Exhibition by Seniors of Henrietta Condak in Paris
Type projects by students from Henrietta Condak's classes from 2010-2013 will be featured in an exhibition in Paris from May 24 through June 29, 2013. For more information, click here.
Teacher Profile: Adrienne Leban
By Yusef Najafi
Photographs courtesy of Leban
March 18, 2013
She was supposed to get married to a doctor and have two children.
But Adrienne Leban is a natural re-thinker. And obeying tradition is usually not on her agenda.
In fact, the very first time she saw a bride wearing a wedding dress Leban asked her mother, seriously, “Is it Halloween? Why is she dressed like that?”
The 67-year-old Memphis native, who grew up in Miami Beach and lives in Chelsea, teaches Drawing, Originality and other courses at the School of Visual Arts.
She began teaching at the school more than four decades ago.
But long before her post at SVA, as a little girl, Leban used to sit next to her mother and draw with her.
She would draw faces, people, and still life -- perfectly.
“I was always a very good realistic drawer from very little on,” Leban says. “I could make a face look photographically like a face, and so I was always being called an artist.”
She doesn’t do that anymore.
At SVA she doesn’t encourage her students to do that either. She won’t stop students from drawing the human form, but Leban will ask that they look deeper.
“I just don’t want to reproduce a form I’ve already seen, or a form that I know the name of,” she says. “It’s very exciting to me to create something that I cannot name, that nobody can name.”
Blame Picasso, Matisse or Van Gogh.
It was exposure to their work during Leban’s youth that sparked a curiosity.
“I wanted to know, if this is art, and Rembrandt and Michelangelo are art, what is art?
“When I started learning terms like ‘mimesis,’ and that the traditional so called ‘realistic’ painting is mimesis, that helped me to make a step toward the distinction that mimesis means to imitate, to copy, and I realized that it’s copyism, its imitating, and that didn’t sound to me very creative.”
So what is creative? What is new and nameless? What does Adrienne Leban draw?
“You’re wanting to know what I draw,” she says, “I’m saying why I draw.”
“I draw because it’s my harmony and peace. The feeling of concentration, and quiet and calm and excitement all at once is why I draw.”
That feeling, once on paper, is what Leban describes as the energy she intuits within.
“I think that I’m literally drawing the energy that I experience physically and pulling that out of me.”
To really articulate this philosophy, Leban introduces us to an alternative approach to two terms she thinks are being used incorrectly.
She explains that if a definition of the word abstract is “a summary,” then drawing the human form or anything that you see in the physical world should be called abstract because it is a summary, or a symbol, or a copy of something that is real.
When you draw from the energy within you, without a preconceived end point, goal or vision on how the drawing should look, it’s realistic in the sense that it’s not a copy or symbol of anything. It’s the only instance of itself and it’s real.
“To me creativity is the production of the unknown, of the new. And so you’re not really being creative when you already have an outcome in mind and you know what it’s going to be, and you do everything to try to get it to be that known outcome.”
And this philosophy is not limited to drawing. She says, for graphic designers, “… it’s possible to work in an open-ended way and still solve problems.”
The road to this understanding began when Leban was 12.
Sitting alongside her mother in the car as she drove familiar roads home, Leban’s eye caught the Art Institute of Miami, which she describes as being just a “little bungalow” back then.
“I kept begging my mother let’s stop, I want to see what that is.”
Her mother did stop. And Leban began attending the Art Institute of Miami on Saturdays at the age of 12, and during the summers she was there everyday. But her father’s financial troubles required that she stay in Florida once graduating high school, to attend the University of Florida and later the University of Miami, where she studied English Literature and art history.
Despite her mother’s wishes Leban joined several students from her school when they ventured to New York City to work during the summer at the opening of the World’s Fair in 1964. Though the job was in many ways a rude awakening and a first introduction to capitalism, it was also her introduction to New York. And after returning to Florida, graduating college in 1967 and working for six months, Leban wanted to come back. She applied and was accepted to SVA.
“I never went to bed before four o’clock in the morning,” Leban says of her days as a student at the school.
And it paid off. She was hired after her first year by Metromedia, a conglomerate entertainment company which owned TV and radio stations around the country, and quickly began to win awards for her work.
“But after the first three months, it was like, how I could do this for the rest of my life? It was just too stupid,” she says.
“It was much too limiting and I never really cared a lot about money as an end in itself.”
“For an artist, you can either care about money, or care about art. People will argue with me to the ground on that, but that’s still how I see it. They don’t mix.”
In the fall of 1969, Leban began teaching at SVA, assisting her own teacher and friend Barbara Nessim.
“I started with her, and I really liked it,” Leban says. “And then Bob Giraldi, who was the chairman at the time, asked me if I wanted my own class, and I said okay. And I got into it. I enjoyed it so much. It gave me a chance to think out loud. And it’s still stimulating to me.”
Leban says she found freedom at SVA.
“It might have been the culture started by SVA Co-founder Silas Rhodes, of not interfering with the teachers,” she says. “His theory was, these people know what they’re doing, I don’t know what they’re doing, but it’s working, and I’m not going to interfere with that.”
“So there’s this freedom, every teacher has their thought process and some of them are more conventional than others, and there’s a place for all of them. And just that climate of intellectual freedom, academic freedom, I think is why SVA gets the best students.”
Beyond SVA, Leban is founder of the Lifework Studio, an outlet for work that promotes originality, uniqueness and social consciousness and conscience. She’s prominent in New York as a social activist as well as for her role in the passage of a 1982 state-wide law that allows people to live in lofts.
Looking back over her tenure at SVA, Leban highlights her innovations, which include the courses Advertising and Design for Social Change, and Originality, which she created in 1971. She’s the only person teaching a course in Originality at SVA or anywhere else to her knowledge.
“It was, and still is, not mainstream at all. Because it’s one of the hardest things to try to get people to think differently than they’re used to thinking. People often ask me, how can you teach originality? And my short answer is, I teach obstacle removal. The obstacles are preconceived ideas. All the things we think we know, but we don’t know we know them.”
“I think it’s a great question to carry around with you, to say, when you feel certain about something, say ‘wait-how do I know that? How do I know what I know?’”
Photo descriptions (in order of appearance)
A selection from inside the book BioGeo, done straight in ink without pencil sketches or instruments or white-out.
Freehand and digital piece
Beyond September 11, a new book of Leban's digital mandalas, available on www.thelifeworkstudio.com, is in the Victoria & Albert Museum's collection.
New York Times ad, 1969.
Cover, the new BioGeo book, available on www.thelifeworkstudio.com, is in the Victoria & Albert Museum's collection (designed by Min Jin Shin, SVA '11).
Pablo Delcan featured on Jacket Mechanical
March 11, 2013
Recent SVA graduate Pablo Delcan's jacket design for The Tragedy of Mr. Morn is featured on Jacket Mechanical. Jacket Mechanical is a blog by Peter Mendelsund, art director of Pantheon Books, who hired Delcan.
Yuna Lee's Tiny Little Secret
February 27, 2013
Teacher profile: Vinny Tulley
By Yusef Najafi
Photographs courtesy of Vinny Tulley
February 13, 2013
If an idea is not working, kill it.
Those are words you will hear frequently in Vinny Tulley’s advertising class at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
Those are words he has lived by.
When Tulley was a student at SVA, he killed majors three times before discovering advertising. He started as a cartooning major, then illustration, then graphic design -- which fortunately for Tulley requires that all students enroll in a basic advertising course.
“I remember the teacher walks in and he has jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt, and he has four or five days of growth on his face, and his hair is all messy, and he goes, ‘I get paid plenty of good money and I don’t ever have to dress up.’”
“I go, what the hell is this thing called advertising?” Tulley recalls. “You don’t have to wear a suit or tie, and you make a good salary?”
While Tulley admits he did not come up with one good ad during his first year in the class, things changed quickly.
“A lot of the stuff that I grasped third year, I kind of put in my class, but in my own style,” Tulley says. That includes Tulley’s list of critiques, which he credits to his teacher Sal DeVito.
In Tulley’s basic advertising class, students are given one product every week, for which they must complete one print ad with less emphasis on the execution/layout, and all emphasis on the idea behind the ad.
“This is an idea class,” Tulley said during the first lecture of one his classes.
Students are given feedback from a list of critiques which include “I don’t get it,” “Bull shit,” “Sounds like advertising,” and rarely: “Good ad.”
“I like trying to get people into good habits and get them out of their bad habits,” he says. “And also give them a dose of reality, because to me it’s always better to learn earlier than to wait until you’re a senior and your portfolio is not good enough and you can’t get a job, and you may never get a job because you didn’t learn or try hard enough when you were a little younger.”
Recovering fast from rejection is part of being successful, Tulley says. And it’s something he learned how to practice at a very young age.
“I played hockey when I was a kid and I was a goalie. And you have to be mentally strong, because it’s the last line of defense, and as soon as you let a goal in, you got to forget it about it quickly,” he says.
“So it wasn’t that hard for me to adjust in advertising and design. And I also know that if you’re doing a job, if you want to get paid for something, you got to make the person who is paying you happy. Because even if they accept something that they don’t want to do, they’re not going to pay you for the next one.”
In many ways Tulley has always been a teacher. The Queens native is the oldest of eight siblings, four girls and four boys.
“I taught my brothers and even my sisters a lot about sports,” he says. “They became better athletes than me. I even taught them how to draw. I guess when you’re the oldest sometimes it just happens that way.”
He grew up drawing “non-stop” and collecting comic books. Beyond Superman, Batman and Spiderman, it was the X-Men that made a lasting impression, and led him to SVA as a cartooning major.
“No one knew the X-Men when I was a kid. Wolverine was unknown. It was exciting, and [the X-Men] were changing comics a little bit because Wolverine was the first super hero who actually killed,” he says. “It was more of an honest interpretation of what you might do if someone tries to hurt you or kill you. Not everybody is going to be a boy scout like Superman or Spiderman.”
When a representative from SVA visited Tulley’s art class in high school during his junior year, and presented a slideshow of all that the school has to offer, Tulley’s fate was sealed.
“Instantly I knew that was the place I wanted to go if I wanted to be successful. It’s like the cliché: if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I believed that then, and I still believe that now.”
“I guess as much as you could fall in love with something, besides a person or a pet or something, I fell in love with the idea of the school instantly. I knew I was going to go there.”
Tulley’s parents supported his decision to pursue art, but money was an issue. Despite his mother’s advice to start at a community college, or seek alternative routes, Tulley was determined to attend SVA. He did so with student loans and says he has no regrets about that decision.
“I’ve made it back, thousands of folds since,” he says.
Tulley is currently working as a creative director for DeVito Verdi.
“Today when I walk into work, everything that I’m working on now, I trace back to my first day at SVA. Maybe even to the decision of going to SVA when I was in high school. It’s everything. A lot of people are like that. Basically they owe their whole career, everybody that they know and everything, to SVA.”
“Some of my students have had even better careers than me and won more awards than me, and one of the things I’m proud of actually is knowing that I might have helped part of that process. I’m not saying this in an egotistical sense, because I personally believe that students have always had it in them, they just needed somebody to get it out of them. I’ve been told many times, running into past students, that, ‘I wouldn’t be in advertising if it wasn’t for you.’ And that’s better than any paycheck SVA has ever given me.”
Tulley says he is continuously surprised by how creative students are.
“They come up with things that I could never come up with,” he says.
When he looks back over his career, Tulley says one of his favorite ad campaigns is one that he did for Timex.
“No one really saw that one, but some people who I really respect in the industry tell me they think it’s a very fresh unique way to say an old message,” he says, “which is like kind of what we have to do in the business: take the same message and do it in a new way.”
Another note-worthy ad is one he created for a pro-choice public service announcement, which features a picture of a hanger and the words: “When your right to an abortion is taken away, what are you going to do?”
“Some women’s first reaction is almost negative, because it tells a whole story that you imagine in your head, which is not a pretty story, which is women giving themselves abortions,” he says.
“But then, they realize what [the ad] is really saying. And to see the transformation of thinking it’s a great ad, after they were almost offended – they realize that it’s suppose to be offensive, it’s suppose to get that emotion out of you, and rile you up, for a cause, which to me is even more important than trying to sell a product. If it could help save a life -- you can’t beat that.”
Vinny Tulley currently teaches basic advertising and advertising portfolio at the School of Visual Arts. For more information about Tulley, visit www.vinnytulley.com.
Teacher Profile: Nic Taylor
By Yusef Najafi
Photographs by Yusef Najafi
October 23, 2012
A little more than a decade ago, Nic Taylor was not sure what he wanted to do with his life.
He was sure, however, that the strong sense of creative energy that he felt didn’t fit with business school. He dropped out and went back to work at a ski shop in Washington D.C. where he had worked throughout high school. It was an act of patience as Taylor describes it.
But at age 18, life took a sudden turn for Taylor when a friend invited him to attend an open house event at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. It was an invitation that would put Taylor on a new path — one that would eventually lead the Maryland native to become a teacher at SVA.
“I was just totally lit on fire.”
“It was when Richard Wilde, [head of the graphic design department at SVA], talked [at the open house] about being creative, and making a life of that for myself -- I think that is what struck me then and stays with me now.”
“It’s something that I talk to my students about,” Taylor says, “how incredibly lucky they are to be at the beginning of a career where they get to be creative and free and make money doing it and create a life for themselves.”
Taylor, 32, has created that life for himself as a teacher at SVA as well as co-creator of thelibrarian.com and co-owner of Thunderwing Press, the design studio that he operates with his wife, author Jennifer Brandt-Taylor, from their home in Garrison, New York.
The two met in Los Angeles when Taylor was an Art Director at Regan Books. Taylor’s career has included jobs at RCA Records, Ogilvy, Publicis, Chermayeff & Geismar, and G2/Grey Advertising.
In order to switch tracks and attend SVA at the age of 19, he set goals to earn a 4.0 at Montgomery College in Rockville Maryland, and prepare a stellar portfolio. He did both. And while his career has continued to build momentum with countless achievements -- including numerous industry awards, taking a job as an art director for design icon David Droga for Publicis at the age of 23, and now creating his own vision of a design studio -- Taylor says his goal as an educator is one:
“To empower young people, period. That is what I try to do, no matter what the class,” he says.
“It’s not about teaching a style. It’s not about teaching any kind of specific look or feel, but giving young people the tools to find happiness and become successful.”
For those wondering what to expect with Taylor as a professor, he says it really depends on the class, but you can be sure it will be demanding. His sophomore year typography class, for example, starts out slowly with a “formal” hierarchal approach before becoming conceptual.
“I like to hold off on all that heavy conceptual thinking and teach typography from the letter to the word, to the sentence, to the phrase, to the paragraph… just sort of developing the idea of being able to handle content and manage a flow of information and visual hierarchy . . . learning how to tell a story.”
The narrative discipline should not be limited to the classroom Taylor says, especially when SVA students have access to all things New York City.
“Go around the city and dedicate three hours to just photographing typography that you love, and starting to assess what it is that you connect with about it,” he says.
“Expose yourself to everything and participate,” he adds. “Start talking about design, because that’s another part of this practice that I think is sometimes overlooked. It’s not just about what’s going through your head as you’re sitting, drawing, sketching, working on the computer, whatever. Half of design is communicating.”
And that communication is essential in the classroom Taylor says.
“It’s about expressing yourself visually and verbally, and recognizing that speaking up and being involved is making you part of a group. We’re all choosing to be here.”
For Taylor, teaching at the school has in many ways brought him full circle, for he traces everything that he has done to SVA.
“Without sounding overly indulgent, [SVA] has been everything to me. What I love about SVA is that you get to choose your path, you get to create your own educational journey.”
“Every teacher is different, and what’s beautiful about it is that Richard encourages every teacher to teach from their own source of inspiration. And so you get to cast as wide of a net, or be as focused in your studies as you want to be. And that is a profoundly special educational experience.”
Nic Taylor currently teaches sophomore year typography, senior year portfolio, and co-teaches a rigorous junior year Graphic Design/Communications class with Brett Kilroe at the School of Visual Arts. To see more of his work, visit his official website, www.nictaylor.com. For more on Thunderwing Press, visit thunderwingpress.com. Taylor also shares visual inspiration, design and typography through instagram, @thebushofghosts.