In order to enjoy the artwork, we visit exhibitions and concerts, we go to theaters and museums, we read, we travel to the far corners of the world to enjoy art, but everyday we have a chance to hold in our hands certain artworks, and we don’t even realize it. Of course, these art forms are the magazine covers. But can we look at covers as an art form?
Vintage cover art forms
Many greats of graphic and painting art have worked in magazines. The art on the cover is most evident in the period from the late 19th century till the beginning of the Second World War, from the period of Art Nouveau through Art Deco to Bauhaus. Almost every cover page of that era was a visual spectacle. Just take a look at and admire the covers of Vogue and Vanity Fair, made by great Mehmed Fehmy Agha!
Some of those artists are well-known, like Jean Cocteau who was play writer and filmmaker, then Theodor Geisel who worked under pseudonym Dr. Seuss, but there are other graphic artists from that time that are not so famous to general public like R.M. Crosby, Dugald Walker, M. Janco, Frank X. Leyendreck (better know for his works in advertising), Eduardo Garcia Benito, Walter Maya, John Held Jr., George Lepape (art deco illustrator) and many others.
Many of them were painters but most of them were illustrators and this period is called Golden age of illustration (1880-1920). In this period the distinction between commercial and fine art was blurred since magazines provided lucrative markets for illustrators. There is a rumor from this time that above mentioned illustrator John Held Jr. received blank cheques for his original drawings. His images of freewheeling spirit of the Jazz age adorned the covers of Life, College Humor, The New Yorker, Cosmopolitan and other national magazines.
One other notable illustrator and cartoonist from this age is Ralph Burton, who also epitomized the energetic spirit of the 20’s. He used to earn $1.500 per illustration which was a lot in that time. His flamboyant life unfortunately led him to depression that resulted in suicide in 1931.
Period just before the WWII marked the beginning of the end of illustration on magazine covers because of the growing popularity of the photography that soon started to replace illustrations as the main method of the creative expression.
At the same time in my country, famous designer Otto Antonioni was designing hugely popular magazine at that time, called Svijet (The World). His covers were paintings displayed on newsstands instead in art galleries. I was lucky enough to get a hold of several original magazines from that era.
I don’t need to tell you that I framed all of them and they are gracing my home walls. Side by side with Alexey Brodovitch’s Harper’s Bazaar covers and Henry Wolf’s legendary Esquire cover “Americanization of Paris”, which bring us to the post WWII era and the beginning of the so-called creative revolution.
In this period graphic art started to be considered equal to other art forms. Many notable graphic designers like Alexander Brodovitch, Henry Wolf, George Lois, Alexander Liberman, Leo Lionni, Steven Heller and others can be thanked for this.
All of them deserve to be presented in separate articles, and we will do that for sure, but we have to include few of them in this one also.
Alexander Liberman is in my opinion one of the best art directors of all time. In 1943 he became art director of Vogue after Dr. Agha stepped down. Liberman brought fine art to the pages of Vogue and his design is recognizable by cleaver usage of white space which is combined with great photography. This is no surprise since Liberman was painter and sculptor with a passion for photography.
Another artist that stud out, particularly because of his extensive usage of typography is Herb Lubalin. Especially for his work in Eros, Fact and well know Avantgarde magazine. The quality of the production and absence of advertising made these magazines look more like a books than magazines. Lubalin’s elegant minimalist palette consisting of dynamic typography was balanced by high quality illustrations and photography.
Probably the most famous graphic designer of this era is George Lois. In the 1960’s he designed 92 covers for Esquire magazine. His covers were provocative statements of political and cultural issues of that era. Great example is Muhammad Ali cover where George Lois tied together Vietnam, race and religion, or above pictured cover picturing four icons of rebellious youth of the 60’s, Bob Dylan, Malcom X, Fidel Castro and John F. Kennedy.
Modern time cover art
Admit it or don’t, but these are real works of art, applied art. Age of art on the front pages of the magazine does not stop in the mid of the twentieth century. Although today’s cover pages are far away from art, because art was replaced with sales figures and marketing – in other words money, but still there are occasional art directors and designers who push the boundaries of visual culture.
Among others, Neville Brody, who in the mid-eighties perfectly joined typography and images to produce stunning covers, Terry Jones, who formed a famous magazine iD, Vince Frost, known for his work in the magazine Independent on Thursday and Zembla, phenomenal Fernando Gutierrez and his legendary magazine Colors, Fabien Baron, art director who worked for Interview, Bazaar, Arena Homme Plus and French Vogue, where he combined typography and photography in an exceptional way which is best seen in Italian Vogue where his changes and interventions to the graphic postulates had a strong impact on improving sales figures.
Probably the most artistic magazine of modern era is Ray Gun, american alternative rock and roll magazine designed by David Carson. Ray Gun was exceptional because of its experimental approach to typography and magazine design. Sometimes chaotic, sometimes abstract, not always readable but distinctive in its appearance.
These are just some of the names that have shaped some of the most beautiful covers in the history of publishing. Art or not? Many will say that the price of the artwork is greater than the cost of the magazine, but, nevertheless, the art is a broad term, so people who try to do something different in an unusual creative way and deliver it to the readers deserve to be called artists.
Because art is changing with time, and so is the view at art. Working methods and tools are different, but the goal stays the same – determination to deliver visual treat for the readers.
Some more contemporary covers from less known artists that deserve to be included: