by Art Chantry (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I’m fascinated by how often advertising and design folks end up turning to crackpot extremist religions later in life. why is that? it seems to be a larger percentage than you’d expect. the beliefs they turn to are definitely edgier than average as well. does it have something to do with brain chemistry? like does artist=crazy?
Well, actually, yeah it does. no surprise really. recent studies have made definite links between brain chemistry (and even brain regions) that are linked to creativity are also the same chemistry and regions of the brain associated with obsessive/compulsive disorders (like OCD, addiction, depression, mania, etc.) so, the concept of the “crazy artist” is no stretch. it’s actually real. creativity may be a sort of ‘mental illness’. go figger, eh?
So the observation that religious obsession often captures the minds of ad/design folks is not so strange. jack chick (who does those wonderful litle religious flyers/comics like “bad bob”) is a wonderful example. he used to do zombie cannibal comics for the EC comic books (tales from the crypt, the vault of horror, etc.) it seems lots of those EC cartoonists made that jump to FAITH (capitals theirs). johnny craig (often called the greatest zombie cartoonist ever) made the transition. so did joe orlando and reed crandall. some sort of pennence for their moral crimes against america’s youth? they did help rot a lot of young brains forever, ya know.
Of course, it’s not always ‘religion’ that grabs artists into conversion. philip k. dick’s religious transfer was more of a flying saucer abduction story than a true religious vision. steve ditko became a extreme paranoid right wing politico conspiracy theorist – to the point of dropping out of sight and becoming a hidden hermit.
There was a local advertising guy up here in seattle. he was extremely successful, ran one of the most successful marketing firms in town for a long time. suddenly he popped up on local access cable TV as “the reverend bruce”. his technique (actually ‘gimmick’) was to stare full face into the camera lens. he get right up there, so his face filled the entire home viewer’s tv screen. a big angry FACE right there in the room with you. then he’d start to scream FULL VOLUME right into your face about hellfire and damnation. it was crazy. we used to get high and watch him and laugh. but after a while we had to turn him off because it was way too intense and disturbing for any duration.
Aleister crowley was a wonderful book designer. l. ron hubbard (a disciple of crowley’s) was a pretty successful sci-fi writer. basil wolverton was a pentecostal minister. i could go on and on. but, the correlation is definitely there.
Which brings me to my favorite: Dick Sutphen. he began his adult career as a classic ad man in the midwest somewhere (i believe. i seem to associate him with minneapolis, but i’m not sure.) early photos of him from this period show a smirking self-confident sleazoid ad dude – a charicature from the early 60′s like you see on ‘mad men’. you can almost hear the cocktail chatter and crude come-ons just looking at his photo.
Somehow he tripped across a collection of (apparently) old Century magazines and Police Gazette tabloids. in the early 60′s there was a fad of lifting old ‘victorian’ etchings and using them as clip art. we still do it today, but in the early 60′s it was everywhere, often with word balloons added sporting slightly off color dialog. it was good clean fun (cheap, too.)
Dick sutphen saw dollar signs and started to clip out the copyright free images and started printing his own clip art books of the stuff he found. the books became ubiquitous and co
be found cut to pieces in every design/advertising agency in america. he published maybe 10 individual volumes (along with a couple of three-ring binder style collections of his own derivative period cartoon images as clip and a collection of ‘borders’ to clip and paste.) these books can still be found, but they have become rare. like most clip art books. they all got cut up and then tossed out.
The thing about these books that fascinate me is that dick couldn’t resist making smarmy little jokes with the images. he’d combine a couple or perhaps add little drawn-in images to alter many of the pictures in the book, turning them into off-color humor and often gross asides. it’s like he couldn’t restrain himself. he had to make this clip reflect his ‘mad man’ personality or something. i also made the altered clip of no use to the end-user. he basically ruined them. so weird.
As the books continued to be released over the years they were in publication, the “author bio/photo ‘ on the back flap changed as well. gone was the smarmy smirking mad man and instead was a long-haired bearded guy with a ten-gallon hat. huh? still dick, but he seems to have been rather powerfully affected by the new hipster culture sweeping the nation in the late sixties. he became a hippie!
On a lower key, during this period, he purchased and moved to a ranch (he called it “the rainbow ranch”) and began publishing small books of erotic poetry (eesh!) that he peppered with images of himself romancing young hippie chicks and peppering it with many of the same “altered” clip art images that he made in his clip art books. some of them seemed pretty raunchy and tasteless in situ, but it was the hippie daze, ya know? it was “his thing, baby!”
Eventually the rainbow ranch began to take on a more “communal’ atmosphere. dick began to use his advertising powers of persuasion to build a following of (i assume ) free love and self-hypnosis. “just believe, baby! do your own thing. i’m ok, you’re ok!” etc.
He began to publish self-help books and self-hypnosis books and tapes (primarily things like ‘how to use self-hypnosis to stop smoking’ (in sixty daze???) and other titles of that nature. it became yet another small business empire. but, it was one of authority and control. then he began to channel.
I haven’t bothered to read his later stuff. but dick sutphen became one of the primary guru/founders/channelers of the movement later christened “new age”. go to any ‘new age’ section in any book store in america and chances are you’ll find a book or two or three written about the ‘new age’ by dick sutphen. the rainbow ranch has become a spiritual destination and a place of worship for many. he is one of the real biggies in that scene.
and, oh yes, he still sells those “how to quit smoking” and “how to lose weight” tapes. it’s a good business.
AC:crowley seems to have been a real renaissance man (and a product of his times. he was a peripheral member of the crafts movement, basically). his paintings adorned his places of worship. he created the costumes they wore in ceremony. he designed the symbols and the symbology (he even took credit for giving the “V” for ‘victory’ sign to winston churchill at his bequest. it’s actually an ancient hand sign for fertility and pro-creation.) and he designed the books he published.
his typography, though philosophically based on ancient forms, is strikingly modern. he actually won some design award. i have a books somewhere around here that is an ancient book design show catalog and one of his pieces wins a certificate of merit(!) it’s extremely sophisticated typography – especially for the era in which he worked. so, go figger, eh? aleistar crowley – typographer!…rick griffin also became a rabid born-again xtian later in life. but, then you knew that, right?