Seymour Chwast on God, sex and war

At Design Indaba Conference, renowned graphic designer and illustrator Seymour Chwast speaks about his compulsion to draw.

Seymour Chwast is a graphic designer and illustrator living and working in New York City. After graduating from Cooper Union he became a founding partner of the celebrated Push Pin Studios, whose distinct style has worldwide influence on contemporary visual communications. At Design Indaba Conference 2013 he discusses his career highlights, influences and on-going themes throughout his work in conversation with Pentagram partner Michael Bierut. The humorous and light-hearted conversation covers three prominent themes: God, sex and war.

I steal when it’s appropriate. I have my integrity. If it’s not appropriate I won't steal, says Chwast.

On the topic of God

The book Is God Dead? was very influential to Chwast. He explains that the idea upset him and so he set out to illustrate a number of artworks that point to the fact that God is in fact alive and well. He shows an amusing example of this with a creation titled God is Alive and Well in Mexico.

The first graphic novel Chwast ever did was illustrating The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri that looks at the topics of hell, purgatory and paradise. The work took him six months and is still one of his favourite creations.

I draw and generate work everyday; it’s a compulsion, says Chwast.

On the topic of war

Illustrating war images and issues started early in Chwast’s life. As a kid he drew pictures of air battles during World War II. This interest led to the creation of an illustrated book titled The Book of Battles.

Chwast further designed a number of posters during the time when the US was at war with Vietnam. The designer shows a number of examples including one that Bierut commented on as being legendary. The poster’s slogan is “War is good business – invest your son”.

On the topic of sex

The book titled A Nose was a publication that centred round the issue of “dirty laundry”. Here, Chwast illustrated a number of issues that were seen as controversial and explicit. Other works on the topic include: The Karma Sutra of Reading, and Bra Fashions by Stephanie, which showcases a variety of illustrated bras in a playful manner.

Creativity is less about the act of waking up and deciding to be creative and more about working with what you have, says Bierut.