More Power

More Power

If you’ve ever consumed a Doonesbury comic, a John Mellencamp album, a Bret Easton Ellis novel, an East Rock Brewing Company beer or a New Haven Pecha Kucha night, chances are you’ve encountered the work of graphic designer George Corsillo. Now a retrospective of Corsillo’s work, titled More Is More, is on view at Kehler Liddell Gallery through August 18, with opportunities—some free, some ticketed—to hear from the artist himself and some of his associates, including Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau.

Walking through More Is More is a bit like wading through an American cultural history from the 1970s forward. Corsillo has designed book covers for Ellis, Carrie Fisher, Larry McMurtry, Jackie Collins, Bob Woodward, Carl Hiaasen and photographer David Levinthal, among others. He’s created album covers for Mellencamp, Bon Jovi, Yoko Ono, Aurra, Bow Wow Wow, Pat Benatar and Luther Vandross, to name a few. Every week he colors the new Doonesbury comic strip for Trudeau.

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But this show isn’t as much about the big names as it is about the guy who makes them look good in ink. Corsillo’s playful, even edgy relationship with color and type (he confesses to being a “typoholic”) is evident across the spectrum of the work represented in More Is More. Much of what he’s doing—the splatters of color, the rough edges, the distressed type—we’ve seen before. But Corsillo was doing it before it was ubiquitous. What looks instantly recognizable as an ’80s color today, for example—like the bubblegum pink background and turquoise shadows of a Pat Benatar poster on display—is partly so because Corsillo made it so.

It’s fun to pick out the inspirations behind Corsillo’s designs. For the 1980 Dolly Parton album 9 to 5 and Odd Jobs, he did a Norman Rockwellian take on a Saturday Evening Post cover. His 21st-century covers for novelist Carl Hiaasen have a minimalist punch of color with a single image inspired by percussive titles like Strip Tease, Lucky You and—on view in the show—Tourist Season. For the cover of Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove, Corsillo says he went back to pulp novels of the 1800s for guidance.

A New Havener since 2010, Corsillo, who leads the firm Design Monsters with his wife, artist Susan McCaslin, has lent his expertise to many local projects as well. His pro bono posters publicizing local Pecha Kucha nights and the Institute Library’s Amateur Hours have an old-timey playfulness with abundant text, formal borders, provocative illustrations and typeface reminiscent of a 19th-century ad, typically delivered with a heavy dose of self-aware humor. A “chicken or the egg”-themed Pecha Kucha poster lines up the competitors (chickens and eggs) with the catch phrase “Me First!” and asks, “Did the presenters pick the date, or the date pick the presenters?” A quirky Institute Library talk on “rogue taxidermy” features a nut-holding squirrel looking shocked and anxious. Other local organizations have called on Corsillo: Atticus Bookstore Cafe, Lotta Studio, the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, DaSilva Gallery, Cafe X, Yale Pathways to Arts and Humanities, the International Festival of Arts & Ideas. East Rock Brewing Company’s logo and labels come from Corsillo, including the fun twist of a cloud formation behind the brewer’s East Rock Ridge logo that changes for each different style of beer.

Corsillo attributes his success to a fortuitously timed move to LA in 1977, a little bit of additional luck and a whole lot of hard work. As for the exhibition’s title, More Is More, he says sometimes that’s what a project needs. “Sometimes you do the cover, and it’s just a little too clean and a little too ‘less is more,’” he says. Then it’s time to layer it up, scratch the type, have some fun.

The best thing, Corsillo says, is when “there’s nobody between you and the artist”—whether an author or a musician or a comic strip creator—”and you can really have a good time.” It was like that, he says, when he first met John Mellencamp, with whom he’s worked for two decades now. “I hired you because I saw what you could do,” Mellencamp told him. “Do what you do.”

At Kehler Liddell, you can judge for yourself what Corsillo does. Or take it from photographer Levinthal, who signed a copy of his book for Corsillo, “To George—world’s best designer!”

More Is More
Kehler Liddell Gallery – 873 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
Thurs-Fri 11am-4pm, Sat-Sun 10am-4pm through 8/18
Opening Reception: 7/13 3-6pm
Artist Talks: 7/18 & 7/25 at 7pm (tickets)
(203) 389-9555

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 1-4 photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 5, of Susan McCaslin and George Corsillo, photographed by Dan Mims.

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