How Steinweiss spoiled the dust cover...
I was reminded recently of a couple more reasons why design shows no signs of leaving my blood stream any time in the near future: in the midst of several other records in a Lincoln, NE thrift store I found at least one, and likely two album covers created by Alex Steinweiss and picked them both up for the outrageous price of 75 cents a piece…
I love design because we have the opportunity absolutely every day to obtain a piece of “original” work by practically any of the major names / figures / all-stars in our field - and even if you want to by-pass the consumerist participation in this artform, we at least have the opportunity to experience and enjoy great design work in the “galleries” of any number of stores and locations.
I also treasure design because it transforms elements of our everyday life into fantastic intellectual and aesthetic experiences - I flipped through easily 50 or 60 records just to see what was in the bin and was still stopped in my tracks by Steinweiss’s work, not least of which by how much his style / aesthetic seems to resonate deeply in many contemporary designer’s work.
I’m a compulsive fan of the poster work being produced by Michael Byzewski and Dan Ibarra from Aesthetic Apparatus, by Jason Kernevich and Dustin Summers from The Heads of State, and by Jeff Kleinsmith and Jesse LeDoux from Patent Pending Industries. Each of these teams has, at one point or another, easily produced work that harkens greatly back to Steinweiss’s approach to line drawing, integration of illustration and photography, whimsical and playful typographic usage, and even nabs a bit or two of his sense of color from time to time.
It’s an indication of the organic nature of design trends that a revisitation of more whimsical modernist design has followed fast on the heels of the deconstructivist and post-modernist movements of the 80’s and 90’s - grunge has both given way to a more formalist take on imagery and married into it in many instances. These designers seem to have only rediscovered what Steinweiss and several of his contemporaries intimately knew: old and new imagery make perfect bedfellows in the confines of design. Moreover, it’s Steinweiss’s hand that reconvinces us of the true allure illustration brings to even the most enticing layout and typographic arrangement.
His type might dance, but it’s clearly his line and his patterns that really sing.
Anyone who has ever sat and scrutinized album cover art or obsessed over the sleeve art of a particularly favorite record really has Alex Steinweiss to thank for that experience. He took a bit of essentially throwaway paraphenalia - a record dust sleeve / card sleeve - and pushed it into an entirely new realm. Understanding that the experience of the record itself could be more than just hearing the music contained on it, Steinweiss opened the door for countless designers and illustrators after him to show us the music before we’d even pulled the shrinkwrap off the album.
Design Observer was gracious enough to list an article link which further discusses Steinweiss, and the timing seemd just too perfect.
And, just to share these recent acquisitions into my own design library / collection, here are the two albums I nabbed over the past weekend:
This is the confirmed Steinweiss of the two suspected ones - I believe he was the first album cover designer who was given license to even include his own signature in his work:
And the second cover is one I simply have a strong hunch is Steinweiss’s as well:
I know he did several covers for the Everest label in addition to those he did for Columbia but I’d love to hear from anyone in the reading audience who could confirm or disconfirm whether this is actually his or not - if not, I’d also be fascinated to chase down this designer as well.
Another $1.50 well spent chasing design…