Four Corners - an interview with Archie Boston
As summer officially draws to a close here on British soil, we head to the sunny climes of the US and specifically Los Angeles to interview a man I am proud to call a friend and whose contribution to the design and advertising landscape is immense. I first interviewed Archie Boston two years ago, (in fact it was my first-ever professionally published interview) and discovered a man with humour, humility, passion, creativity and deep sense of integrity. Values that shine through in his body of work, and in particular a series of uncompromising self-promotional adverts he created with his brother Brad. Two years on, his courage and conviction remain resolutely intact, as I’m sure this interview will testify. Over to you Brother Archie…
Boston served two terms as president of the Art Directors Club of Los Angeles, is one of 35 design pioneers named by Graphic Design USA magazine and was honoured as Outstanding Professor of the Year in 2004 at California State University Long Beach, where he has taught for over 33 years. He published his memoir, Fly in the Buttermilk in 2001, created historical documentaries on 20 Outstanding Los Angeles Designers, in 1986, and is the first African American recipient of the prestigious AIGA Fellows Award.
How did you get started in your field of expertise?
I received my BFA degree in Advertising Design with Honors from Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, California. My first job after graduating was as an art director at Hixson and Jorgensen Advertising. My second job was as a partner in, Boston & Boston Design, where I worked for two years, then returned to work at Ketchum Advertising as an art director for eight years. I received a Masters Degree in Liberal Arts from the University of Southern California in 1977. Then, I opened Archie Boston Graphic Design and became a Professor at California State University where I worked for 30 years until I retired from teaching in 2009.
What challenges did you face in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?
My biggest challenge was racism. However, rather than be on the defensive, My brother Brad and I went on the offensive and published promotional pieces that were provocative, memorable, daring and different. That approach shock the establishment, but opened the door to many unbiased clients who admired our courage and worked with us in spite of what others thought. However, another problem was that there were many mediocre designers and clients who were afraid of working with a minority firm that they thought we were too talented for the work they did.
Who and/or What are your greatest inspirations and influences?
My greatest influences were art directors and designers like Georg Olden, Lou Danziger, George Lois, Saul Bass, Paul Rand, Brad Boston, Herbert Lubalin, Jack Roberts and Robert Miles Runyan. My greatest inspiration was and still is Jesus Christ, My Lord and Savior. I cannot think of any designer that was the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Great design is timeless.
What is your best piece of work or the project you are most proud of?
I am most proud of my first book, Fly In The Buttermilk, memoirs of an African American in Advertising, Design & Design Education. This book should be a must-read for anyone in advertising, design or design education. This book will be around for future generations of designers who believe in the gospel of good design. I am also proud of the interviews I videotaped in 1986 of 20 Outstanding Los Angeles designers, while on sabbatical. Some of the designers featured were Saul Bass, Louis Danziger, Marvin Rubin, Jim Cross, Jack Roberts, Ken Parkhurst, Robert Miles Runyan and many more.
What would be your dream job or project?
This might sound wacky, but my dream project would be to spread the gospel of design spirituality throughout the world. We, as designers, don’t talk about religion and how it influences our creativity. Many of us think that it has no place in our profession. I disagree. I consider myself an apostle of design. Apostle means advocate, follower, believer, supporter, devotee, or scholar. Surely, after all my years in advertising, design and design education, I qualify for this position. So why don’t you follow me in spreading the gospel of design?
Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.
I believe my brother, Brad Boston, deserves recognition because he was a better designer than I. He was like John the Baptist. He baptised me into design by making me do my assignments over as a student. I followed his advice until it was time for me to step out in faith. The rest is history. Marvin Rubin, my other instructor, at Chouinard Art Institute, who helped me to see the reality of the business, encouraged me to be daring and imaginative. Marvin also rented Brad and I space in his office until we moved into our own. Nick Mendoza, my friend and former classmate, who founded the first Hispanic advertising agency in Los Angeles, Mendoza Dillion and Associates. He went on to become a creative director at Young and Rubicam and from there to become an international director of television commercials. I cannot end this section without mentioning, Louis Danziger, my mentor, however, he has received his recognition many years ago and is still considered an ‘Art Center College of Design treasure’. Finally, I believe that God deserves credit and more recognition in this field. You might think that he is not a person but I believe that He is in all of us.
What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?
My advice is to be honest. Be happy. Be Yourself. Be courageous. Be imaginative. Be passionate about your work. Be the best that you can be. Follow your intuition. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Work hard. Read. Question the establishment. Don’t worry about being politically correct. Respect your teachers. Enter your work in student design competitions, to find out what professional judges think. Remember, throughout your career to always strive to do excellent socially responsible work. And finally, don’t take yourself too seriously.
What’s next for you?
Since I turned 70 years old last month, my perspective has changed about design. I want to add spirituality to every aspect of my life, including my design. I have created some controversial work that was not politically correct and in some cases blasphemous. However, I still stand by that work. Now, I see life differently. I would like for future design generations to consider trusting in a higher power. I believe that God has led me down my path and there were bumps in the road, but I never would have made it without Him.
Archie. The Apostle of Design
You can visit Archie’s website at www.archbosgd.com.
2013 Aiga Design Conference: Head, Heart & Hand will celebrate the best in design and explore three interrelated aspects of the profession: design strategy, social impact and craft. This event will provide a platform to the participants to discuss about some focal points such as design for social impact and design as craft. The conference will take place October 10-12 at Minneapolis Convention Center. For more information visit designconference.aiga.org
Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival: First held in August 2007, the popularity of the Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival has soared since its inception. This two-day event will this year be held on the 4th and 5th of October 2013 on the small island of Aruba. Initially inspired by a number of other such festivals like the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Netherlands and Saint Lucia Jazz, Caribbean Sea Jazz’s goal is to create a stage for local and regional music talent, showcasing them alongside big names in the Jazz world. Running on a small budget, this wonderful event is not just about music, but also exhibits the best of the Aruban community. For more information visit www.caribbeanseajazz.com
Afro Supa Hero is a snapshot of a childhood and journey to adulthood, shown through a personal collection of pop cultural heroes and heroines of the African diaspora. Jon Daniel’s action figures, comic books and games offer an insight into the experience of a boy of African Caribbean heritage growing up in 1960s and 1970s Britain, in search of his identity. Runs from 14 September – 9 February 2014. For more information visit www.museumofchildhood.org.uk
Ghana Fashion & Design Week: An impressive range of local and international designers and exhibitors will be participating in the upcoming second annual Ghana Fashion & Design Week. The event will bring together Ghanaian and International fashion, media and industry professionals and fans. Selected designers from around the globe will deliver an exciting selection of creative designer’s collection during the catwalk shows, with a diverse range of Exhibitors hosted at the contemporarily styled PopUp Exhibition Salon during the event. The event will welcome international press, media, and buyers. The catwalk show is scheduled to take place over two days from the 11-12th October 2013. For more information email:firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have any forthcoming events that you would like to be considered for inclusion in this column, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at info at jon-daniel dot com.