Lots of people say they love their hometown, but no one hearts NY quite like Milton Glaser. A native of the Allerton section of the Bronx and a graduate of the Cooper Union, Mr. Glaser, who turned 90 last week has been creating a whimsical, optimistic, mildly trippy visual language for the city and state since 1954. The images here are among 3,600 of his designs — for consumer products, logos, restaurant interiors, book covers, magazines and more — accessible to the public in his archive at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, where he taught for almost 60 years until 2017.
New York, of course, is a visual cacophony, where everyone clamors to be seen, but Mr. Glaser’s illustrations create a quiet around themselves, giving viewers space to think, even to dream. Many of his designs dart playfully between visual and verbal language. The I ♥ NY logo, for example, requires viewers to read the drawing of a heart as the word “love,” which in 1977 was a rather clever logical leap. His promotional posters for the Catskills pun visually on the word “cat.” His Bob Dylan poster, soaked in the psychedelic colors and hair of 1966, riffs on a self-portrait by Marcel Duchamp in which the artist’s hair is out of the frame.
If you see a logo for New York magazine or a Brooklyn Brewery beer, for the Rainbow Room or Grand Union, you’re living in Milton Glaser’s New York.
None of the images began with a premeditated plan to sell products, Mr. Glaser said the other day from his studio in the East 30s, where he still goes to work each day. Instead, he trusted their purpose to arise from the process of making them.
“Art and making things — particularly making things — are essential to our salvation,” he said. “I come to work every day and I sit down and I feel so happy, because I’m capable of taking something that exists in my mind and making it a physical thing. Whether it’s good or bad or art or not is irrelevant. But the act of doing it has kept my brain intact. I always say that retirement is this horrible conspiracy to prevent people from being alive. My God, who invented that?”
What he wanted viewers to take away from his designs, he said, was a simple message about life: “That making things keeps you alive.”
And that for Milton Glaser, being alive keeps him making things.