How John Van Hamersveld Changed Orange County Forever
by Heather Harris
t was part of Cal Arts stopgap locales in downtown Los Angeles before this successor of Hamersveld’s alma mater Chouinard moved to its present locale in the northernmost reaches of the county some thirty freeway-congested miles away, the only available large chunk of land for the ambitious creative arts school. It would have had to have been between 1978 and 1989.
“And it was my art hero John Van Hamersveld who, with Milton Glaser, shared the soubriquet within Pop Culture of being The Best Art Director In The Known Universe. His vivid post-Pop Art colors so informed the tenor of the 1960s and beyond that The OC Register newspaper deemed his universally known graphic for Bruce Brown’s surfing feature The Endless Summer ‘The poster that changed Orange County.’ They are (surfboard-) waxing provincial: the shocking pink, orange and black stark, photo-silk-screened image was the pioneer work that married cool Madison Ave.-type purposefulness and clarity of visuals to wild ‘60s freedom fighting in the commercial art world.
“He’d made just as many posterity-bound inroads in my field of interests, the then music business and always with verve and unpredictability, which unsettles those who think they’ve pegged his color-dominant style. His Exile on Main Street package for the Rolling Stones indeed delivered the best graphics in the world to the best band in the world for arguably their best music release ever — in this instance, a muted colors, black and white photo collage of freak show oddities, Robert Frank pics, and assorted Stones. Perfect convergence.
“In his class, he immediately determined who was there for a) (pre-Internet) music art business networking; b) clueless credits-garnering; and c) seeing how one of the great art minds worked and just how he conveyed that process regarding others’ own efforts in this business. Generally he was very upbeat, peppering his theories with much humor and just a soupcon of dirt on his clients, calling one ‘Mick Jagger’s chippie!’ He claimed he switched from surfing to skiing to aid his business, that a person was much more likely to connect with the affluent who required high-end art direction than a person would alone in the ocean, Surfer versus Wave.
“On the serious side he told one student to give up, that his or her efforts would never make the cut in the real working world, and that telling them now might allow them to get a better grip for a better life. Our homework assignments duplicated what I already was doing in real life, graphics for specific projects in which I incorporated a great deal of my own photography. He gave me invaluable advice from One Who Knows, claiming that while my commercial art was fine, I conveyed the ideas that I wanted to get across far better in my photography. I obviously was there for the aforementioned c) reason in the preceding paragraph, so I took this pronouncement to heart ever since.
“He later wrote a few kind words for the as yet unpublished hagiography of my forty years of music photography. He remains One Who Knows, One Who Does, and One Who Still A-List Designs, almost unprecedented from our world-changing artists hailing from the 1960s. Ars Longa, Vita Brevis (although fortunately we still have John Van Hamersveld in our world.)”