Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Image Is Everything • Part 1

original jetski logo circa 1974

jetski in my mind - fred eagle at home in 1986

As a kid growing up in the middle-class suburbs of San Francisco in the 70's and 80's, creativity and originality seemed to greet me at every street corner, whether it be by punny advertisements at the local shops, clever bumper stickers on tricked out Volkswagen bugs and BMX bikes, or even via the cutting edge gardening techniques performed by Mrs.Whatsername and her legion of topiary-obsessed housewives. I found that every little thing in my young world had it's own style and substance and rhythm, from the slimy iridescent tracks left behind by a snail commuting across my driveway, to the manufacturing seam left behind on the arms and legs of my plastic Star Wars figures. My eyes were always wide open to receive these nuances, and for better or worse many of the corporate logos, advertising, fashion, and decorative elements of the period have been permanently wedged into my subconscious. I learned the value of stylish imagery at a very young age and my love for popular culture and design only gets stronger as the years continue.

I am the youngest of four siblings, my mom was a former TWA stewardess, an incredible woman who seemed to be able to do anything with her hands especially with fabric and textiles. She achieved her success as a teddybear designer and dollmaker, professional seamstress and decorator. She also moonlighted as a ravenous antique hound, though ravenous not by todays 'hoarder' standards, her acquisitions were without obsession and specialization nor greed, her collections were driven by human stories and emotions and love. My mom and I have clocked countless hours together both as vendor and consumer, often assuming the roles of antique host and parasite on the same weekend.
My father was also a designer and draftsman and managed his own plastic factory which specialized in vacuum-formed components for the leading electronics and computer manufacturers of the era. I spent many days at Dad's shop, a transformed quonset hut populated with a handful of employees controlling the latest milling and finishing equipment of the time. Dad would often fashion 'toys' for me out of plastic scraps, and one of my fondest rainy-day memories was dad holding and steering my hands at the upright sander, together customizing medical tongue depressors into 'boats' by sanding them into aerodynamic shapes and embellishing them with logos by drawing on them with various colored Sharpies. We'd then race them down the curbside gutter, our vessels propelled only by the runoff of the rainwater, cheering on our little guys en route to the gutter opening at the sidewalks edge (aka: the finish line)
My parents both had an eye for originality and distinction, each one exclusive in their opinions, and their wide eyes were only succeeded by their passion for creation and designing. I can't thank them enough for instilling in me a rabid sense of style, foremost in the way that they taught me how to appreciate art outside of the normal forums where one would recognize artistic talent. It wasn't in the staunch environment of art galleries and exhibits where I would see these great works, rather supermarkets, garage sales, thrift stores, classrooms, and in the odd decorative living room arrangements executed by the bohemian contemporaries of my folks. Because of this extensive informal training, I appreciate and dissect commonplace items and find artistic value in everyday visuals. Sometimes to a fault. It can be a little tedious or inappropriate seeing as I am unable to turn it off, but I guess I wouldn't enjoy life half as much if things were processed differently in my mind.

In 1977 my family purchased a vacation house in the California Delta which is a series of sloughs and rivers that cut and snake through miles of farmland to connect the SF Bay with Lake Tahoe. The Delta scene at this time was such an electric environment to grow up in, the height of the jet-ski hot-boat hobie-cat windsurf waterskier feathered hair leisure-activity boom. The graphics were loud and sexy and fantastic and they were everywhere. My radar was on constant alert and some of my earliest design appreciation memories took place in this waterworld, where I'd find the coolest examples of icons and logos on boats and in harbors and marinas and back-alley bait stores.
Around the age of 14, it became evident to me that my outside style inspirations were sharing similar elements, primarily 'shocking', 'fresh', 'fast', 'slick', 'minimal', 'sarcastic' and with a space age nod to pop history and nostalgia. This was in 1983 at the height of the UK New Wave music movement which I embraced thanks to the guidance of my older brother who was the creative director for a successful ad agency at the time. The New Wave cool-factor was only overshadowed by my affinity for old magazines, vintage clothing, atomic age memorabilia, and an understandable appreciation for the more gritty local punk scene simultaneously exploding in SF and Southern California. I was captivated by the different methods that bands would utilize to market their anger and their politics and brand their sexuality (or lack thereof) ...

The Residents - Eskimo - 1978
By the age of 16, I had arrived at what I felt was my mod/punk calling, striking a personal harmony with otherwise conflicting genres. This included coordinating transportation and I'd feel a sense of empowerment alternating between driving my flawless blue and silver 1978 Vespa or cruising on my thrashed pink Rob Roskopp skateboard. One day wearing a 3 button suit, crisp Fred Perry and Weejuns, and the next day sporting a plaid flannel, crumpled baseball cap and Vans.
This hybrid would continue in the years to follow, though I would often deviate to specialize, fixating on the finer qualities of each subculture and honing my appearance accordingly. I'd bounce between being super authentic mod or super militant punk, or both at once, and obsessively buy the records and the gear to complete the picture. It was a wonderful time of personal discovery, and actively searching for historical knowledge of vibrant yet fading subcultures in a time where one didn't have access to detailed information like we do today was always a challenge.

That said, thanks to these current modern technologies and generous kindred spirits uploading images and memoirs online, I am able to revisit these influential childhood representations of individuality without much of an effort. Seeing as info and statistics run deep, wide and thorough on the internet, I often learn considerably more about my favorites than I was aware of.

So without any further fanfare or posturing, I'd like to share with you a handful of the meaningful imagery old and new which captured my attention during these years. This will be a work-in-progress, to get to the heart of the matter will require some quality time with my collection and the scanner, but here are a few to begin with. Stay tuned, I will be adding more pics soon as they present themselves.

Image is indeed everything, but when backed with substance and intelligence, we find the ideal strategic recipe of: Everything and More

Hathaway Man advertisement - 1951

The Specials first album - 1978

France Gall - 1965

Adler Socks advertisement - 1962

Atari advertisement - 1982

The B52's first album - 1979

Charles Eames and Ray Eames - 1959

Braniff advertisement - 1966

Kraftwerk promotional ad for 'Das Modell' - 1978 

Pirelli advertisement - 1959

Yves Saint Laurent mondrian dress - 1965

The Teen Idles - Minor Disturbance - 1980

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