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Milton Glaser, designer of iconic New York logo and Dylan poster, dies at 91

Mr Glaser brought wit, whimsy, narrative and skilled drawing to commercial art.

New York

MILTON Glaser, a graphic designer who changed the vocabulary of American visual culture in the 1960s and 1970s with his brightly coloured, extroverted posters, magazines, book covers and record sleeves, notably his 1967 poster of Bob Dylan with psychedelic hair and his "I (HEART) NY" logo, died on Friday, his 91st birthday, in Manhattan.

His wife and only immediate survivor, Shirley Glaser, said the cause was a stroke. He also had renal failure.

Mr Glaser brought wit, whimsy, narrative and skilled drawing to commercial art at a time when advertising was dominated by the severe strictures of modernism on one hand and the cozy realism of magazines like The Saturday Evening Post on the other.

At Push Pin Studios, which he and several former Cooper Union classmates formed in 1954, he opened up design to myriad influences and styles that began to grab the attention of magazines and advertising agencies, largely through the studio's influential promotional publication, the Push Pin Almanack (later renamed Push Pin Monthly Graphic). "We were excited by the very idea that we could use anything in the visual history of humankind as influence," Mr Glaser, who designed more than 400 posters over the course of his career, said in an interview for the book The Push Pin Graphic: A Quarter Century of Innovative Design and Illustration (2004). "Art Nouveau, Chinese wash drawing, German woodcuts, American primitive paintings, the Viennese secession and cartoons of the 1930s were an endless source of inspiration," he added. "All the things that the doctrine of orthodox modernism seemed to have contempt for - ornamentation, narrative illustration, visual ambiguity - attracted us."

Mr Glaser delighted in combining visual elements and stylistic motifs from far-flung sources. For a 1968 ad for Olivetti, he modified a 15th-century painting by Piero di Cosimo showing a mourning dog, and inserted the Italian company's latest portable typewriter at the feet of the dead nymph in the original artwork.

For the Dylan poster, a promotional piece included in the 1967 album Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, he created a simple outline of the singer's head, based on a black-and-white self-portrait silhouette by Marcel Duchamp, and added thick, wavy bands of colour for the hair, forms he imported from Islamic art.

Nearly six million posters made their way into homes across the world. Endlessly reproduced, the image became one of the visual signatures of the era.

"I (HEART) NY", his logo for a 1977 campaign to promote tourism in New York state, achieved even wider currency. Sketched on the back of an envelope with red crayon during a taxi ride, it was printed in black letters in a chubby typeface, with a cherry-red heart standing in for the word "love". Almost immediately, the logo became an instantly recognised symbol of New York City, as recognisable as the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty.

"I'm flabbergasted by what happened to this little, simple nothing of an idea," Glaser told The Village Voice in 2011.

Milton Glaser was born on June 26, 1929, in the Bronx, to Eugene and Eleanor (Bergman) Glaser, immigrants from Hungary. His father owned a dry-cleaning and tailoring shop; his mother was a homemaker. When Milton was a young boy, an older cousin drew a bird on the side of a paper bag to amuse him. "Suddenly, I almost fainted with the realisation that you could create life with a pencil," he told Inc magazine in 2014. "And at that moment, I decided that's how I was going to spend my life." He took drawing classes with Raphael and Moses Soyer, the social realist artists, before enrolling in the High School of Music & Art in Manhattan (now the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts).

After twice failing the entrance exam for Pratt Institute, he worked at a package-design company before being accepted by the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. After graduating from Cooper Union in 1951 and working in the promotion department at Vogue magazine, Glaser won a Fulbright scholarship to the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, Italy, where he studied etching with still-life painter Giorgio Morandi and, in the time-honoured way, drew from plaster casts. The experience left him a fervent believer in the discipline of drawing and an enemy of found images and collage in design work. "A designer who must rely on cutouts and rearranging to create effects, who cannot achieve the specific image or idea he wants by drawing, is in trouble," he told the magazine Graphis in 1960. NYTIMES

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