Heinz Edelmann (the king) Yellow Submarine drawings c. 1968.
(Heinz Edelmann: posters for Theater of the World ‘81, Cologne)
In the spring of 2007 I flew from Paris to Amsterdam to interview Heinz Edelmann for Electrical Banana. I’d met Heinz briefly when he was in NYC for an exhibition and lecture at the School of Visual Arts. His lecture, entitled “Fifty Not Terribly Exciting Facts and Opinions Presented in a Droning Voice.” Heinz did indeed present fifty “facts”, including nuggets like:
"Graphic design is not a continuation of art by other means, it is-to my mind-a completely separate discipline. Yet all my roots are in fine art not in design. I must mention Saul Steinberg, whom I consider to be the second most important artist of the 20th Century, after Picasso, before Matisse. Albert Marquet, at present one of my heroes, was once considered almost the equal of Matisse is now seen as a very minor painter and dropped from most art histories. And yet he is the quintessential “painter’s painter” with an incredible deftness of touch and an excited mastery of colour. And thirdly Graham Sutherland, once Britain’s premier modern painter but later completely outstripped by Francis Bacon and internationally neglected. He was the first modern painter to be interested in ecology. Everything I know about organic nature I’ve learned from him.”
"The true image of modernism is not a picture of people with very much enlarged heads, sitting in ultra modern buildings, clutching their atom smashers. The true image of modernism is the tribesman in the jungle, completely nude except for his heave automatic weapon."
(Illustration for Twen magazine)
And against all tradition, he recited these aphorisms without any visual accompaniment. Imagine another artist showing up to give a talk and just going on sheer ideas. It wouldn’t happen. It was, I can safely say, the best lecture I have ever seen, and that’s because Heinz, in addition to making remarkable images for 40 years, was a brilliant conceptual thinker and speaker.
(Heinz on the first day of our interview)
I met up with him the following day and struck up a conversation. A year or so later I was in his airy apartment in Amsterdam. The walls were lined with bookcases and a couple of pieces of art, including two beautiful Chris Ware pages (along with Gary Panter, Heinz’s favorite contemporary artist). The whole place had the feeling of an almost “classic” European salon. Heinz’s sophistication and elegance was reflected in his books (everything from crime to Pynchon) and furniture (all finely designed, but not ostentatious) to his window view (out onto a sunny street). His wife, Anna, was a wonderful and doting host as we spoke for two days about his childhood, his training, his opinions on art and design, his work on Yellow Submarine, which he loathed to talk about, his tools and techniques, and life in general. The breadth of his knowledge was astounding, and he was a generous conversationalist as well.
(Illustration for Kathrinchen Ging Spazieren, 1974)
Heinz was a classic post-war autodidact — he had read everything, thought hard about modernism, and had very crisp reasons for why he did what he did, and how. His own work, which he regarded as problem solving (a process that included deadline-solving and art director-solving), was interesting to him as an activity that could produce results he approved of. When he didn’t approve of something he was highly reluctant to even discuss it. Thus his mixed feelings about being pigeon-holed over Yellow Submarine.
(Yellow Submarine concept art)
He developed that language as a way to solve the problem of animating that script; he wasn’t a hippie, and valued his freedom. So he had to move on. That he was able to come out of a post-1950s drawing/design style and develop a language that became codified by the culture, and then move on and do even more interesting work in illustration (his illustrations for J.R.R. Tolkien are masterpieces) and design (his theater posters are among the finest ever produced) is a testament to his willpower and talent.
(Illustration for Tolkien)
I’m lucky to have gotten to know Heinz for the brief period I did — I loved knowing he was out there, thinking hard, and I miss that intellect.
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Cover to Electrical Banana