Creative: Icons – Visual Impact

Four more creative titans were inducted into the Art Directors Hall of Fame this month, joining Bill Bernbach, Lee Clow, Helmut Krone and Andy Warhol, to name just a few. Honored for excellence and innovation, their talents aren’t limited by specific disciplines– advertising, illustration, education and photography. Instead, they help define our visual world. The award celebrates a life’s work, and the promise of more to come. By Mallorre Dill
Stan Richards
In 1953, on his way to Los Angeles to start his ad career, Stan Richards stopped off in Dallas. A top ad man in town was impressed by his portfolio, but said he’d have a hard time getting a job; his work was too advanced for the Dallas market. “He said if I was willing to stick it out, I could be a force in the community,” says Richards, who took those words to heart.
Richards began his career as a freelancer. At 22, he took a creative director’s job at what is now Publicis, Dallas, only to return to freelancing so he could work on projects he liked.
By 1975, when he founded The Richards Group, he knew what he liked–and hated–about the agency world. His goal? Fostering an environment of respect that would keep creatives as long as possible. “If you don’t, headhunters control your firm,” he says. An early advocate of offices without doors or cubicles, he encourages collaboration among creatives and account managers.
In fact, The Richards Group extends its unorthodox ways to its clients. The agency and client agree on a profit target. If the shop comes in under budget, it asks the client to reduce the workload or increase compensation. Conversely, if the agency exceeds the target, it returns money. “Just two weeks ago, we gave back $385,000,” he says.
To Richards, creating an agency–still a work in progress–is his most significant achievement. ———————————
R.O. Blechman
R.O. Blechman says his distinct, wavy-lined style reflects his own insecurities. Another interpretation might be that it represents how he’s pulled by his eclectic interests.
“I love graphics, writing, cartooning, illustration,” he says. “I don’t have the persistence to continue with something. It’s just the way I’m made.”
You’d never suspect either assessment, judging from his body of work: covers for The New Yorker, animated ads for Alka-Seltzer and cartoons for various magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire and Theater Arts. His greatest source of pride, however, is L’Histoire du
Soldat, an hourlong animated film.
Ink Tank, the famed New York animation studio he founded in the early ’70s, has created commercials for clients such as Barney’s, Perrier, Hershey’s and MTV.
As for the blockbuster animated features produced in Hollywood, the soft-spoken, 69-year-old doesn’t hide his disdain. “I see groundbreaking live action. Why the hell it’s not happening in animation shows the poverty of Hollywood.”
Blechman can point to artists in the serial print form who should be on the screen, but he won’t name names. “I have a fantasy, despite my advanced age, that one of these days I’m going to have a studio that can produce features. Nobody’s going to do them if I can’t.”
Despite his achievements, Blechman admits to some regrets. He declined to be Rolling Stone’s political cartoonist, despite the fact that such cartoons were his first love. “It might have been a mistake,” he muses, though his work occasionally appears on The New York Times
op-ed page.
For now, he’s writing a novel. “I think it’s well-written, but I don’t know that the story is rich enough to carry it along. I hope it is,” he says.
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Richard Wilde
Richard Wilde has been, among other things, a creative director, graphic designer and writer. But his role as a teacher is the one he is most passionate about. It also earned him the Hall of Fame Educator’s Award.
Wilde heads the advertising and graphic design department at New York’s School of Visual Arts, where he has taught since 1965. And like all SVA professors, he maintains a job in “the real world”: senior vice president at Ryan Drossman Marc in New York.
As a professor, Wilde’s priority is to teach students to think creatively. One assignment is to visually represent the sound of a car crash. “There are no clichƒd answers. They have to play with form and color, and they come up with some amazing things. It’s empowering,” he says.
Wilde explains his teaching philosophy–which involves questioning everything and playing until solutions present themselves–in two books, Problems: Solutions and Visual Literacy.
A Brooklyn native, Wilde is respected for recruiting top professionals into SVA’s ranks. But he admits he wishes some of them would be more sympathetic. “I remember when they were students. Now they’re all big shots, and they don’t give anybody a break,” he says.
Wilde is kind rather than indulgent. Students in his program have to sink or swim from day one, when they are expected to produce their first great idea.
At Ryan Drossman, Wilde is busy with the agency’s recent expansion into Web site design, graphic design and marketing, as well as advertising. “I’m getting so much work in graphic design, it’s making me nervous, a healthy nervous,” he adds.
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Annie Leibovitz
Her timeless portraits, appearing on magazine covers, in books and advertisements, have chronicled three decades of pop culture. Even if people don’t recognize Annie Leibovitz’s face, they know her work: memorable shots of a naked John Lennon wrapped around Yoko Ono, and Whoopi Goldberg soaking in a luxurious milk bath.
Leibovitz launched her career shooting ’70s rockers at Rolling Stone, where she became photographer to the stars. Through a continuing association with Vanity Fair, which began in the ’80s, she’s produced covers and photo spreads, including the controversial shot of a naked and pregnant Demi Moore. Over the years, she has photographed presidents, Olympic athletes and performers of every stripe.
Leibovitz’s talent has also fed the advertising world. Her portraits formed the centerpiece of the classic “Membership has its privileges” campaign for American Express. She has captured Christie Brinkley, Naomi Campbell and others wearing milk mustaches. And she focused her lens on celebrity endorsers, such as Bebe Neuwirth and Reba McEntire for Anne Klein apparel and Robert Mitchum for Glad trash bags.
At times, Leibovitz breaks away from the glitterati to pursue her own projects. She traveled to Sarajevo to photograph victims of war and recently compiled Women, a book of portraits that features stylistically varied shots of coal miners, nuns and judges. Yet ever Leibovitz, she tossed a few celebs into the mix.