Here’s a love story for you.
It takes place in New York during the ’70s, a time when the city was almost unlovable. Massive debt. High crime. Social strife. It wasn’t pretty. And it was going to get uglier.
In a speech before the National Press Club on October 29, 1975, President Ford denied the near-bankrupt city a federal bailout, prompting the New York Daily News to run the famous headline: “Ford to City: Drop Dead!”
As far as brushoffs go, that was brutal.
But graphic designer Milton Glaser didn’t see it that way. New York was his city. So he crawled up the Empire State Building, pulled out the biggest pocketknife you ever saw and carved an even bigger heart right in the side of the building, declaring for all to see his eternal love for the city.
Well, metaphorically speaking.
What Glaser actually did was take out a red crayon and sketch on the back of an envelope a very crude, very simple message: “I Love NY.” He did it in a taxi. Took him about 10 seconds. And he used a heart for the word “love.”
You’ve seen Glaser’s work. Everyone has seen Glaser’s work, which has become as recognizable as the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty or a black and white cookie – “two races of flavor living side by side in harmony,” as comedian Jerry Seinfeld so aptly pointed out.
Glaser created the logo for a wildly successful tourism ad campaign in 1977, one that decades later shows no signs of slowing down. A hugely important graphic designer, Glaser created hundreds of brightly colored posters, magazines, book covers, interior designs and most notably – along with his homage to New York – a 1967 poster of Bob Dylan with psychedelic hair.
After suffering serious injuries in a motorcycle accident in 1966, Dylan was bedridden and rumored dead. To generate positive publicity for his forthcoming album, Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, CBS Records commissioned Glaser to design a special poster to be packaged with the album.
Taking inspiration from a Marcel Duchamp self-portrait, Glaser depicted Dylan in profile, his abundant curly hair rendered in electric, saturated colors. The design became one of the most famous posters in rock history and can now be seen in the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
“I’m always interested in the nature of perception,” Glaser once said, “and how much you understand from limited information.”
Glaser, who died June 26, 2020, on his 91st birthday, understood more than many.
“I know a lot about the way things look,” Glaser said, “and as a consequence, I try to see how much of that world I can embrace.”
It’s a nice sentiment, to embrace the world. And sometimes all it takes is a red crayon.