Chwast, Seymour 1931-
CHWAST, Seymour 1931-
PERSONAL: Born August 18, 1931, in New York, NY; son of Aaron Louis (a file clerk and waiter) and Esther (Newman) Chwast; married Jacqueline Weiner (an artist), 1952 (divorced, 1971); married Paula Scher (a designer), 1973 (divorced, 1979; remarried, 1989); married Barbara Wool, 1980 (divorced, 1982); children: (with Weiner) Eve, Pamela. Education: Cooper Union Art School, diploma, 1957.
CAREER: Graphic artist, designer, illustrator. New York Times, New York, NY, junior designer; worked for Esquire, House and Garden, and Glamour magazines; Push Pin Studios, New York, founding partner, originator and director of studio publication, Push Pin Graphic, 1956-80, studio director, 1975-82; Pushpin, Lubalin, Peckolick, Inc., New York, partner, 1982-86; Pushpin Group, president and director, 1982—. Cooper Union Art School, New York, instructor of design and illustration, 1975-81; Parsons School of Design, visiting lecturer. American Institute of Graphic Arts, vice president and member of board of directors; New York Art Directors Guild, member of board of directors. Exhibitions: Works displayed in group and solo exhibitions in the United States and internationally and included in permanent collections, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, Library of Congress, Smithsonian, and Whitney Museum of American Art.
MEMBER: Alliance Graphique Internationale, Art Directors Club, American Institute of Graphic Artists (former vice president).
AWARDS, HONORS: Best Illustrated Book of the Year, New York Times, 1969, for Sara's Granny and the Groodle, and 1970, for Finding a Poem; American Institute of Graphic Arts selections, 1969, for Still Another Alphabet Book, 1972, for Still Another Children's Book and The Pancake King, and 1973, for The House That Jack Built; Children's Book Showcase selection, 1972, for Rimes de la Mere Oie: Mother Goose Rendered into French; St. Gauden's Medal, Cooper Union, 1972; Hall of Fame, New York Art Directors Club, 1984; Gold Medal, American Institute of Graphic Arts, 1985; Parents' Choice picture book award, 1988, and Jewish Book Council award for illustration, 1989, both for Just Enough Is Plenty: A Hanukkah Tale; Parents' Choice picture book award, 1991, for The Alphabet Parade; Cooper Union Citation for Excellence; honorary Ph.D., Parsons School of Design, 1992; Master Series Award, the School of Visual Arts, 1997.
children's books; self-illustrated
(With Martin Stephen Moskof) Still Another Alphabet Book, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1969.
(With Martin Stephen Moskof) Still Another Number Book, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1971.
Flip Flap Mother Goooooose, Random House (New York, NY), 1972.
Flip-Flap Limerickricks, Random House (New York, NY), 1972.
(With Martin Stephen Moskof) Still Another Children's Book, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1972.
Bushy Bride: Norwegian Fairy Tale, Creative Education (Mankato, MN), 1983.
Tall City, Wide Country: A Book to Read Forward and Backward, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1983.
The Alphabet Parade, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (San Diego, CA), 1991.
Paper Pets: Make Your Own Three Dogs, Two Cats, One Parrot, One Rabbit, One Monkey, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1993.
The Twelve Circus Rings, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (San Diego, CA), 1993.
Mr. Merlin and the Turtle, Greenwillow Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Traffic Jam, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.
Harry, I Need You!, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2002.
Had gadya: One Little Goat: A Passover Song, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2004.
children's books; illustrator
Joan Gill, Sara's Granny and the Groodle, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1969.
Eve Merriam, Finding a Poem, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1970.
Phyllis La Farge, The Pancake King, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1971.
The House That Jack Built, Random House (New York, NY), 1973.
Steven Kroll, Sleepy Ida and Other Nonsense Poems, Pantheon Books (New York, NY), 1977.
Dan Weaver, adaptor, The Little Theater Presents "A Christmas Carol": A Play in Three Acts Adapted from the Story by Charles Dickens, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1986.
Harriet Ziefert, Keeping Daddy Awake on the Way Home from the Beach, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1986.
Harriet Ziefert, My Sister Says Nothing Ever Happens when We Go Sailing, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1986.
Barbara Diamond Goldin, Just Enough Is Plenty: A Hanukkah Tale, Viking Kestrel (New York, NY), 1988.
Harriet Ziefert, Harry's Bath, Bantam Books (New York, NY), 1990.
Deborah Johnston, Mathew Michael's Beastly Day, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (San Diego, CA), 1992.
Out of the Bag: The Paper Bag Players (plays), Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 1996.
Gloria Nagy, The Wizard Who Wanted to Be Santa, Sheer Bliss Communications (Newport, RI), 2000.
Harriet Ziefert, Moonride, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.
Harriet Ziefert, Ode to Humpty Dumpty, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.
Jerry Spinelli, Daddy and Me, Alfred A. Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
Linn, Margot, Harry's Bath, Sterling Publishing (New York, NY), 2005.
(Designer) The Illustrated Cat, compiled by Jean-Claude Suares and edited by William E. Maloney, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1976.
(Designer) Emily Blair Chewning, The Illustrated Flower, Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1977.
(Editor, with Jean-Claude Suares) The Literary Cat, Berkley Windhover (New York, NY), 1977.
(Editor and compiler, with Steven Heller) The Art of New York, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1983.
(Illustrator) Erica Heller and Vicki Levites, 300 Ways to Say No to a Man, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1983.
(With D. J. R. Bruckner and Steven Heller) Art against War: 400 Years of Protest in Art, Abbeville Press (New York, NY), 1984.
(Self-illustrated) The Left-Handed Designer, edited by Steven Heller, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1985.
(Self-illustrated) Happy Birthday Bach, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1985.
(Illustrator, with Alkan Cober and Guy Billout) Everybody's Business: A Fund of Retrievable Ideas for Humanizing Life in the Office, edited by Malcolm Clark and William Houseman, Herman Miller Research, 1985.
(With Donald Barthelme) Sam's Bar, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1987.
(Compiler and editor, with Barbara Cohen and Steven Heller) New York Observed: Artists and Writers Look at the City, 1650 to the Present, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1987.
(Illustrator) Steven Heller, Design Career: A Handbook for Illustrators and Graphic Designers, Van Nostrand Reinhold (New York, NY), 1987.
(Illustrator) Visions of Peace, edited by Vito Perrone, North Dakota Quarterly Press, 1988.
(With Steven Heller) Graphic Style: From Victorian to Post-Modern, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1988, new edition published as Graphic Style: From Victorian to Digital,, 2000.
(With Barbara Cohen and Steven Heller) Trylon and Perisphere: The 1939 New York World's Fair, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1989.
(Editor, with Steven Heller) Sourcebook of Visual Ideas, Van Nostrand Reinhold (New York, NY), 1989.
(With Vicki Gold Levi and Steven Heller) You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby: Baby Pictures of the Stars, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1992.
(Self-illustrated) Bra Fashions by Stephanie, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1994.
(With Steven Heller) Jackets Required: An Illustrated History of the American Book Jacket, 1920-1950, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1995.
(With James Fraser and Steven Heller) Japanese Modern: Graphic Design between the Wars, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 1996.
(Illustrator) D. K. Holland, Illustration America: 25 Outstanding Portfolios, Rockport Publishers (Gloucester, MA), 1996.
(Editor, with Steven Heller and Martin Venezky) The Push Pin Graphic: A Quarter Century of Innovative Design and Illustration, Chronicle Books (San Francisco, CA), 2004.
Author of The Book of Battles, privately published, 1957; designer of Connoisseur Book of the Cigar, 1967. Contributor to the Pushpin publication, The Nose. Also creator of illustrations, posters, typographic designs, and animated commercials for print and television advertising, book jackets, record albums, packages, brochures, and magazines, and art for theatrical productions.
ADAPTATIONS: The Twelve Circus Rings was adapted as a CD-ROM in 1996.
SIDELIGHTS: Seymour Chwast is considered among the most influential American commercial artists of the twentieth century. His works are held in major U.S. museums, and he is known for his innovations in graphic design around the world. Since the mid-1950s he has expressed his political perspective in cartoons rendered in pen and ink, on posters designed with woodcuts, and, more recently, in steel sculptures. As Chwast explained to Steven Heller in Innovators of American Illustration, he is a "nonconformist" who recognizes that "art has to establish its own order and authority while attacking the existing one." Chwast added, "Therefore I try to use my assignments as platforms for whatever I have to say." Chwast's contribution has not been limited, however, to adult audiences. He is the author or illustrator of many books for children, some of which feature his unmistakable cartoon style.
Chwast lived part of his childhood on Coney Island, where he spent a great deal of time drawing. When he entered high school in New York, NY, his talent for art was apparent, and he was encouraged by his art teacher. Chwast later attended Cooper Union Art School, where he studied printmaking, woodcut techniques, and typography. Upon graduating from that institution, Chwast teamed up with other Cooper Union-trained artists to publish The Push Pin Almanac. Chwast, Milton Glaser, and Edward Sorel formed the Push Pin Studios in 1954.
The Push Pin group, in some organizational form or another, challenged traditional, sentimental illustration and graphic design for decades, earning its members admiration and respect. They also renewed styles popular in years past. Chwast explained to Heller, "I found that around 1950, designers had come to the end of a period of evolving style. We came to that point because extensive publishing allowed us to observe and digest everything that had been done before. We started borrowing from the past, and that seemed to progress chronologically." Some of the styles that Chwast and his partners have worked in include Victoriana, art nouveau, and art deco.
In addition to his work with the group, Chwast has taken on a number of other projects over the years. He told Heller, "I'm always working on half a dozen things simultaneously. While I'm working on drawings, I might be conceptualizing and designing with other members of my studio." Chwast created his first children's books with Martin Stephen Moskof in the late 1960s. Their first collaboration, the 1969 work Still Another Alphabet Book, was praised by critics for its originality, colorful pictures with hidden words, and gaiety. The illustrations in the volume, according to Zena Sutherland of the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, are "a graphic triumph over tedium." A Publishers Weekly critic wrote that the book was "to be looked at with the greatest happiness." Similarly, Still Another Number Book, published in 1971, was described as "absolutely glorious" by a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Sutherland called it an "imaginative introduction to numbers."
In the early 1980s, Chwast created Tall City, Wide Country: A Book to Read Forward and Backward. This book has what Ann A. Flowers of Horn Book described as an "ingenious format." Double-page, horizontal illustrations present country life, and vertical illustrations (which require the reader to turn the book ninety degrees) capture city life. "Chwast's bright, wobbly cartoons are still droll," wrote a Kirkus Reviews critic. The Alphabet Parade, published in 1991, showcases marchers and floats representing every letter of the alphabet in sequence. The people watching the parade also contribute to the fun. The book was lauded as "cheerfully inventive" by a Kirkus Reviews critic. Joanne Oppenheim, writing in the New York Times Book Review, similarly praised the book as "truly playful."
Chwast's 1993 picture book, The Twelve Circus Rings, gives the familiar verses of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" a new twist. On double-page, light-blue colored spreads, circus clowns and monkeys, jugglers, elephants, and horseback riders present themselves in a variety of permutations. A Publishers Weekly critic applauded the "cumulative counting book," particularly its "glossy, simply outlined figures" that help children identify mathematical patterns. Deborah Abbott of Booklist praised the overall work as "an entertaining package."
After more than forty years as a designer and illustrator, Chwast continued to please adults and children alike with his graphic style. Mr. Merlin and the Turtle, a 1996 book, was written and illustrated by Chwast in pen, ink, and color film. The result, in the words of a Publishers Weekly critic, is a "clever lift-the-flap volume." The story concerns Mr. Merlin, who becomes bored with his pet turtle and decides to turn him into a bird. Mr. Merlin finds fault with the bird, however, and soon changes it into a monkey. The transformations continue through a camel and elephant before Mr. Merlin realizes that his old turtle wasn't so bad after all. Readers participate in the story by using various flaps to transform the turtle into the different animals. A Kirkus Reviews contributor commented favorably on the story's illustrations, stating that, like comic strips, they remain "perfectly balanced between telling a story and telling a joke."
Traffic Jam is a fold-out book that depicts the traffic jam caused when a wayward kitten is rescued from a manhole, then carried home by its mother, and the reactions of everyone who is temporarily stuck because of the delay. A Publishers Weekly contributor observed that Chwast "exhibits an ear for dialogue and a sense of humor." Another picture book for children is Harry, I Need You!, about a boy who hides under his covers when his mother calls him down for breakfast. When she yells up that she needs him, Harry imagines all kinds of far-fetched scenarios, but he doesn't learn the real reason his mother has called him—new kittens—until he finally comes downstairs. School Library Journal's Marlene Gawron noted that none of the new technology, e.g., computers and microwaves, can be seen in the story and said that "the stylish artwork and the setting provide a 1940s ambience."
In 2003 Chwast was interviewed by Neil Churcher for Design Week. Churcher wrote that Chwast "is to New York what illustrator Norman Rockwell is to the American Midwest. The antithesis of Rockwell's sentimentalism, Chwast's mixture of eclectic styles hangs together on the strength of a good idea, always delivered with a dose of wit and irony."
Churcher traced Chwast's career, back to his 1970 exhibition at the Louvre in Paris, but called the artist "understated, even coy about past successes." Churcher noted Chwast's preoccupation with Sigmund Freud, Art Deco, upside-down heads, and cars. Chwast told Churcher, "I like cars. Whenever I can, I do a job with cars. What's interesting is what cars represent to people: power or the lack of it." Churcher wrote that during the 1950s and 1960s, "Chwast's visual style helped place New York's contemporary design scene on the map and define a visual tableau for the times." Chwast's most recent project, The Nose, is a publication that, according to the Pushpin Web site, is "designed to draw attention to relevant social issues as well as trivial ones."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Chwast, Seymour, The Left-Handed Designer, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 1985.
Heller, Steven, editor, Innovators of American Illustration, Van Nostrand Reinhold (New York, NY), 1986.
Naylor, Colin, editor, Contemporary Designers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1990.
Siegel, RitaSue, American Graphic Designers, McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1984.
Booklist, March 15, 1993, p. 1352; June 1, 1995, p. 1715.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, July, 1970, pp. 173-174; September, 1971, p. 2.
Design Week, December 18, 2003, Neil Churcher, "Point Man" (interview), p. 14.
Esquire, June, 1987, p. 42.
Horn Book, August, 1983, p. 429; November-December, 1988, p. 763.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1983, p. 617; August 15, 1991, p. 1096; June 15, 1996, p. 896.
New York Times Book Review, November 10, 1991, p. 32.
Publishers Weekly, August 25, 1969, p. 284; July 15, 1971, p. 50; September 20, 1985; March 1, 1993, p. 56; June 24, 1996, p. 60; October 18, 1999, review of Traffic Jam, p. 81.
School Library Journal, January, 1993, p. 80; April, 1993, p. 94; October, 1996, p. 85; September, 2002, Marlene Gawron, review of Harry, I Need You!, p. 182.
Pushpin Group Online, http://www.pushpininc.com/ (May 8, 2004).*