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Four Corners - an interview with Gail Anderson

4 COrners

I love NY. The first time I visited the city was in the early 1980s when I was aged around 16 years old. My father’s side of the family occasionally held large family reunions either in the US or the Caribbean and so we went over to New York on our way to attend a reunion in New Jersey.

We stayed with family in Brooklyn, and I was fascinated with everything about it and the fact that it all felt so familiar. Here I was walking around the real life film set of my dreams with the soundtracks of TV shows like Starsky & Hutch and films like Car Wash reverberating around my mind.

From a design perspective, I couldn’t help but be consumed by the mega-brand bombardment that screams out at you on all corners. From the bright neon signs and huge billboard advertisements to the plethora of product packaging, confectionery and magazine covers that adorn the news-stands. It is with reference to the latter, and magazine design in particular, that I bring to your attention now.

Rolling Stone magazine was, and continues to be one of the most highly regarded and influential publications of its time. Working during the years stewarded by the prolific and distinctive art director, Fred Woodward, was an African American woman who has blazed her own trail as a designer, art director, author and educator. Her work is honored and celebrated in publications and awards annuals all over the world. And if it hasn’t been done already, her name should be lit up in neon on the side of a skyscraper like the signs that adorn her hometown, New York.

It is my pleasure to introduce you to Gail Anderson.

Gail Anderson

Source: Darren Cox

Gail Anderson, designer, writer and educator.

What’s your background?

I’m born and raised in New York, originally from the Bronx. My memories of the neighborhood I grew up in defy the stereotype of a crime-ridden slum. There were trees and houses with driveways, and kids on bikes. My parents are from Jamaica, so I am first-generation American, and first-generation college-educated, as well. I attended college at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, and worked first at Random House, followed by the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, where I had my first exposure to editorial design. From there, I moved back to New York to work with Fred Woodward at Rolling Stone, where I remained for over 14 years. I served as creative director of design at SpotCo, a NYC-based entertainment advertising agency that focuses on Broadway for a little over eight years, and am now a partner in a boutique design firm that doesn’t even have a website yet (I still have my own site, gailycurl.com though it is hopelessly outdated). I teach at the School of Visual Arts in the undergraduate and graduate design programs (I’ve been teaching for most of my career).

'The Next Queen of Soul' Rolling Stone spread

‘The Next Queen of Soul’ Rolling Stone spread

How did you get started in design?

I was fortunate to have a smart and plugged-in studio art teacher in high school, who sent me off to take weekend drawing classes at Pratt Manhattan, and made sure that I participated in competitions and exhibitions. She loaned me books about what was then called ‘commercial art’, and pushed me to attend the School of Visual Arts.

What challenges did you overcome in getting into the industry and achieving your ambitions?

I was not a cool kid from the city, living in the East Village like most of my young colleagues right out of school. I was a dopey kid living with her parents in the Bronx. My hipness factor was extremely low. I didn’t encounter any real issues as a minority, though I was always the one people called on for ‘another’ point of view. That caused a good deal of eye-rolling when I was younger, but is something I’ve grown accustomed to in my dotage.

'Chris Rock - Star' Rolling Stone spread

‘Chris Rock - Star’ Rolling Stone spread

Who are your greatest inspirations and influences?

My friend and boss at the Boston Globe, Lynn Staley, was a huge influence. I feel like I matured as a young designer under her tutelage and was able to start my next job at Rolling Stone with my sleeves rolled up, ready to get my hands dirty thanks to her. Fred Woodward, probably the smartest man in magazines, and a dear and gentle soul, is my other strong influence, along with the work of Paula Scher.

'Axl Rose Lost Years' Rolling Stone spread

‘Axl Rose Lost Years’ Rolling Stone spread

What is the project you are most proud of?

I’m proud of a series of subway posters I worked on with illustrator Terry Allen for the School of Visual Arts after President Obama’s first-term election. And I’m still fond of much of the old Rolling Stone work - it still holds up almost two decades later.

Obama Lion poster (with Terry Allen)

Obama Lion poster (with Terry Allen)

What would be your dream job or project?

I got to work on my dream project about a year ago; designing a postage stamp for the US Postal Service. And now I serve on the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, as one of the team of folks who helps decide what future stamps are on the horizon. I am honored to be part of the Design Subcommittee, and am looking forward to the challenge. My partner Joe Newton and I are currently working on rebranding a small art college in Pennsylvania. I’d like to do more of this kind of work, so I’ll put that in the dream category - more academic institutions.

Emancipation stamps

Emancipation stamps

Please name some people in your field that you believe deserve credit or recognition, and why.

Boy, do teachers ever deserve more recognition and credit than they get! And more money, too!

What’s your best piece of advice for those wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Be the first one in the office in the morning, and the last one to leave at night. Never send an angry email, and read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

Cover for New Modernist Type, by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson

Cover for New Modernist Type, by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson

What’s next for you?

I am heading to Italy with my sister and niece this summer. That’s about all I can think about these days.

Network:

THE U.S:

Gordon Parks – A Harlem Family: An exhibition honouring the legacy and work of pioneering African-American artist, photojournalist and true renaissance man, Gordon Parks. Exhibition runs until Jun 30 at The Studio Museum of Harlem. 144 West 125th Street, New York, NY 10027 For more information, go to www.studiomuseum.org

THE CARIBBEAN:

The Alliance Française of St. Vincent presents a Caribbean Photography Exhibition. Featuring the work of photographers from St. Vincent & The Grenadines, St. Lucia, St. Kitts & Nevis and Jamaica. The exhibition will be open until May 31st, 9:30am to 5.00pm weekly and 2.00pm on Fridays at the Alliance Française, Carnegie Building (1st Floor), Heritage Square, Kingstown, St. Vincent. For more information email: afofsvg@gmail.com, visit www.facebook.com/afsvg or by call: 456-2095.

AFRICA:

Africa Day Celebrations. Artscape celebrates Africa Day with a concert featuring Bongani Sotshononda’s indigenous ensemble, The Cape Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, The SA Youth Choir and Khayelitsha Mambazo. 25 May at 7.30pm at the Artscape Theatre, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town 8000, South Africa Tel: +27 21 410 9800. For more information visit http://www.artscape.co.za/show/africa-day-celebrations/665/

EUROPE:

Design En Afrique is an exhibition focused primarily on the design of objects used as support for the body. Runs until July 2013 at Museum Dapper in Paris, France. 35 bis, rue Paul Valéry - 75116 Paris. For more information visit http://www.dapper.fr

 

Jon Daniel is a London-based independent creative director, designer and curator. For more information visit his website at www.jon-daniel.com or his blog at www.visual-intellectual.com.

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