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Feb 14, 2011

The Doug

I found out about Doug Johnson, when buying a few vinyl records and some cd's from Italians do it Better store. Then I came across Mike Simonetti's music (which is a whole nother post, 'cuase its a whole disco-70s-mix-heaven). The cd grabbed my attention from having no title, it's just the painting. After burning my eyes looking for the artist, finally found it was Doug Johnson in a random blog, which I now don't remember(sorry). So here I leave you with a not-so-brief bio(from here) about the artist, pictures of the cd and a video so you can now start to obsess.

"Doug was born and raised in Toronto and moved to New York in 1968. He had done some fashion illustration as well as working editorially in the Toronto area. When he moved to New York he explained that he was coming from the drawing-based expressive illustration look of Bernie Fuchs and Jimmy Hill, a style that would find its apotheosis in Bob Peak. Hill took Doug under his wing, introducing him to clients and he quickly found work, but eventually tired of his style and wanted to experiment with the look for which he later became famous. In 1970 he took the summer off and developed his painterly approach with two assignments: A Society of Illustrators Call of Entries poster and a series of football diagrams for Sports Illustrated.

Doug, and Charles White III, with whom he a shared a studio (featuring astro turf, patio furniture and a cafe umbrella) in the early 1970s, were instrumental (following after Pushpin) in shifting illustration from being about literal or expressive representation into something more free form and improvisational which was in sync with pop culture, i.e. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Eugene Ionesco and nostalgia. But if Pushpin was design-centric and, to a degree, polite, Doug’s work, like Charlie’s, was image-based, intent on blasting your eyeballs with vivid colors and forms, pushing the medium along so it could compete with other pop media of the time. He seemed to have cracked a way of taking the work of earlier graphic drawers such as Hohlwein and Bernhard and modernizing it. Almost overnight Doug’s new style was a huge success and he was inundated with commissions from Life Magazine, Esquire, Time, advertising accounts and record sleeves.

Doug’s trademark was to slam hard highlights on top of a more traditional and considered image, so it kind of fucked with your head. Usually illustrators that adopted a stronger graphic style weren’t always the best draftsmen, but Doug obviously could draw and paint. Yet he still felt compelled to step on the accelerator and keep throwing all this STUFF on top of a perfectly fine picture until he wound up with these odd hybrid images. Upon initial glance the paintings seem quite traditional, but the longer you study an image, it’s as if you’re in the early stages of a Hollywood dream sequence, where everything starts to wiggle and blur a little bit. This beautiful painting of a tennis player is a perfect example of his peculiar vision. It’s very difficult to ascertain what order it’s been painted in. I was always impressed by what appeared to be a very laissez-faire attitude he had towards plopping a lot of casual brushwork onto a beautifully painted and considered and - basically completed illustration. This marriage of the planned with the improvised was unique to Doug.

Illustration is a fickle beast, and Doug stayed busy into the early 1980s, but the industry changed and it became a hell of a lot less fun. Art directors were disinclined to allow him to come up with his own solutions, and increasingly prescriptive. But Doug had a side gig going that would prove to be his fire escape out of illustration. In 1974 he was hired to create an image for a a theatrical production of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide in Brooklyn. He continued working with this production company throughout the decade, eventually becoming a partner, and then forming Dodger Theatricals, which produced Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, for which Doug designed posters, print advertising, and sets, including Ain’t Misbehavin’, The Big River and Tommy. A funny aside: Early on Doug needed to get some typesetting done for a newspaper ad, and realized he didn’t possess the proper skills to mark up the instructions for the typesetter, so he called on his pal Herb Lubalin for advice. Herb looked at his typewritten text, mumbled a few words and spec’d the type for him. Needless to say Doug’s theatrical phase has been hugely successful and has long since allowed him to sneak away from the illustration work that had become a bore. Some of his last “straight” illustration jobs were a remarkable series of album covers for Judas Priest in the 1980s.

One perk of ruthlessly ransacking an artist’s studio is looking at the originals to see, well, just how tough these guys really were. Doug is tough. His originals are just perfect. No repairs or signs of hesitancy are to be found anywhere. He showed us a color rough done for a project which was painted at quite a small size, then enlarged for the final illustration, the base painting was executed in mixtures of airbrushed and flat brush work, which are then studied for a while before finally finishing off with additional layers of dauby hand painting and spray effects. The guy was no slouch in the work-until-you-drop department.

Doug Johnson interview from norman hathaway on Vimeo.

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