California & Graphic Design

This morning I listened to an interview that posed the question ‘If Los Angeles was a piece of art, what would it be?’ and one of the responses was ‘It’s something Jeff Koons… shiny and polished, but coming from a really weird place.’


Straight after that—in my pre-coffee morning stumbling—I came across Earthquakes, Mudslides, Fires and Riots: California and Graphic Design 1936-1986 and I have to say, the internet has never provided me with such a seamless transition from one online tidbit to another. Released this month by Thames & Hudson, it charts the graphic design history of the golden state from the Modernist age, through Haight-Ashbury’s neon-tinted psychedelia all the way to the power decade that was the 1980s. It’s a shiny, beautiful visual treat that comes from a weird, weird place. The press release summarises it far more eloquently that I can: ‘California is legendary as a fertile ground for creativity, freedom, and social consciousness, where the status quo undergoes constant renovation. This book is the first to capture the enormous body of distinctive and visually ecstatic graphic design that emanated from this great state throughout most of the twentieth century’.

There are posters from Disneyland and Herman Miller, the title sequences from Taxi Driver and stills from an impressively trippy 7UP commercial circa 1975, architectural graphics from Alexander Girard and, of course, the iconic Endless Summer poster that defined a generation of surf films. The end result is a book that captures that strange ‘ecstatic’ persona and lush, sun-warped style that permeates the California landscape and its inhabitants. I suddenly realised after losing an hour looking through the archival depths of Californian design—you don’t need to imagine what California would be if it was a work of art, it’s been pretty busy successfully being one for a while now.

Earthquakes, Mudslides, Fires and Riots: California and Graphic Design 1936-1986 is designed and edited by Louise Sandhaus who heads up the Graphic Design Program at California Institute of the Arts and runs her own studio LSD (Louise Sandhaus Design). It is published by Thames & Hudson and will be available at all the usual places you go for really good books.


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