Arnold Skolnick, whose poster portrayed Woodstock, dies at 85

Arnold Skolnick, who with just a few days of work designed what became one of the most familiar pop culture images of his time, the poster for the original 1969 Woodstock music festival, died on June 15 in Amherst, Mass. He was 85 years old. .

His son Alexander Skolnick said the cause was respiratory failure.

Mr. Skolnick’s poster design was a model of simplicity that both conveyed information about the festival – when and where it was happening, who was performing – and captured the sensibilities of the moment. With an eye-catching red background, the dominant image was a guitar neck with a white bird perched on it. “3 days of peace and music”, said the fat guy.

Mr Skolnick was 32 and freelancing for advertising agencies and other clients – “more ‘Mad Men’ than ‘Easy Rider'”, as the Washington Post described it 50 years later – when he got a call from John Morris, the festival’s production coordinator. Mr Skolnick told the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 2008 that an architect friend who worked on a hotel in the Virgin Islands that attracted many rock stars knew Mr Morris and made the connection.

He got the assignment on a Thursday, he told the Stamford Advocate in 2010.

“And I brought it to them on Monday afternoon,” he said. “It was just another job, but it became famous.”

The job originally went to David Edward Byrd, who created posters for rock shows at the Fillmore East in Manhattan. The poster produced by Mr Byrd was, as Adweek described it for the festival’s 50th anniversary, “a pseudo-psychedelic tableau (lots of hearts and flowers) with a neoclassical centerpiece – more specifically, a nude woman posing with an urn”.

“I thought it was perfect because she’s Aquarius,” Mr. Byrd told Adweek. ” What’s wrong ? »

For starters, the fact that she wasn’t wearing any clothes. The Woodstock Festival was at a scheduled time for Wallkill, NY (it was moved about 31 miles northwest late in the game, near the hamlet of White Lake in Bethel, NY), and Wallkill Merchants n wouldn’t have wanted a naked woman in their windows. Moreover, Byrd’s poster left no room to list the names of the performers.

And so Mr. Skolnick got the call for urgent work. He had recently seen some paper-cut works by Henri Matisse in a Manhattan museum and set to work with a razor blade, cutting shapes out of colored paper and placing them, first, on a blue background. But then it turned red and, as he told the Daily News in 1976, “everything came to life”.

But not without some tweaks.

“At first I thought of the bird and the flute,” he told the Daily News. “But the flute is really jazz, so I made a guitar out of it.”

About this bird: Mr. Skolnick has said in interviews that although most people assumed it was a dove, it owed more to the catbirds he drew that summer so that he was spending time in Shelter Island, NY Oh, and he said poultry understands a mistake.

“I forgot to tell the printer that the beak should be black,” he said, “and so it’s a red beak.”

A writer friend, Ira Arnold, helped with the words, and the two split the cost, Mr Skolnick told the Daily News.

The poster became a widely circulated and widely imitated image, although Mr Skolnick said he did not own the copyright and therefore did not collect royalties. In 2012, when the Museum at Bethel Woods in New York, which is on the site of the festival and dedicated to Woodstock, organized an exhibition centered on the Byrd and Skolnick posters, it also included dozens of images inspired by them. , notably the Skolnick version.

“Somebody had seen a poster in Memphis for a barbecue contest,” Wade Lawrence, museum director, told Hudson Valley Magazine at the time, explaining one of the inspirations for the exhibit. “It was a fake Skolnick poster. Instead of the guitar, there was a fork, and instead of the dove, there was a pig.

Neal Hitch, senior curator at the Bethel Museum, said Mr Skolnick had found the right poster for now.

“His work is so prevalent because it supersedes design and represents an ideal,” Hitch said by email. “Very few artists have managed to capture the essence of a movement on a sheet of paper better than Arnold Skolnick.”

Arnold Skolnick was born on February 25, 1937 in Brooklyn. His father, Samuel, was a linotype operator, and his mother, Esther (Plotnik) Skolnick, was a secretary who used a Comptometer, a pre-digital mechanical calculator, at an advertising agency.

Art, he said, was something born to him.

“You don’t become an artist,” he told the Daily Hampshire Gazette in 2008. “You either are or you aren’t.”

He attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, then studied with artist Edwin Dickinson at the Art Students League in Manhattan. He was, according to his son, in many ways an unlikely choice for the Woodstock poster.

“He didn’t like rock ‘n’ roll, he didn’t like drug culture, and he hated psychedelic art,” Alexander Skolnick said in a phone interview.

He did, however, attend Woodstock. He stayed a day. But then he heard of the coming rain.

“I said, ‘I have to get out of here,'” he recalled in a 2019 video interview with New England Public Media. “I got into the Volvo. I must have damaged 20 cars on my way out of the parking lot.

Michael Lang, one of the festival’s main promoters, who died in January, claimed in his 2009 book ‘The Road to Woodstock’ that he invented the text and images for the poster. But in an interview that year with Newsday, Mr Skolnick said Mr Lang had nothing to do with the poster and only saw it when it was finished; this account, according to the newspaper, was supported by other festival organizers.

Mr. Skolnick paid the fees he received for the work to a house in Chesterfield, Massachusetts, and alternated between that house and New York for decades before moving in 2015 to Northampton, where he lived until ‘when he died.

Although best known for a poster, Mr. Skolnick has had a varied career, designing books and a few film credits as well as working in advertising. He also founded Imago Design, a design company specializing in art books, and Chameleon Books, a publishing company that published such books as “Paintings of the Southwest” (1994) and “The Artist and the American Landscape” (1998).

And he painted, exhibiting over the years at the Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Maine and the Pratt Gallery in Amherst, among others.

In the mid-1970s, he began to paint flowers and plants. By the time of an exhibition of his works in Amherst in 1982, these images had become more cynical, with Mr. Skolnick depicting plants that appeared to be arming themselves against environmental threats.

“In my early paintings I thought if I showed how beautiful nature is then people would want to protect it,” he told the Daily Hampshire Gazette in 1982. ‘be destroyed, and I’m trying to get people to react before it’s too late.

His marriages to Iris Jay in 1960 and Cynthia Meyer in 1990 ended in divorce. In addition to his son Alexandre, from his first marriage, he is survived by another son from this marriage, Peter; one sister, Hélène Rothschild; and two grandchildren.

Shortly after creating the Woodstock poster, Skolnick came up with another image seen by many: the cover of “What to Do With Your Bad Car: An Action Manual for Lemon Owners” (1971), an early Consumer Books by Ralph Nader. monitoring team. He said his publisher once asked him to consider some cover ideas for Nader’s next book. He wasn’t impressed.

“I looked and said, ‘Just put a lemon on wheels,'” Mr Skolnick said in a 2019 interview with The Daily Hampshire Gazette. “And no one moved. They said, “Call Ralph Nader on the phone!”

He was asked to translate the suggestion into a photograph.

“I have a lemon,” he said. “I have a Tonka toy truck. I put it on my kitchen table and turned it around.