A Conversation With Milton Glaser As His Iconic, Psychedelic Bob Dylan Poster Turns 50

glaser 2017Dylan's Greatest Hits was released March 27, 1967—rushed out the door by his record label, Columbia, between the release of two other albums, the earth-shaking Blonde on Blonde and the lovely, underrated John Wesley Harding.

Between March 1965 and December 1967, Dylan released no fewer than four classic albums—including Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited—in addition to the five-time platinum Greatest Hits. In those heady years of the mid-Sixties, any number of bands sold more records than Dylan, but no other musical act on the planet—not the Beatles, not the Stones, not Hendrix, no one—was more influential.

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Bob Dylan live poster

Short animated video created for the 25th International Poster Biennale in Warsaw
in 2016: It contains a fragment of a song The Times They Are A-Changin' by Bob Dylan

Depicting Dylan with kaleidoscopic hair, the Glaser poster has been described as “psychedelic” and is often associated with rock posters produced in San Francisco at the same time. But Glaser, who had studied in Italy on a Fulbright scholarship in the early 1950s, is a formalist with a broad awareness of artists and art movements, and he took his inspiration for the Dylan profile from a 1957 self-portrait by Marcel Duchamp. Though Glaser used a similar composition, the transformation of Dylan’s curly mane into a tangled rainbow was his own invention. Glaser says he also tapped into an earlier art movement. “I was interested in Art Nouveau at the time,” he recalls. “That was an influence for the colors and shapes in the picture.” The contrast of vivid colors with the dark silhouetted profile reflects Glaser’s response to the Modernist “Less is more” dictum: “Just enough is more.” For the single word, “Dylan,” Glaser invented a typeface, one that he would use again on a poster for a Mahalia Jackson concert at Lincoln Center. Despite the millions of distributed copies, the Dylan poster has become a hot collectible that sells for hundreds of dollars. (It has been reissued twice, but originals bear the telltale folds.) Luck played a role in the Cooper-Hewitt’s acquisition, according to Davidson. One of her museum colleagues was teaching a graphic-design course when a student came to class with a poster that she wanted to donate, Davidson recalls. “It was the Dylan poster, in good condition—with folds—and it had been willed to her boyfriend by his father.”

How does Glaser feel today about his most famous piece? “I would have redone the hair,” he says today. “It’s a little clumsy.”

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