Seymour Chwast

Seymour Chwast, often called “the left-handed designer,” is an American graphic designer known for his diverse body of work and notable influences on illustration, typeface, and visual culture throughout the last century. Referred to as a “revolutionary of visual culture,” Chwast is most famous for his commercial artwork, which include posters, magazine covers, and publicity art that were often ironic, humorous, or political in nature (Chwast, Scher).

Born in the Bronx, New York City in 1931, an only child to Polish immigrants, Chwast had an early love for drawing, inspired by his admiration for Walt Disney, Sunday cartoons, and serial movies. As he grew older and attended high school, external influences such as the social climate and commercial needs would shift Chwast’s interest towards graphic design, and especially shape his career after college (Andrew 117). Chwast studied illustration and graphic design at The Cooper Union college in New York before graduating and becoming a junior designer in the advertising department of the New York Times (Bloomsbury). Three years after he graduated college, Chwast would serve as a co-founder of Push Pin Studios, a graphic design and illustration studio, in 1954. Push Pin Studios, later changed to Pushpin Group in 1985, revolutionized the graphic design field by rejecting tradition in favor of revived interpretations of historical styles (Victorian, art nouveau, art deco) (About Pushpin). This style is exemplary of Chwast’s work and led to his international acclaim. A few of Chwast’s numerous honors include an American Institute of Graphic Arts medal, induction into the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame, and features in museums worldwide, including the Louvre, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Mazzoleni 78).

The development of Chwast’s work served as a pivotal catalyst for the evolution of American popular and commercial art during the rise of photography and social activism (Andrew 116). Technological advancements rendered realistic illustration and artwork obsolete; demonstrated by the rise of art movements like abstract expressionism and postmodernism. The change in prominent art styles, along with growing social activism, enabled Push Pin to redefine American popular art because of its dominating presence. With designs and illustrations found in posters, packaging, record covers, advertisements, animated films, and corporate graphics, Chwast’s Push Pin style has been so extensive and distinct, it continues to influence contemporary graphic design.

Although Push Pin was at its height in the mid to late twentieth century, Chwast continues to direct Pushpin Group today, driven perhaps by his boundless passion for illustration. In an interview with Melissa Mazzoleni in 2014, titled The Last Word, Chwast describes his career and gives some advice to other designers. He contributes his distinct style to “staying ahead of the mainstream.” Even though he admits to struggling with coming up with new ideas, changing fashion and digital advancements help keep his work innovative and adaptive (Mazzoleni 79). Chwast’s devotion to the field may be attributed to his adamant belief in the need for visual communication. Asserting that he did his most famous poster during the Vietnam War, Chwast argues that the skill to communicate ideas visually, especially for political ends, will always be needed (Bibbens 4).

Works Cited:
“About Pushpin.” Pushpin Gallery, www.pushpininc.com/about/pushpin/.
Andrew. “SEYMOUR CHWAST The Left-Handed Designer.” Visual Visionaries, Carnegie Mellon University, www-design-01.andrew.cmu.edu/sites/default/files/final2.pdf.
Bibbens, Devon. “Seymour Chwast Biography.” DBibbens, Squarespace, www.dbibbens.com/work/brine-k8wel.
Bloomsbury.com. “Seymour Chwast.” Bloomsbury, www.bloomsbury.com/author/seymour-chwast.
Chwast, Seymour, and Paula Scher. Seymour: The Obsessive Images of Seymour Chwast. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2009. Print.
Heller, Steven. Seymour Chwast: Inspiration and Process in Design / Text by Steven Heller., 2020. Print.
Mazzoleni, Melissa. “QUOTING CHWAST.” Print, vol. 68, no. 2, 2014, pp. 78-79. ProQuest, https://proxying.lib.ncsu.edu/index.php/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/trade-journals/quoting-chwast/docview/1523402027/se-2?accountid=12725.