About John Kuzich
This site features many of my favorite design projects which were created between
1967 and 1994. The websites were created between 1995 and 2007.
The Short Version
Fell in love with art in the middle of the tenth grade in High School and in 1960
I won the National Scholastic Art Awards Competition in NYC with four gold medals, three
mentions and the scholarship to Pratt Institute in NYC. Trained instead at the Art Center School
in Los Angeles, got my first job with Saul Bass in LA, left for Detroit to work
with several of the largest ad design & production studios, had an illustration
rep in NYC and received book illustration assignments from publishers in Boston, moved to San
Francsico to work for Max Landphere before going out on my own in 1976 to develop
increasingly complex and high profile identity and product marketing projects for such clients as
Chevron, Del Monte, The Christian Brothers of California and others. In 1995 I made the
transition to website design. In 1999 I shifted my focus to my fine art and did this
full time for 10 years before presenting a large exhibition of my art and a five part
workshop for the public at the deYoung Museum where the King Tutenkhamun exhibition
was taking place. Today I continue to produce design and website projects as well
as continuing with my fine art interests.
A Longer Version
Currently my art/design studio is located in San Francisco near the S.F. Giants
ballpark. I've been here for almost 30 years now. The new Academy of Art University is nearby and so the neighborhood
is full of creative hopefuls. Recently I was sitting in my car when a student passed by with his art bag slung over his shoulder
and I could see his drawing pads sticking out. I smiled as he passed by for it reminded me of myself many years ago. A
young man embarking on an artistic adventure.
Go West Young Man
I had won and then turned down the big first prize in the National Scholastic Art Awards Exhibition of 1960 - the scholarship to
Pratt Institute in New York City, much to the dismay of my high school art teacher and friend, Jerry Kratz; himself
a very gifted and versatile artist. But a good friend of mine -
Kathleen Marion of Cass Technical High, called me from Los Angeles and said " you have to come out here John, there are
palm trees that are a hundred feet tall with little pom poms on top and it's sunny and warm, you'll love it.
And so I did go West to begin my own exciting journey, arriving in Los Angeles with great enthusiasm and aspirations for a future
as an artist - in what field exactly - I did not yet know. What I did know is that I loved being artistic and while my experience
had been - to date - all about fine art, my first days at the Art Center School would expose me to color and design. This discovery
electrified me and I immediately changed my major from Advertising Illustration to Adverstising Design. What I knew for certain
in my new universe full of possibilities, was that color was magical and the most exciting thing yet and so I plunged enthusiastically
into Mr. Harris's color class - often bringing not one but two or three renditions of the assignment.
After leaving the Art Center School in 64 I was fortunate to gain a position with the
Internationally famous designer Saul Bass who was - at the time - doing all the film titles for Otto Preminger's films, such as
"Walk On The Wild Side" and "Man With The Golden Arm". There I was exposed to the development of a number
of very large identity and packaging programs. I also received great advice from Art Goodman who was Saul's right hand man and was
responsible for many of the graphics that made the studio world famous. Art had a keen sense of what made a visual catch a person's
interest. In 1965 I married Gay Mitchel, a beautiful Santa Monica "girl" and we lived in a little cottage -
( one of a matched pair - in the back yard of a fine Greek couple ) in Echo Park, an old Victorian area near Bunker Hill where
the Angel's Flight trolley was still in operation near Downtown LA.
Go East Young Man
While on a trip to Detroit over Christmas of 65 where I introduced my mother to my new wife, I also took my portfolio. With a job
offer that was two and a half times as much as I was making in LA ( a whopping $4000 a year ) I decided to jump on the ten grand
and within thirty days we landed on the East side of Detroit near posh Grosse Point. Gay, a native Californian, made an
amazing adjustment to the cold climate and so began my Detroit period. After
two stints I landed a great job as head designer at
a large firm called Art Group / Art Staff and immediately set about upgrading their image and introduced a series of large posters
which started turning up at the ad agencies around town. It was an exciting time as I did promotional projects for Nekoosa Paper,
designed a milk carton in Russian, and landed 7 entries in the Detroit Art Directors Club show in 67. One late afternoon one of our
sales people came in and said that Chrysler needed a design for a heart with a tail for the "We're Out To Win You Over"
campagin. I knocked out a black and white
graphic in about an hour and it went on the be the mascot for the campaign and turned up
in ads, on neckties and many other uses. One interesting event was a promotional party at the very in vogue disco called
Arthur. They had one in New York and now opened up in Detroit. I did the poster and invite ( I'll eventually find it and put it
on this site ) and then got a brainstorm for our big slide presentation to the ad agencies; I'd do a Peter Max-style body painting
on one of our female staff. She had what looked like a quazi-psychedelic bathing suit so after much planning and preparation
we retired to the privacy of a
closed office to do the work. It actually was a great deal of work because I had to get the whole thing painted and photographed
before the paint cracked. I cropped sections of her with the words
that would make up the titles that spoke to our services ie: design, illustration, retouching, etc. Both of us - artist and model
alike - being married, and in a fit of complete stupidity we both chickened out about telling our respective spouses about the
project and so - of course - as soon as the slide show began, he recognized her bathing suit and my wife recognized my design style.
Somehow we all survived the evening and had a relatively good time.
Back in Detroit - my home town, I returned to those great,aging, Victorian
neighborhoods where I used to go to draw and paint as a high school student. Being from the suburbs ( Livonia ) I had never seen
such houses and couldn't draw enough of them. But on my return I was now an avid antique collector, loved stained glass windows,
old lighting fixtures and art glass shades ( like Tiffany & Steuben ) and just about anything else that was old. Since various
areas were being abandoned and torn down I soon learned that you had to salvage the stained glass before the local kids threw
rocks through them. Our home soon became a showcase for ornate leaded glass windows. Many were purchased through real estate
companies who were more interested in keeping the heating bills low by installing new clear panels which I was happy to replace.
Well we did a lot of antique hunting and our little cottage which was on the canal that faced the border of Grosse Point
and ran down to the Detroit River - was nicely furnished in an ecclectic mix of Victorian and 17th century English carved
furnature with a mixture of lighting fixtures which included one Tiffany and numerous Tiffany-style lamps. In the winter we used
to ice skate on the canal and down to the Detroit River and along the way we would see large carp frozen in the ice. In 1968 my daughter
Ana was born and in 1969 we had a chance to take her with us on a trip to San Francisco to see our friends Ann and Dave Johnson.
Our stay was in San Rafael and one look at San Fransisco - and yes I did bring out my portfolio and had two job offers.
Go Back Out West Young Man
Yep we packed up and within a short time found ourselves in San Francisco where I took up a position at Max Landphere Associates
which was located in the historic Jackson Square area near Broadway and Columbus. Our offices were on Gold Street. Having always
had a love affair with cars, I swapped some antiques and a bit of cash for a fine 1937 Chrysler which I drove as my everyday car.
My friend David Johnson, a very talented illustrator, also worked at Landphere before going out on his own to freelance very
successfully. At Landphere I had several important and unusual assignments. One was a project for a client who came in to ask
for a poster. Turns out that one of the staff asked my opinion on the request and after a review of the client I determined that
what they needed to satisfy their goals was a complete corporate id program along with the redesign of all their promotional
and informational materials. The client, Wailua University Of Contemplative Arts was headquartered in Kawai, Hawaii and I met
with Master Subramuniya an his people to go over my proposal. They loved it and it turned out to be one of my most successful
projects. Another was the invitation for the new Hyatt Hotel's restaurant which was a circular and revolving structure which
gave patrons a complete view of The City as it moved slowly around. Their request for a simple one color 4"x6" invitation,
turned out - on my suggestion - to be a 13"x20" poster which was silkscreened on a high gloss silver in eight colors and rolled
up into a mailing tube. It was a real hit as was the opening of the restaurant.
Well - not actually. But after starting at Landphere in 69', things were
slowing down in the studio and I decided to set sail and go out on my own. One block away from Gold Street I found a
small studio in an old historic building, a combination bar/restaurant & rooming house where sailors in the 1800's used to
stay. As history has it, many an unsuspecting individual - with too much to drink - left the bar to bet knocked out and wake
up to find himself on a ship. I got a few jobs and in a year moved another block away near the end of Broadway where an old
wine and oyster bar was now covered up by a concrete parking lot. I did some good projects there before making my last move
to my current Townsend Street studio in 1980. Here things really picked up.
I made a presentation for
the Christian Brothers packaging account
- in competition with several of the City's top designers and got the account. Some of the packaging designs I created for
them - over the years - are some of my favorite projects. Particularly elegant is the Christian Brothers XO box for their
top of the line brandy. Their champagne ribbon boxes for the Holiday Season of 1980 was a very tricky production job
and required "spot on" printing and very good box stock in order to reproduce the photography. Additionally each box
was a different proportion and so the sets that I designed and created in the photographer's studio, had to have special masks made
for the camera in order to get the set right. At Townsend Street I did my best work with additional projects for Crown Zellerbach paper, Chevron, Del Monte,
the San Francisco Symphony, and several start ups such as the Shape Up fitness center and my favorite product identity program
for Yes You Can Candies. The concept for that one still makes me smile. The store was ahead of its time and featured low
sugar, no sugar, low salt, etc. - candies for people with health and nutritional issues; people who loved to eat candy but
should not. And so the concept was
that the little angel that sits on our shoulder and usually says "don't do it"
would now be able to say "yes you can." That program also featured the store interior concept
which was walls and a ceiling painted with puffy white clouds in a blue sky and an eight sided "candy carousel display counter with
colored banners streaming up to the top of a gold pole. It looked like a carousel and the whole effect was like
being in a dream - which was the idea behind being able to eat candy despite your health concerns. The Christian Brothers
Centennial of Wine Making in 1982 is another favorite.
It was my first event planning project in which I was to create a symbol for the Centennial, apply it to all the various
required media to be used during the year, as well as the big Wine Harvest Luncheon at the historic Haas Lilienthal House
in San Francisco, where the Mayor and local wine dignitaries would be treated to a luncheon served by a famous chef. This
is one of my best identities and the event was planned right down to the floral arrangements which were created to mimik the color
scheme in the hands and grapes symbol. Perhaps the most unusual opportunity I had was an invitation to design a complete
promotional program for the design firm of Walter Landor Associates which was - at the time - still located on an old
ferry boat docked at one of the piers South of Market Street.
The opportunity came up - I was later told - because everyone on-staff wanted to do the project and so a consensus was never
reached. So an acquaintance of mine who had started up a
collateral division at Landor, told me that he had a secret project - known only to himself and Walter Landor. He said
that he had hired two outside designers plus me and that I was to submit a concept. The project was large as they had many
design divisions and a wealth of visual material - case studies of high profile projects - and it was all to be put into
some type of presentation kit. Turns out that Walter Landor picked my concept which
was quite striking and simple. Feeling
quite good about the whole thing I was set to go into production when I received a phone call that the project was put on
hold. Turns out that a small local printer had just dropped off their new promotional brochure which of all things,
sported a rainbow stripe across the top of the cover. Sadly though I photographed the entire presentation, I failed to
open up and photograph the big glorious four page gate fold of the main corporate brochure. it was smashingly good.
Well the 80's was a great time for graphic design in San Francisco and I had plenty of
good projects. As the 90's came along the computer came into the picture and changed the graphic art industry. Now everything
could be done more quickly and on computer. The fine craft of typesetting was becoming obsolete as clients were happy to settle
for computer type - which while not as finely done, was cheaper. In fact everything got cheaper, type houses went bust, all manner
of production of print ready media was changing, and with many clients on a "cheaper is better" mode of thinking,
such great old traditional crafts of the industry and such great shops as Marier Engraving, went out of business. I myself didn't
take to the computer and as there were changes in my
life, I took a break before moving into the website design part of the
business. I found the medium very interesting and the website as an amazing multi-dimensional communications format. For a while
in the 90's I was producing three major radio station websites and updating them with new content on a full time basis. Of those
sites, the one for 106 Kmel was my favorite. I introduced - with the help of some
talented artists such as Electrolux ( Deb and Julie ) some very nice gif animations into the site work and you can see those
in the website section for the KMEL and STAR websites. The work on KMEL didn't go
unnoticed and it was voted #3 of the top 40
on the Internet ( 1997), #6 of the "World's Best Radio
Station Web Sites" in 2000, and in 2000 I was nominated for "Webmaster of the Year" in the "Wammy Awards".
While being a lot of fun to work on, these sites started to burn me out and so just about the time I had the inspiration to
devote my life to fine art, Clear Channel bought out all the radio stations and took the sites inhouse and gave them all a unified
corporate look versus the distinctive identity I had created to match the music and audience. And so ... I was free.
Don't let them "typecast" you!
Throughout my artist life and career I saw a tendency for people to want or
need to put a label on creative talent. For some creative people this isn't an issue since they are clearly focused on one thing. But many
creative types - myself included - are versatile with diversified interests and abilities. This can sometimes be a blessing and
sometimes seems like a curse; for there are times when this range of interests and abilities can make it hard to focus. This had
been my challenge until I reached the point that I gained a proficiency in a number or areas, got clear about my limitations,
and also discovered some latent abilities along the way by daring to test myself. My abilities were a strong sense of color
and design, decorative illustration, and the ability to develop project & design approaches based on a sound marketing
approach. This was done via a review of the client's goals, the client, their competition and the segment of the market where
they intended to make or increase their impact and share of the market. Once you do that the right design and copy approach
will make itself clear. This was and remains one of the most interesting aspects of the creative approach to designing for
marketing. Examples of sound
conceptual thinking, planning, and follow-through are seen in my work for
the Shape Up Nautalus Club, and the
Chevron Can 17 Fertilizer promotional campaign. When you are creative - you are
creative. All throughout my career I never lost touch with the fine art side of me and I would do drawings and paintings for my
own pleasure. In fact,
being a frustrated collector who never found a signed Tiffany lamp that I could afford - ( one of my most passionate goals ) -
I decided to made my own. When I saw the work of master lamp and window maker Tim Brydon in San Francisco, I offered to do his business card
in exchange for a few lessons in the craft. Soon i was making leaded lamps and made around 8 or so. Due to the lack of good quality
glass at that time ( 1972 ) I was not satisfied with several of the lamps, but a few came out really well due to finding a few
sheets of antique 5 color opalescent glass behind the door of master glass maker Otto Dressler who created the City of Paris dome
and other notable San Francisco projects. The six sided Clematis trellis at sunset lamp was one of the best and I wish now that I had kept it, but
eventually I sold all the lamps. In 1980 after creating a large project for the Christian Brothers I decided to take off one full year in order
to paint, draw, read books and throw parties out on the patio of the Orange Street House. It was a liberating and rejuvenating time during
which I created around 60 pieces of "fine art", and when I ran out of money I went back to work as though I hadn't missed a beat.
Later during the early 90's I would take another time out and create over 100 motivational posters. I sold several thousand of them in a
test marketing in 7 states and they now reside in homes all over the world. The production costs and the small clientele of boutique
new age shops didn't make it a viable project, yet I got and continue to get so much pleasure when someone takes a print home and
is moved by it.
Make art young man!
Okay, the loss of the big radio station websites signaled my official shift out
of the design and website market as a full time
designer and into the world of fine art where the continued production of small websites for creative people and a few design projects,
would be but a small distraction from my new focus. I also started to teach or better put - conduct - art sessions for the elderly in
private care homes. That work continued to support me financially and was very rewarding in many ways. I gained great compassion and
an appreciation for the elderly who have various mental and physical issues, and I was imenseley impacted by the strength of their
spirit as they took on the challenges of aging with dignity and humor. One thing was clear and that was my belief that we all have a fountain
of creative ability within us and that through desire and hard work - it will bear fruit. The art that my resident artists produced
is really astonishing. They call it "outsider art" meaning not formally trained - which as it turns out is a great formula
for producing art with a unique look and vision. Also their mental and physical challenges contributed to their own unique form of
expression. I did this work through an organization called Art With Elders and continue today with one facility; having had 6 in the past.
The organization has started publishing books on the lives and art of our elders. I have designed the first two books in the "Nine
The new art started out intuitively. Having a love of glass, mosaics and
architecture, and having been so profoundly impressed
and influenced by the architects of Barcelona during a trip there in 1977,
I produced a series called my "Architectural Series". This series gained me an unexpected SECA award nomination via
the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 2001. As the work progressed it was clear that my chosen medium at that time was
collage and assemblage in a variety of materials and conceptual formats. I then went on to create three additional series. "The
Inner World" series, the "Signs of Life/Urban Debris" series,
and the "Facade" series. Over the period of
ten years which lead up to the big exhibition at the deYoung as their Artist-In-Residence, I exhibited in numerous exhibits in the
San Francisco Bay Area. One fun event, early on, was the introduction of my new art which I called the "Trust" series which took place
in the atrium and several studio spaces in our building. I called it that because I learned early on in the process to trust my intuition
as far as what direction to take and in the art-making process itself. All of the work from that ten year period as well as the
full presentation of the month long art exhibit and
workshop at the deYoung can be seen on
my fine art website.
Here and now
It's fun to look back over one's life but as "they" say, "be in the now
moment, for that is where life is lived". After I get this website fine-tuned, other projects are waiting. I will conclude
by saying that to view life through
the eye of an artist, or - better yet - to live a creative life, is a real blessing, for after we leave this life we leave some of
ourself & our creativity behind for others to enjoy. I can thank my father, Max ( a very gifted young man ), for his artistic
influence which, likely, made it all possible.
- John Kuzich April 20th, 2011
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