds of the book consists of wide-format illustrations with simple descriptions in Spanish and English, somewhat clumsily done to fill up the space allotted. The uncredited artwork honestly isn’t very good (much of it looks traced from photos) – but I love the way the artist went nuts with the zip-a-tone patterns and liberally applied spot color in hot red. It’s a trip, man, in ways the artist probably never intended.

The images link to larger-sized versions posted on my flickr account. Dig.

Sears catalog models, welcome aboard.

Aircraft parts never looked so groovy.

Strike a pose on the moving sidewalk.

Gettin’ crazy with the zip-a-tone.

Flickr Friday: Corning Creative Glass Ad, 1972

This advertisement for Corning’s Creative Glass product line appeared in the June 10, 1972 issue of The New Yorker. It certainly has that casual-chic look, like something that Mary Richards would have strewn about in her Minneapolis apartment, dontcha think? I spotted this ad a few years ago on my Complete New Yorker DVD-ROM set, foolishly not taking note of the issue it was in. Since then, I’ve tried to start a collection. The only object I’ve gotten, however, is the double-decker serving piece pictured at left in the ad. These were unmarked (except for a small clear sticker in some cases), and the design is just generic enough to pass for dozens of other glass objects cluttering up thrift store shelves. Apparently Corning made this throughout the ’70s and ’80s, even though it appears that the line was just promoted early on to a more upscale audience. The CG line also included individual glass mugs and those groovy candles that floated in oil or water.

So here it is, the result of spending a couple of hours combing through dozens of early ’70s New Yorkers: Corning Creative Glass!

Stylish, Fashionable, Plastic

More vintage Bell Telephone ephemeral films — this 1979 tape trumpeting the products in their “Design Line” is probably the goofiest of them all. I actually remember these special phone designs being a really big deal at the time (and coveting the Snoopy and Mickey Mouse models!). Bell even had special stores in shopping malls set up to peddle this stuff, although I never personally saw one. The film is nine minutes long, but totally worth it for all the kitschy designs, fashions and set decor. The most puzzling phone would be the one that folds up into a discreet wood-paneled box. Disguising household technology as wooden furniture when not in use seems like a completely bizarre concept to wrap your brain around, and yet that was a huge thing in marketing radio and TV consoles going back to the ’20s. People who bought Bell’s Stowaway model could be secure in knowing that their phone could be mistaken for a Kleenex box when not in use. A very expensive Kleenex box — these specialty models retailed for anywhere from $39.95 (Exeter) to $109.95 (Antique Gold).

This and more at the fascinating AT&T Archives YouTube channel.

Flickr Friday: Snoopy Music Box, 1971

This older Peanuts music box was a recent Goodwill find for $2.99. Honestly, the first time I saw this I thought it was nicely made piece of fan-made handicrafts, but apparently it was a real United Features Syndicate-licensed product. When Snoopy’s tail is pushed down, a bar of “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” plays and Woodstock eating from Snoopy’s bowl emerges from the doghouse’s door. The dog dish contains a slot for coins – yup, it’s a music box and bank in one! Christopher did a good job fixing the music box part.

This must have been among of the earliest Peanuts merchandise to feature Woodstock, who first appeared in 1967 as Snoopy’s bird pal and was given a name in 1970.

“I Ate Him.”

Today’s video is something that I uploaded to my own YouTube channel, the result of downloading and watching about 200 old commercials for Alpha-Bits cereal from the ’60s and ’70s. Alpha-Bits was and still is my favorite cereal. You might think watching a bunch of old ads would be boring, but au contrere mon frere — seeing how Post changed its approach to selling this simple food over a short time was an eye-opener. From ’60s straightforward to animated through psychedelic and health-nut ’70s, the shilling ran the gamut in uneven but entertaining fashion. It gives one the distinct feeling that Post’s ad agency during those years had a revolving door of executives.

Starting around 1969, Post started including extras with each cereal box. This started with bubblegum rock records actually printed on the box back, then moved towards assorted small toys mid-decade. This particular commercial was picked because it has one of my favorites, a plastic mini-terrarium. After emptying the included seed packet onto a tiny sponge, with regular watering a plant would grow (“in about 8 days!”). Groovy.

Post’s website says that they are still making Alpha-Bits, although it’s been years since I’ve seen a box. It was good, not horribly sweet like many other products currently clogging the supermarket cereal aisle.