One of the world’s great designers, Milton Glaser, passed away on Friday, June 26, 2020. Glaser was a seminal figure in modern design, highly influential and helping to define American graphic design. In a career that spanned seven decades, he created the memorable poster of Bob Dylan for Columbia Records, co-founded New York magazine, and designed symbols for everything from the ubiquitous I♥NY logo to the AIDS logo for the World Health Organization.
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Glaser created a poster for Olivetti in 1968 that has become a design classic and a favorite among dog lovers. Glaser called it “Mourning Dog (after di Cosimo)” in homage to the 15th-century Renaissance painting by Piero di Cosimo—The Death of Procris, A Satyr Mourning Over a Nymph—which the designer cropped focusing attention on the dog and placing the Italian company’s latest portable typewriter at the feet of the nymph. The technique of combining seemingly disparate visual elements was to become a Glaser trademark. Whether borrowing stylistic motifs from Art Nouveau, Chinese brush drawing or German woodcuts—the designer drew from an endless source of inspiration. “All the things that the doctrine of orthodox modernism seemed to have contempt for—ornamentation, narrative illustration, visual ambiguity—attracted us,” recalled Glaser. “We were excited by the very idea that we could use anything in the visual history of humankind as influence,” the designer added.
In Steven Heller’s book I Heart Design: Remarkable Graphic Design Selected by Designers, Illustrators, and Critics, Glaser remembers the poster’s genesis vividly: “I still find it amazing that Olivetti accepted this design from me …I had lived in Bologna in the early 1950s, and began to work for Olivetti in the early 1960s. No doubt about it: Everyone who lives in Italy for a while gets quite crazy about the country’s art that you see on every corner. When I got the assignment to design a series of posters … I thought it would be quite charming to design each motif as a paraphrase of works from Italian art history. And I particularly loved this painting by di Cosimo, above all because of the sorrowful dog in this magnificent, metaphysical landscape. It reminded me a little of the dog on the RCA Victor logo, listening to its master’s voice.”
Mr. Glaser has been the subject of several books including The Milton Glaser Poster Book (1977), Art Is Work (2000) and Drawing Is Thinking (2008). He also taught for many years at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan while running his own agency Milton Glaser, Inc. He also co-founded and helped run the seminal design group Pushpin Studios in 1950s New York. Perhaps the title of a 2008 biographical documentary film sums up his life’s work most succinctly—“Milton Glaser: To Inform and Delight.”