SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! Michigan Avenue Address Numbers - Six Blocks

Address numbers give buildings, homes, residences, businesses, etc., an extra hint as to what that particular address is all about; they are unique to each building and they add character. It's interesting to see the choices in regards to fonts, colors, size or decorative elements. I was downtown just recently, (so what else is new?) and I decided to start a quick photo-essay on addresses between 230 North and 122 South on Michigan Avenue. I figure that I shouldn't waste a walk without a documented observation; I sometimes give myself personal challenges or if I see a repeating pattern, I'll just make the decision to follow it. A bit of history here: house numbering was present in Paris around the 1500's and it was basically meant for denoting property ownership. Later on, the numbering system was used by postal and governmental services. In Chicago, downtown numbering is divided by North and South and the street that separates that is Madison Street; for East and West numbering, State Street divides that direction. In this photo essay, the numbering is a wonky as it jumps numerically by a lot, but I wasn't photographing every entrance-way on Michigan Avenue ... just the interesting ones. This was a quick jaunt down the street and an exercise in patience with waiting for crowds of tourists to get out of my shots. 

50 Years of Picasso in Chicago

On Tuesday, August 8, 2017, the City of Chicago held a nice celebration for the Pablo Picasso sculpture located in Richard J. Daley Center (in the old days, it was called 'Plaza' and I think it sounds better, whatev). I read that it was going to be a reenactment of the 1967 unveiling of the sculpture and I was really disappointed when I arrived on the site and didn't see the sculpture under a tarp. Ok, STRIKE ONE. Even though I got there 30 minutes early, I didn't get a seat ... the plaza was PACKED! It was super cool to see how many people love this Picasso sculpture. I stood next to a guy who was talking about how he was present for the 1967 unveiling - everyone was chatting with him. Commissioner Mark Kelly announced a couple who were at City Hall back in 1967 to get a marriage license and then crossed the street for the Picasso dedication ... and they were actually in attendance, ALIVE AND STILL MARRIED! Amazing! Ok, so I didn't get a seat, STRIKE TWO. Finally, they started the program 10 minutes late, even though Mayor Emanuel was present, signing autographs and taking pictures with people. There was a student orchestra there that played Gershwin's, "An American in Paris" and The Children's Choir sang the National Anthem and it made me feel proud to be from this city ... I had not sang that song in a while; it's like the Lord's Prayer - you never forget it, even if 100 years pass. The STRIKE THREE came when the audio cut out in the middle of Avery R. Young's invocation ... the poor man had to scream to be heard over the noise of the city. People started complaining around me, because REALLY ... the "City That Works" can't even get a public event right? Ay, give me a break. I stuck around a bit longer, but honestly, no one could hear the speakers ... I left, along with a whole bunch of other people. However, the event was respectful and full of gratitude to have this amazing public artwork be so synonymous with Chicago. This sculpture helps people have a knowledge & connection of/to art on a daily basis - even if most don't understand it. If the general public is going to know the name of at least ONE artist, I'm so glad that it's Picasso ... he's representing this city well.

Even though I live in Chicago, I always try to go see the Picasso sculpture whenever I'm downtown ... it's a 'thing' that I have & I'm not apologizing. I had, HAD, a friend that criticized me for taking him out of his way, because I wanted to see the Picasso. He said, "It hasn't changed, you know?" I DON'T CARE ... I WANT TO SEE IT AGAIN BECAUSE IT MAKES ME HAPPY. Uh, needless to say, I'm no longer friends with that individual. And no, it wasn't because he dismissed my desire to see the sculpture, but because friends should support friends healthy obsessions. If something makes a friend happy, then INDULGE THEM, no? This particular friend was a 'wet blanket', so he didn't understand the concept of JOY. Anyway, I looked through my photos of the Daley Plaza Picasso and found these right off the bat, however, I know I have many more photos on my older laptops and in my sketchbooks. Anyway, this is a special gift to the City of Chicago and I appreciate it ... it's having a piece of El Maestro for inspiration. Thanks Pablo!

Photograph/copyright by Irving Penn.

Photograph/copyright by Irving Penn.

Theme: Green

One of the best things that I've done this year was to become a member of the Art Institute of Chicago - I love bypassing the long lines and going straight to one of the security guards and flashing my membership card. (I will update that to the AIC phone app soon.) I was downtown yesterday for another reason, but if I have any time left over, I will try to stop by the museum. I go there often, but yesterday I wanted to have a focus for my visit. And that was a loosely based objective, because I leave it up to serendipity. I said to myself, "I'll know what to do, once I get there." And that was certainly the case. I encountered vertical green & white stripes on the AIC's Grand Staircase steps. I'm not sure why they're placed there? Does it have anything to do with the new Gaugin exhibit? He utilizes green so much in his paintings ... could it be that? Anyway, the stripes led my way to my theme - GREEN. I sought out to find as much green as I could in my visit and once I set that to mind, it really opened my mind & eyes to things that I hadn't noticed before. I think when you 'deselect' your mind to your personal preferences, you open possibilities that you wouldn't exactly primarily consider.  I'm lucky to have The Art Institute of Chicago's permanent collection within reach and here are my photos for my Theme: Green.

The Art Institute of Chicago's Grand Staircase, August 8, 2017. *I have to note that my photos are not taken with a hi-res camera, nor with a tripod, so there are times that photo may look a bit skewed; it does not help that I'm short of stature, so my point of view may cause some glare from the lights above. Hey, I try my best, but just a warning that these are not professional pictures.

The Art Institute of Chicago's Grand Staircase, August 8, 2017.
*I have to note that my photos are not taken with a hi-res camera, nor with a tripod, so there are times that photo may look a bit skewed; it does not help that I'm short of stature, so my point of view may cause some glare from the lights above. Hey, I try my best, but just a warning that these are not professional pictures.

As I made my way through the Art Institute of Chicago's galleries, I thought about how the color green is still quite prominent in modern culture; it was chosen by Pantone for the color of 2017! At first, I balked at this selection. I thought that green was a bit passé and certainly not a good 'modern' choice for our current times. I was wrong. Green SHOULD be the color for our times, as is represents nature and organic systems/elements. 

As I made my way through the Art Institute of Chicago's galleries, I thought about how the color green is still quite prominent in modern culture; it was chosen by Pantone for the color of 2017! At first, I balked at this selection. I thought that green was a bit passé and certainly not a good 'modern' choice for our current times. I was wrong. Green SHOULD be the color for our times, as is represents nature and organic systems/elements. 

Milwaukee in Six Hours

My good friend, Michele and her kids, joined me in a day-trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My main objective was to see the Rashid Johnson exhibition at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Michele hadn't visited Milwaukee in a few years and I was last there in the mid-90's ... so off we went. Their art museum is designed by super-talentoso, Santiago Calatrava, the architect behind the World Trade Center Hub and a long list of structures from all over the world. It's impressive and so ethereal ... sitting by the water's edge. We only managed to cover about 3/4 of the first floor, before we needed to go to meet an Alumni of mine from Miami, who now lives in Milwaukee. After our lunch with my Alum, we ended up just walking around the city, marveling at the amazing architecture and the EMPTINESS of people. It's a far cry from the hustle and bustle of downtown Chicago, but we didn't mind at all. We got back to the museum a few hours afterwards, to see what we missed and to use the bathroom before our drive back to Chicago. The guards were all so very nice and assured us that we had a good 20 minutes to see what we missed earlier. Michele and I did 'speed art appreciation', zooming past their excellent permanent collection, stopping to gawk and take pictures. As we walked back to the car, it was when I realized that I didn't see the Rashid Johnson exhibition ... it was THE reason why I wanted to go to Milwaukee in the first place. Duh ... no, DOUBLE-DUH! I think I face-palmed myself 10 times at my absent-mindedness. You know, when you're in good company and you're enjoying life ... seriously, who cares about plans? It's ok, because it will give me more reason to return before mid-September when the show closes.

I took some iPhone pictures from this quick trip ... there is so much to photograph! This city does deserve a second go-around and I'll bring my Lumix camera next time. Please enjoy, thanks!

David Salle, Within Sleep, 1985. I was a college freshman in the year this painting was made and I swear, it was such an amazing period in Postmodernism and Neo-Expressionist art, especially in painting. Along with Schnabel, Robert Longo, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Mimmo Paladino, Sandro Chia, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Pop Art 'Godfather', Andy Warhol (until his death in 1987). I religiously collected Art News and Art In America, because there was always something new and amazing to read about. Very good times in art. So, seeing this Salle painting, brought back so many memories; I can appreciate his work much better today. I've always liked his 'noir' dramatic lighting. I'm digging that little nod to Courbet in that cartoon ... I recognize the beard.

David Salle, Within Sleep, 1985.

I was a college freshman in the year this painting was made and I swear, it was such an amazing period in Postmodernism and Neo-Expressionist art, especially in painting. Along with Schnabel, Robert Longo, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Mimmo Paladino, Sandro Chia, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and the Pop Art 'Godfather', Andy Warhol (until his death in 1987). I religiously collected Art News and Art In America, because there was always something new and amazing to read about. Very good times in art. So, seeing this Salle painting, brought back so many memories; I can appreciate his work much better today. I've always liked his 'noir' dramatic lighting. I'm digging that little nod to Courbet in that cartoon ... I recognize the beard.

Andy Warhol, Brillo Box, 1964 "The reason I'm painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do." OH ANDY! 

Andy Warhol, Brillo Box, 1964

"The reason I'm painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do."
OH ANDY! 

My Wednesday Afternoon Walk from the Magnificent Mile to my Lake View Neighborhood

As long as I can load up ($) my Ventra (public transportation) card to take the train downtown, I will achieve my minimum of 10,000 steps per day; it's a modest attempt to stay active and healthy. I'm quite fortunate to live in Chicago as it is such a beautiful city and there is so much to see, especially if you're on a budget. Recently, it's becoming very apparent to me, that I still have much to learn about my own city. Granted, I didn't live in Chicago for 14 years and coming back has been an awesome reunion. For instance, I didn't realize that Loyola University has an art museum downtown. I must have walked past this museum thousands of times! Seriously, how could I have missed it?! It's located right across from the Old Historic Water Tower & Ghirardelli Chocolates - hmmm, maybe that's why I've missed it? I was distracted by temptation. Anyway, I took a time-out from my normal programming yesterday afternoon, to go check it out and then take advantage to walk back to my Lake View neighborhood ... a total of 4.5 miles. 

The Old Water Tower in the foreground and Water Tower Place in the background, left.

The Old Water Tower in the foreground and Water Tower Place in the background, left.

Loyola University owns a nice chunk of real estate downtown, from Rush Street to Pearson Street and a small street named Tower, where the horse and carriages line up. Honestly, I never really paid attention to their immense buildings, which house, to name a few, their School of Education, School of Business, School of Law, School of Social Work, Alumni Relations, the 15-story Lewis Towers and LUMA (Loyola University Museum of Art). The architecture is Gothic-esque and definitely steeped in Old European traditions of building exteriors; the cornerstone located at Pearson and Tower Streets, reads '1925'. I have yet to find out what I.W.A.C. inscription means ... I'm pretty sure it doesn't stand for 'I. Want. A. Cookie.'

The LUMA Collection is impressive, actually; the permanent collection is definitely all religious in subject. Although, they had a nice photo exhibit by Jeffrey Wolin, named 'Pigeon Hill: Then and Now'. Beautiful large-format photos with hand-lettering titles and stories directly on the images. The show runs through October 21, 2017 and I recommend it ... and it is FREE admission. I really LOVED this image, named 'Odalisque', 1999 ... it's relatable, quirky and a beautiful portrait of a teenager; it's definitely my favorite image from this show.

 

Jeffrey Wolin, Odalisque, 1999.

Jeffrey Wolin, Odalisque, 1999.

The other cool piece that caught my eye at LUMA was a early 16th century lock. I don't know why I am so fascinated by old locks? It's interesting that people were already protecting their possessions so very long ago ... times haven't changed all that much, I guess. The placard read:

"The central panel, adorned with the image of a bishop, opens to reveal the key hole. The flanking figures are St. Paul, holding a sword, and St. Peter, the keys to Heaven. This lock was an apprentice's final examination piece. He was tested on his precision; no other key should open the lock, nor a drop of oil seep through the mechanism. The key's bow is an 18th-century replacement." 

Seriously, this lock is pretty amazing ... it has 4-prong teeth once it's locked. And it's religiously charged with saints to further thwart any thief from stealing your stuff. It's 'guilty conscience' security on a heavenly level.

Lock and Key, lock: early 16th century, key: ca. 1700. French, carved and cast iron. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Solomon Byron Smith.

Lock and Key, lock: early 16th century, key: ca. 1700. French, carved and cast iron. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Solomon Byron Smith.

As I approached the Loyola University complex, the thing that dominates the scene is St. James Cathedral, which runs along Pearson Street. I actually went inside on the Huron Street side and was disappointed to not see a church interior - the security guard said that the building was really just offices for the Chicago Archdiocese. Hmmm, I don't know about that, but I have checked their site online and there ARE worship schedules. I need to go back ... maybe I went in through the wrong door or something? WILL FOLLOW UP.

St. James Cathedral, 65 E Huron St, Chicago, IL 60611

St. James Cathedral, 65 E Huron St, Chicago, IL 60611

Mariano Plaza dedication plaque.

Mariano Plaza dedication plaque.

Walking northbound from Archdiocese building, you encounter two really cute plaza's. One has an Argo Tea, which I WILL come back to, once summer is over. I mean, who wants to drink hot tea on a hot day? And no, I don't like ICED tea! Anyway, Mariano Plaza was full of senior citizens, so there must be a senior home nearby; there was a small sidewalk, but a bunch of old guys set up a table and chairs there, so it forced me to walk down the middle. TURF WAR! I love the condensed 1979 type on the plaque ... it's evident that someone stops by to clean it up from time to time. Actually, for a city plaque, the type & layout was handled nicely; modern plaques are not so elegant. 

Five Faces Ice Cream Shop, 10 W Division St, Chicago, IL. Apparently, they only serve vanilla and chocolate ice cream ... THAT'S IT. NO OTHER ICE CREAM FLAVORS, which I find funny. By the way, the 'five faces' change ... I'm not sure of the rotation schedule on that. I'm CRUSHING on the little circle on the top of the sign that says 'French Fries' - so cute!

Five Faces Ice Cream Shop, 10 W Division St, Chicago, IL. Apparently, they only serve vanilla and chocolate ice cream ... THAT'S IT. NO OTHER ICE CREAM FLAVORS, which I find funny. By the way, the 'five faces' change ... I'm not sure of the rotation schedule on that. I'm CRUSHING on the little circle on the top of the sign that says 'French Fries' - so cute!

Gas cap & dog paw prints. Division Street.

Gas cap & dog paw prints. Division Street.

The rest of the photos are super random ... just things that I saw along the way. I walked up Rush Street, which converts into State Street, down to Lincoln Park, walked through the zoo, went to the Lincoln Park Conservatory, up Belden Avenue and heading northbound on Clark Street. I prefer taking that route and avoiding the dicey stretch between Clark & Division, through the Carl Sandburg Village to North Avenue. Plus, the greystones on State & Dearborn streets are simply AMAZING!

Sunday Walk Through Lincoln Park and Lakeview ... Oh, and the PRIDE Parade!

When you live in Chicago, you understand how CRUCIAL it is to do as many hot weather events & activities as possible, before the dreaded Winter. Once the cold weather hits, you have to forget about being outside for longer than you really have to ... it gets brutal. So, you will see Chicagoans turn out for every blasted event in the City during the Summer. This weekend's premier event is the Pride Parade, that kinda caps off Pride month. The streets had been decorated with Pride rainbow flags for a couple weeks in anticipation ... it seems like everyone in this area gets really geared up for the parade.

I made plans to meet my niece, who volunteers around Lincoln Park on the weekends and we settled on having lunch and seeing some of the parade. Apparently, it was predicted that ONE MILLION people would go to the parade - I can attest that I saw a sea of people without an end in sight. Anyway, here are some photos from my day. Enjoy.

Ooh-La-La! French Poster Exhibition - Chicago

I had been randomly seeing ads for the Driehaus Museum for the past year and I honestly could not remember this museum prior to my move to Miami in 1999. It turns out that this amazing art & antiques collection owned by Richard J. Driehaus, housed in the Samuel J. Nickerson mansion on Chicago's Near North Side (a stone's throw away from the Magnificent Mile), opened to the public in 2003. Ok, now it made sense! I thought I was slipping a bit! Anyhow, I saw an ad for a French poster show named. "L'Affichomania - The Passion for French Posters" ... I knew that I had to go! 

Reminding myself to get staples, pork tamales and to see that French poster show, yeah.

Reminding myself to get staples, pork tamales and to see that French poster show, yeah.

I was a little apprehensive by the admission fee of $20, but I figured it was a 'one-off' and I was doing it for the art and the experience. After driving around the block twice, I nabbed street parking right by Holy Name Cathedral and I paid for an hour on the meter.

The building exterior is quite impressive in it's Victorian glory. This type of architecture that happened just after the Great Fire of 1871 and just before the Turn of the Century, epitomizes classic Chicago for me.  I loved seeing the poster for the show on the Wabash Avenue side ... I love French posters; I knew that I'd see an Henri Toulouse-Lautrec or two. EXCITED! 

Promotional images on the side of the building on the Wabash Avenue side.

Promotional images on the side of the building on the Wabash Avenue side.

It was a extra-bright sunny summer day, but upon entering the building, my eyes had to adjust to the dimness of the house interior. I was told by the door greeter, they keep it like that to preserve the artwork and furnishings. Makes sense, ok. The Admissions/Box Office is located just beyond the main staircase - I peered into every room on my way back there ... pretty amazing interiors. I felt like I was in a Time Machine transported back to 1897!

The Driehaus Museum, front façade.

The Driehaus Museum, front façade.

Entrance to the Driehaus Museum.

Entrance to the Driehaus Museum.

The first floor is mostly beautifully furnished rooms ... LOTS of dark polished wood. It's impeccable - NOT a spot of dust ANYWHERE. There's a beautiful Tiffany dome glass ceiling too, of course; I didn't picture it here, but I think a photo doesn't do it justice. You'll have to go and see it for yourself!

I unapologetically was over-hearing a tour that was going on when I got to the second floor and apparently, the interiors are made of cement, stone, marble, iron beams, brick ... there is no plaster and only ornamental wood used. 

The first posters to greet you are Alphonse Mucha's and it's pretty amazing to see them so close! Mucha was born in the Czech Republic in 1860. He started to draw at a very young age and he went to Paris as an adult to complete his studies in 1887. Apparently, there he walked into a print shop that was having a 'call for artists' to design a poster for the most famous entertainer & actress at the time, Sarah Bernhardt ... his submission won! And soon his artwork was plastered all of Paris and that was when his career took off!

Mucha's style is VERY Art Nouveau - lots of organic shapes and swirls. There's always an idealized, young woman in the center of the picture. He gave so much attention to the details, like the patterned backgrounds, hair and clothes. His work is brilliant and it's like a macaroon for the eyes.

The founder of the French Belle Epoque poster is Jules Cheret, without a doubt. He is the mac-daddy of this beautiful ornamental and advertising style. If you compare his work to Grasset, Mucha or Lautrec, you'll see that his work is not as stylized and graphic - and his typography is much more fluid and organic. His models are much more active and athletic ... many are jumping in the air and twisting their bodies in delight. Cheret's work is more painterly and that makes sense as he was self-trained in art history and his artistic heroes were Fragonard and Watteau. 
Cheret lived a long life and he basically lived his later years as a legend. He's the inspiration behind the history of the French poster and his work will be immortalized by Bed, Bath & Beyond products that tout his images; I have a 'memory box' from BB&B with a Cheret image. It's all good! Merci!

Photo by DOMAC.

Photo by DOMAC.

There are some nice touches at the Driehaus, for example, the way-finding signs are appropriate for the style of its time.

Oh, and there were a few Theophile Steinlen posters, but this is his most famous one: La Tournée Du Chat Noir de Rodolphe Salis, 1896. It's everything you want it to be, up close.

And finally, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec ... another French artistic genius. How gorgeous do these prints look in this room?  Left: Confetti, 1894 and right: Moulin Rouge - La Goulue and both are color lithographs. Whereas the other artists already mentioned are well-known for one or two distinctive pieces, Toulouse-Lautrec is known for MULTIPLE posters and they're all amazing. He was very inspired by the Moulin Rouge, a boozy cabaret in Paris, known to attract artists, writers and party girls & boys from all over. This is another case where a poster kick-started a career - Henri was commissioned to create this large print and he was famous overnight for it. He had a very curious way of treating fore, mid and background space; usually gray figures recede into background space, but Toulouse-Lautrec places a gray-scale gentleman in the foreground ...and he could have stolen the spotlight away from the can-can dancer, but because he is a cool color, he's treated as a secondary character ... and that was a gamble on the artist's part. The forms are simplified and broken into large graphic shapes, but the poster itself, is quite a complex study. The typography is also very nicely handled.

If you have the opportunity to visit the Driehaus Museum, I encourage you to do so and to catch this French poster exhibit that ends January 7, 2018. It's worth the $20! By the way, I became a member and I used my admission towards the membership, which I thought was deal!

Gender Mash-Up Collage Portraits

I've been casually making these collages for a few years already - I call them 'Gender Mash-Up Collage'. They came about when I was trashing old magazines and skimmed through them for interesting images before throwing them out. I started making them without too much thought - it was interesting to combine two different images, to create a brand new image.

I have always been a fan of the British Artist, John Stezaker, and collages that he makes using photographs from old movies and nature postcards. I first saw his work at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami and was floored by the simplicity of the combinations of images. His work is heavily influenced by the Surrealists and he is nicely carrying on that tradition.

This work is primarily the combination of genders and sometimes, animals. It's very serendipitous and the aim is to try and combine two images to create an interesting third visual. I think that as different as we are as people, we really are the same; and from these combinations, I create a new forms and possibilities.

© VVD BLK, 2015

© VVD BLK, 2015

Chicago Zine Fest Round-Up

If you didn't get the chance to attend the 2017 Chicago Zine Fest at Plumber's Hall in Chicago on May 6th, here are some photos that I took of the event. As I was 'tableling', I didn't have too many opportunities to check out the event as an observer, other than to take bathroom breaks. It was an awesome event and I totally did not expect the huge crowds! So many creative and talented people under one roof - the variety and scope of the zines was amazing. Really awesome time!

My table partner, Jonathan Jardin - artist, graphic designer and letterer extraordinaire!

My table partner, Jonathan Jardin - artist, graphic designer and letterer extraordinaire!

The creative mind behind 'Low Level' ... I didn't get his name, but he was my favorite zinester at the 2017 CZF!

The creative mind behind 'Low Level' ... I didn't get his name, but he was my favorite zinester at the 2017 CZF!

Beautiful Plumber's Hall on the West Side of Chicago; here is a cool mural from the 1920's.

Beautiful Plumber's Hall on the West Side of Chicago; here is a cool mural from the 1920's.

Plumber's Hall, 1340 W. Washington Street, Chicago, IL, 60607

Plumber's Hall, 1340 W. Washington Street, Chicago, IL, 60607

Pins by Low Level ... I loved this guys stuff! 

Pins by Low Level ... I loved this guys stuff! 

VVD BLK zines 01-05 ... to be sold on this website soon!

VVD BLK zines 01-05 ... to be sold on this website soon!

Earned my CZF 'Zinester' button! Thanks!

Earned my CZF 'Zinester' button! Thanks!

Giving My Mom's Old Record Collection Design Grades

Back in the day (late 1960's), my parents were really into music & our home always had music playing. My father worked for Zenith on the west side of Chicago, for many years. I assume that one of the perks to the job was that their employees had access to the most current audio equipment and televisions. I remember that we had one of those record players that was basically a piece of big, cumbersome furniture; it had speakers on both ends and a lift-top on the left side where the record-player was; the right side had a lift top too, but for some record storage. Honestly, the sound it produced was fantastic and it was loud if you cranked the volume to the max. I remember that I literally sat on the floor, exactly next to the speaker and examine every album cover, trying to memorize the words and basically, space out. Some of the themes in the songs were way beyond my understanding, but it never stopped me from enjoying the music ... it sort of made me understand my parent's generation in a better way. The trials and tribulations of being an adult, I guess.

Over time, those furniture-style record players became passé and people opted for the smaller, stacked audio options of the later 1970's. Once my parents marriage dissolved, the music stopped playing, because no one was happy anymore. When my parents went their separate ways, things got dispersed and I don't know what happened to our old record player, but I wish that we still had it! I did, however, managed to save part of the record collection. My mother's taste in music was certainly either very dramatic or sentimental memories of her life in Cuba. Mind you, my mother's family back in Cuba, was dirt poor, so she probably only had access to a radio and most likely didn't even belong to her family. Anyway, we kept the records move after move and she added some newer singers to her collection, like Julio Iglesias, Raphael and El Puma. Sadly, I saw that she was giving some of albums away to some of her Miami friends; I didn't want the collection to completely disappear, so I boxed it up and hid them from her by putting them in my bedroom closet. 

As an adult, I appreciate the physical albums for their visual graphics and design; it's such a sampling of what was happening in that period. However, many of the albums are literal 'DO NOT DO THIS!' lessons that I have given my student graphic designers. For instance, using three to five typefaces in a single layout, bad hierarchy, and generally unpleasing visual flow. In the age of the album design app (Adobe Spark) or album template generators, a non-designer could design a pretty successful album cover, given the specific typography or photographic effect. Having said that, many of these old Latin-American albums that I feature on this post are under the 'miss' category, than the 'hit' category. Although, the older the album, beginning in the mid-1970's, the more improved design overall. Anyway, here's a few samples from my mom's record collection. Enjoy.

I loved, loved, loved this album design - it went along with their fun and upbeat sound. It says 'The Best for You All' and Matanzas is a popular Cuban province, so I guess they had a certain 'sound' from their region? I'm not a music historian, so don't fact-check me. You see some design choices being made here, like the two center stars on the left & right, the bandmates decapitated heads look towards each other and the top star certainly denotes who was the band leader.
By the way, I was obsessed with this guy ... I just thought he was so cool and that he just LOOKED like he was in charge. Today I wondered, 'They had transition lenses in the late 60's?' The headline type is san serif with a stroke within the letter itself and the song names are a serif type and those certainly could have come down 2-3 point sizes; it gets a bit 'horsey' with the longer song titles. Honestly, having the song titles on the front is redundant and the exclusion of them would have made the front cover less busy. 
The backside was advertising of other albums sold under the Tropical music brand; this all seems to have a newspaper want-ads look and it's a bit overwhelming. La Tropical was one of the most successful music publishing companies, so obviously someone was reading that back cover.
Grade: A, but only if the song titles are removed from the front.

The character of 'Tina' was like listening to a conversation between my mom and one of her girlfriends - it was beyond campy. I didn't know how to deal with it as a kid, I mean, obviously it is a man, but he sounded like a woman. The poses are particularly very feminine and over-exaggerated, but I still loved it. The album title is 'TIna's 7 Phone Calls' with the subtitle of: 'The Travels of An Exile' oddly plunked down at the lower bottom left. In the album, Tina, makes a phone call every day, Monday through Sunday; funny, snarky skits and then he actually sings in between his cute Cuban one-liners. This album was one of my favorites, because it was the closest to a dinner theater that I would come to for a long time; I felt 'adult' by listening to it. I knew this material really wasn't meant for me as the audience, but I memorized the entire album, to my mother's amusement.
The front cover has the character of Tina in a decorated yellow, oval shape on a bright orange field. Again, there is a mixture of font types: serif, san-serif and then some wavy effect on the song titles. The flip side has a short bio on Mr. Cabrera and a serious headshot of him not in his drag character; the paragraph has a large dropped cap initial letter and the body copy is justified. The front of the album is a party, but the back is 60% business/seriousness, and then we end with two campy photos of Tina talking on her rotary phone. By the way, that is the biggest mole that I've ever seen on anyone's face - of course it's make-up!
Grade: B+, because at least they had a photoshoot.

Everything here is perfectly typical of an album cover for flamenco in the 1970's. Nothing to critique here ... what's done is done.
Grade: Pass

Initially, I liked this cover, because it sort of reminded me of a Blue Note design. Upon further inspection, a few minor changes could have made this cover awesome. The title, 'Los Mas Grandes Exitos de' should have been smaller to have fit neatly on top of his headline name. I would have devoted a bit more space for that top black box, so that the type wouldn't look so constricted.
The blue screened photo of Mr. Magaldi and the pink right box with the song titles,could have been brought up to meet the black box ... just to get rid of that dividing white gutter. I believe it would give the design more overall cohesiveness.
The type alignment is a bit loose - there seems to be no following of a grid, even though it is within a grid. I do like the extended look to his name in the title - it gives you a sense of his masculinity somehow. Apparently, Mr. Malgadi died rather young and he has been forever remembered as this handsome, well-dressed, very talented guitarist. Let me just say, finding this album just recently, I knew he was Argentinian right off the bat - he had that aura of Argentine class and presence.
One more thing, WHY did they cut the photo off on the right? The designer is officially fired, as Alex Heria, would say. There are so many ways to have avoided that awkward chop. Design is a puzzle; you push a little here and move things a bit over there and things should look good. I might just have to re-design some of these album covers for my own portfolio. This one had potential. Bummer.
Grade: C+

Another album that I initially liked and then disliked. Again, too many different fonts - the front and back don't match up typographically-speaking. It's almost like two designers worked on it separately and then in production they shrugged and mash it all together. Strange. I absolutely love the diamond-harlequin pattern and the red and blue work great together. An absolute 'YES!' and the placement of the photo on the front - it gives it overall good balance by being off-balance; very interesting work there.
The album back cover is a mess. WAY TOO MUCH TYPE and having his photo there again is redundant. The copy blocks are literally up against the photo and it's just causing a jam for no reason. So, this album design is a good lesson in type consistency and giving elements on a page, a space to breathe. The yellow band at the top and the sliver of the diamond design at the bottom, shows that the measurements were wrong or production was wrong - something is off. I could go on and on about this one, but I'll stop here.
Grade: C, until I see some cohesion on a re-do; could be an easy A with changes.

One of my most favorite album covers in this collection. Beautifully done. Elegant and understated ... the album matches the drama in the songs. The image is strong ... I love the foreshortening of the arm; it fits the square format perfectly. I knew every song on this album and I recall my mother was all a-flutter over the romantic songs of the baritone-voiced Marco Antonio Muñiz. By the way, if you squint, he sort of looks like Joe Jonas with slicked-back hair.
Grade: A

'Listen to My Songs' by Leo Marini is a nicely designed piece; another handsome Argentinian collaborating with a Cuban orchestra of La Sonora Matancera. Nice slab-serif rested on top of a condensed san-serif with some creative type placement with the words, 'con la' tucked neatly between the bigger type. The Tropical music logo is at the top right, so it could have been seen easily by fans of that brand. It's actually a great album.

There's a few Spanish singers that hung out in the Caribbean more than their homeland. Tomas de San Julian had a falsetto, nasal-y voice with a staccato delivery. In regards to the typography, there's a lot going on here. The title is a condensed san serif that has been kerned VERY tightly, with a curious asterisk at the beginning of the title. Having said that, is that the title? Many of these old Latin-American music albums have multiple titles and subtitles. In the center of the album, it says 'The Night of Love' followed by 'And Other Great Hits By ...' (modified by a curve effect) and then his name, in a serif typeface, italicized and kerned rather haphazardly; take a look at the space between the T and O in Tomas - yikes!. Then there is a photo of Mr. De San Julian in his Spanish garb, complete with red sash ... so it's clear that he's not from the Tropics. To further the mess, someone decided to add decorative lines at the top, middle and bottom of the image. It's sort of hard to believe that these design actually went to print.
On the back cover of this album, there are yet MORE titles and information! “Mosaicos Flamencos” is a subtitle and it’s here that it is revealed that Mr. DE San Julian is part of a trio, ‘Los Martinetes’ , but he apparently is the headliner. There are short bios on all three in both English and Spanish along with this short intro: “Los Martinetes is a group of stars, each of whom is a specialist in his own field. Puchito Records is presenting this group to the lovers of Spanish art. In this LP which contains the best of their repertoire one can hear the vibrant and emotional voice of Tomás de San Julián as well at the ‘taconeo’ of the magnificent Anita Martinez. The magic fingers of Paco de Málaga make the guitar sing and talk.”


Finally, there's Juan Legido, another Spaniard, for a love of the Caribbean. The front cover of his album is a bummer ... who the heck approved that photo? He couldn't appear more despondent and disinterested. Or was he trying to be cool? Not sure. The photo is strangely cropped with a lot of empty space of blue background behind him and then that photo box has a rule around it. At least he's using Cooper Black, but with a hideous san serif type on the right that says 'Legido Sings to Cuba'. I don't mind the decorative half-moon motif on the front and back, I mean, at least they're the SAME. Consistency seems to be an issue so far with all of these albums. I think someone pinched him and he became slightly more animated on the back cover photo; again, the Spanish sombrero makes an appearance. I think the two Spaniard album designs miss the mark in regards to design; both of them are rather theatrical and loud when singing.
Grade: Marini, A
Grade: Legido, C
Grade: De San Julian, D

I have to assume that art directors and creative directors were not present at certain record labels. This Antonio Machin front cover was totally mishandled - there's a whole lot of wrong going on. Where to begin? The could have stacked the top title and avoided the uneven spacing in that yellow field. His name is italicized and then placed on a angle and the leading between is enough room to drive a semi-truck through. And this is a case of 'I don't know what I'm doing, so I'm going to add useless elements.' Case in point, the blue bar. Why is it there? Is there a primary color quota to be fulfilled? And the photo of Mr. Machin himself ... he's a dapper man, but that yellow screen on him, makes him look jaundiced. There is no consistency between the front and back covers; and in this case, I prefer the back. Ricky Records seems to prefer its logo at the bottom or not front & center. 
Grade: I'd give this cover a strong D, with a chance to redo in a week's time.

As I recall, Raul Marrero could SING! He was very simpatico and he's giving the public two vibes: sultry on the front and 'Hey, whassup, mama?' on the back. The type, ugh, but not THAT bad. Slab serif was popular with the male singers and here that is juxtaposed with a light script under his name ... at least it's kerned correctly and hierarchy exists. And the song titles are nicely handled in a bold serif font, so it's not exactly competing with his name. 
The back cover is fine, except where did the pink come from? And I'd get rid of those corner scallops - unnecessary clutter. Grade: B

Not exactly one of the albums from my mom's original collection, as this was produced in 1987. I actually love the type treatment on the album title ... it's consistent on the front and back, thank goodness. It's decorative type, but it's legible ... it works. I think having the song titles on both sides is unnecessary, but I guess that was the trend? My only other complaint is the weird glow around Raphael - it's like an eerie force-field.
Grade: A 

I think it’s kinda funny that Guillermo Portables is wearing frilly Tropicana sleeves considering that his music is basically Cuban country music. I’ve only heard him sing on this album and it’s similar to what you call, ‘Ditty’s’ – cute, short, catchy songs. As a kid, I knew that they were corny, but I still enjoyed them.
Anyway, the album title, ‘Here Is Portables!’, released in 1957, is in a brush script typeface and it really IS touching the border ... there’s no ‘safety’ accountability. Actually, the san serif font on the bottom right is also getting cut-off. Also, I wish the designer had just reversed the Rumba logo, so there’s not a big white block sitting on a black background. Someone wasn’t minding the margins! The front cover isn’t awful, it’s perfectly acceptable, other than the complete disregard to the margins.
The back cover is actually pretty good and quite simple. There’s a choppy, but organic winding line from the top left to the middle right ... nice direction device. Unfortunately, the designer was consistent with that Brush script font, but the rest of the type is neatly organized and has great visual flow. This album was manufactured and distributed in East Flatbush, Brooklyn and Puerto Rico.
Grade: B-, fix your margins and you’ll get an A.

Cooper Black is a good choice, but I think the designer condensed it a bit, which makes it lose a little intergrity. I’m not loving the flamboyant script font for the word, ‘Felicidades’ (released in 1968); these typefaces exist on the same page, but they aren’t working together. And then for whatever reason, the tuck all the song title right under his name and the font size for that is entirely way too big. And yes, the have a dark blue for Side A and baby blue for Side B; and it seems like they more or less chose an overall color palette that goes with Mr. Infante’s suit.
By the way, if you’ve never heard of Pedro Infante, you should look him up ... he’s a legendary Mexican singing and movie superstar; and he was incredibly handsome.
The back of this album really makes me mad, because they dump the Cooper Black for a boring san serif and they switched up the color classification. Literally, it looks like two separate designers worked on this album.
Front Cover Grade: B, remove the song titles or make them smaller.
Back Cover Grade: D, because the entire thing is way too busy; go talk to the front cover designer.

There is a naughty asterisk that has flown away and going towards the right of the visual composition. Meanwhile, the other two asterisks are within their little red and green fields, behaving appropriately. There’s a ‘mod’ feeling to this cover and the colorful primary & secondary colored shapes add to that hip mood. Mr. Contreras image is screened with a large dot pattern. The front and type fonts are the same - using a tightly kerned script and an VERY extended serif type for the album title, “His Voice and His Hits”.
On the back, the Rumba logo is dangerously close to the trim and a part of the album serial number gets cut off. His photo on the back is a bit dark and gets rather ‘plugged in’ with ink - almost no mid-tones there.
GRADE: Front cover A, back cover C ... fix the photo.

I’m loving this trippy 1969 Perez Prado album art! The curvy slab-serif typeface with a slight degrade really taps into the style of the times. The male dancer looks like he’s doing the ‘limbo’ and the female is tossing her hair all about. Ok, the type does have goofy effects on it, but that WAS the style and honestly, it would work currently. The back cover shows an illustration of the young woman, who’s face is hidden by her hair ... okkk? And now she’s dancing with what looks like a miniature levitating horse. The typography on the back is all slab-serif, except for the RCA & CAMDEN logos. Really fun and well executed, overall.
GRADE: A

Another winning design with ‘Los Papines’ GUAGUANCO album! Really nicely handled font with a yellow stroke to form a sort of megaphone ... the exclamation point is gorgeous. The ‘Los Papines’ logo is nicely integrated into the bongo drum along with a simple line drawing of maracas. The thing I REALLY like the most, is the introduction of Spanglish, which is when Spanish-speakers intermittently use English when speaking ... here, it’s in text: OYE MEN LISTEN. Which translates to, ‘Hey guys, listen!' The song titles on the bottom right looks like a Helvetica italic bold, is both kerned and leaded well. The blues color tones tie things together and circulates the eye around the surface ... this is actually frame-worthy.
The back cover has some linear textural artwork and the words BRAVO STEREO are repeated across the top. The song list is NOT repeated on the back, like most of the albums reviewed so far. Here, they decided to promote their other artists with 4 small pictures of the top four albums and then a short list. Also, there is no wrap-over overprint color from the front cover on the back, which is how it should be. There’s a small blurb that says, “The best artists record on disc’, so maybe this was around the time of the 8-track or maybe the cassette on the market?
GRADE: A

Another RCA album, 'Memorias de Carlos Gardel', features one illustration for the Argentinian legend. The line-drawn figure is balance by a yellow half-circle glow. The shadow on the face has a odd splitting the face down the center and the shaded side is a olive-green color. The pants have a stippling effect for the shadows on his pants. It’s a cute little illustration and the boots and spurs have a nice, clean use of negative and positive. This album is a memorial album for Mr. Gardel as he died in the 1935, so the script type used is for nostalgic purposes, I guess. 
I really like the lowercase use of his name in a bit-condensed font. It does strike a nice balance with the tall and slender figure of Gardel to the left. On the backside is information for the musical conductor and arranger that put this album together; and Mr. Tucci shares his beautiful signature. There is an initial drop cap to start the main paragraph on the back and the composition is very unfussy and clean. There are some bits of type that needs to be tweaked here & there, but overall, good.
GRADE: A

I wanted to include this album front, because I really love the illustration - it reminds me a bit of when Andy Warhol was illustrating for a living. Mr. Beltran seems like he was a good-looking, dapper man with a handkerchief and all. The condensed san serif type has good hierarchy ... could be tweaked a bit better though. I think the type clump of ‘[...] con la Sonora Matancera y Otras’ is handled nicely with a tight gestalt. The Tropical logo adopts the orange in it’s logo from the background. Well done.
Grade: A

This Celina and Reutilio album cover type consists of a bold and a condensed bold san serif typeface and the type hierarchy isn’t that bad. The space that the saint takes up on the page is much more greater than the mere mortals on the right. I would like to see the headline, ‘Santa Barbara’ brought down 3/8 of an inch; the red is in relation to the traits of this particular saint who favored the color red. I don’t like the box that holds most of the type on this front cover - ugh, it has a perspective shadow. Noooo! I would have left it open, so the type doesn’t appear so constrained. My BIG gripe is how the chopped off Reutilio on his left shoulder. It could have at least lined it up with the box below; the chop seems so arbitrary. I have to remind myself that these designs were not done on a computer, that they probably had one last stat of this couple and they screwed it up. They probably ran out of time and money - who knows?
The back cover is a mess because the black and white photos have plugged in too much and the images are flooded with black. There are two other albums featured, in which the front cover is entirely black. Did people back in the 1960’s have this much time to read all that copy? Hmmm, probably.
On a sidenote: I searched the address provided on the album and the manufacturer and distributer were located around the area near the Miami River on between 27th and 36th Streets; today that stretch of road is where you can find scrap metal and car rental places. It’s always been a bit of a desolate road, but I’m sure in the 1960’s it was considered ‘folksy’.
Grade: B-, no, C-, because the back cover should have never gone to print. Come on people!

Another music album dedicated to a Catholic saint - the color symbolism on these religious albums are always on point; purple is always associated with Saint Lazarus. The illustration is typically accurate with San Lazaro - a broken-down old man, barely clothed, on crutches, surrounded by two dogs.
The type treatment is very conservative - a san serif, condensed and regular bold. And I usually dislike any sassy type on a path, but the half-circle line that aligns with the praying figure, actually looks cool. Yes, it’s a script, but maybe it’s less distracting because of the curve. The words ‘Canta A San Lazaro’ are a bit disjointed, but I realize that it could have been worse. Big props to Membi Records for reversing their logo to white to blend in with the cover design.
The back cover has absolutely nothing to do with the seriousness of the front cover. It reminds me of an old Broadway Playbill with the caricatures. It’s a bit confusing, is this an album that praises a saint or is this a comedy skit? It does say it the back cover notes that he is a fervent believer in Saint Lazarus. Maybe the got the covers mixed up with another album that Mr. Membiela made?
Front Cover Grade: B-
Back Cover Grade: F

Which church do you go to?” is the name of this album ... I guess this was a legitimate pick-up line at one time. Rene Cabel was born in 1914 and most famous for his boleros. It’s interesting that the photographer signed his name on the portrait featured on the front side. For the most part, it’s a visually understated album cover. The background is a pleasing mid-baby blue background, the title is a nicely kerned script font and the singer’s name is in a nice san serif (Futura
Bold?
), underneath that it cites, Music by Tony Fergo in an elegant thin san serif. There’s a nice illustration of a church steeple reversed in white stroke, but it has a strange use of black for the negative spaces.There is also a quirky Nuria Records logo with a cute, smiling toddler; unfortunately it’s plopped down on the blue background within a white box.
The back cover is just as understated and organized. The church illustration is correct in its usage and it is probably the proper intent – black strokes on a white background. There’s a bit over blue overwrap from the front cover and this work was performed by Precision Litho Corp., located in Miami, Florida and apparently it still exists! Nuria Records had a Hialeah, FL, post office box address and I don't think they are still around.
The song titles are quite funny to me. Here is some of the ‘Side B’ list: ‘Treat Me Formally’, ‘Last
Night You Were Meant for Me’
, ‘My Crazy Melancholy’, ‘Really Too Sad’ & ‘Tell Me the Truth’. Truly dramatic stuff! The back side also features three other albums from Nuria Records, nicely screened and appropriately sized. I supposed the album art does reflect the music and the theme ... I guess this guy wants to find a church-going girl.
Grade: B+; fix the weird black reversed knock-out on the front cover illustration.

Well, sex sells. Women in bikinis were not only popular in Latin American albums, but in the 1960’s overall; and actually, it’s a pretty modest bikini. The spacing is very inconsistent here ... not balanced either at the top or bottom of the image circle. The type feels very constrained at the top and the bottom and it’s unnecessary. The stylized serif is alright, it’s just placed to high on the composition; it’s actually competing against the BRAVO logo at the top right corner. The song titles and bullets are a bold, italic san serif and it sits right on the safety fold. The back cover is a simple duplicate of the ‘Los Papines’ GUAGUANCO album.
GRADE: B-

The detail picture is a close-up of one of the funniest song titles; ‘They Call Me the Bus'. Ok, what?

 

These are a small sample of the logos I found on these old albums and I find them all to be pretty much, timeless an memorable. Personally, I really like the Discos Rex and the Stereo logo with the three circles ... I have a penchant for circles. 

This album cover is kind of sad. It’s a despondent woman looking longingly into a glass of brandy; her engagement/wedding ring is prominent. She’s leaning on one of those old-fashioned record players ... the logo on that has been blurred. Perhaps she’s sad about the typography on this entire album. On the front, there’s a subtle calligraphic font closely resembling European chiseled letters; the horizontal strokes are thinner than the vertical and the serifs are very slight. Along the bottom of the front cover, there is a condensed san serif Helvetica, that says "With You Savage Kisses".
On the backside, someone decided to use a slab-serif reversed thick stroke font with a drop-shadow and the leading between the two big lines of copy is ridiculous. I like that the little squiggle on the top of the Ñ was left black ... strikes a balance. The song titles are curiously handled by creating a staircase pattern. At the bottom they feature eight more albums under the Modiner label - there are a few that are very tough to read, because the ink has plugged in the small images and text.
GRADE: C; it's just not consistent with typography overall.

This album cover has a pleasant mix of illustration and photography. The name of the album is “When I Left Cuba” by the trio Los Hispano-Americanos - which is probably the most treasured of all Cuban exile anthem songs. The guys have a quirky high-school vibe portrait with two crossed guitars. The illustration is the ‘Monument to the Victims of the USS Maine’ erected in Cuba in 1925 ... the eagle has since been dismantled and the parts went to different parties.  Again, as with the last few reviewed albums, the back cover is simple and understated. There’s a grid being used to line elements and type and it works. Simple, but everything is HEAVY ... bold or black. Ugh.
GRADE: A

The front cover of Xiomara Alfaro's 'Siboney' album is beautiful and I'm sure it was even more vibrant when it was new and not affected by time. The slab serif typography works brilliantly against the dark background; notice the bilingual 'reissued by request'. This shows that her audience and fans went beyond the Latin-American population - I was told by my mother that she really did cross multiple barriers with her amazing voice. The bonfire set against her silhouetted figure is dramatic and a bit one the theatrical; she's dressed in the typical garb of poor, country Afro-Cubans. This cover reminds me a bit of Aaron Douglas paintings, because of the strong central figure who seems to be empowered; and song and dance were always involved in the narrative. This front cover assured the music lover that they were in for a masterpiece ... very well done.
As usual, the back of of these LP's are disappointing in regards to design and layout. Ms. Alfaro appears beautiful and jubilant in a flamenco-esque dress - she seems to be clearly photographed during a performance. The outline of her figure is a little choppy, but of course, these are the days before digital design. They dropped the slab-serif typeface and picked up a boring (and inconsistent) san-serif type, bold and condensed bold. The song titles are rather small and very condensed and therefore, super difficult to read. As I have mentioned before, it clearly looks like these music production companies had two designers and they did not communicate. The back cover isn't a complete disaster, but it does have some visual flow issues. 
Grade: Front cover, A; back cover, B

Blanca Rosa Gil was a very popular singer of her generation, ranking close behind Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot, as all three were women of color as well. Her style was the dramatic bolero and this front cover portrait is channeling that vibe ... 'I'm NOT looking at youuu.' The type is san serif, condensed and extended ... it's not horrible. 
The back cover is a bit disjointed ... looks like the paste-up artist at the time, did not use a straight-edge guide, because the word, 'Sombras' doesn't seem to line up with anything. I don't know why they wanted to angle her name - it just doesn't look good. It's either you angle ALL IN or NOT ... and this is sort-of an effort, but let's not go crazy. The song titles are all orderly and organized in two columns, flush left and ragged-right. The bottom of the back cover featured eight other albums under the Modiner label and I really like how all of the albums were screened yellow and I'm sure the black ink at the time of print was denser and the yellow was brighter. I think they did the trick in enticing their fans to buy their other albums. The back side of this album IS boring, but at least it is consistent. It's a passive-aggressive 1950's musical visual feel.
Grade: B+, because the little problems could have been resolved at the final release.

Boxeo de Amor, which literally translates to 'The Boxing of Love', but in Spanish it makes sense, I suppose. The young female model is lovely and sexy with her off-the-shoulder blouse. The typography is BORING ... san serif with a brush san serif; I suspect that they used the default fonts that they were given. I'm not sure what the release date of this was, but I'm sort of surprised that they didn't do more hand-lettered unique titles for their albums. I spared you the torture if the flip-side, as it has the same issues with almost all of the back covers in this article.
The color balance on the main figure is really off and the lighting is strange, because t gives her such weird shadows.
Grade: B-, it's just so dull. I think anyone could have done this - not even necessarily a graphic designer.

The Boleros de Amor album cover again hinges on the visual an attractive young woman; posing on her back in a submissive position on sofa, looking away in a forlorn fashion, playing with her blouse nervously. I suppose you can add the rest of your fantasy here _____________. There's a nice script title on an angle at the top - in a punchy cyan. Below, the words 'En la dulce voz de", or , 'In the sweet voice of' is a condensed font and for whatever reason, the artist's name is in an extended (and super-squatty) extra-bold serif. The opposing visual typographic qualities does not work well together - it's incredible kerned and leaded very tightly and it 's congested for no reason. I would have preferred a white to the red that was chosen - as the overall color tone is reddish already ... the white would have popped more. The song titles are in a white bold italic, in even columns and mirrored opposite - the font size looks good. Regrettably, the Bravo logo disappears in that cyan blue though; it's ok though because it's featured prominently on the back. The album is dramatic and heart-breaking - that was the sound of those times.
Grade:B+

Celeste Mendoza's album is fun and vibrant - visually and typographically speaking, even if it is a little cheesy. I count five fonts in the title and subheads - we start with a condensed san serif, which leads into a script font for her first name and then an up & down dance using a slab serif for her last name; clearly this is an upbeat party. Even the stars showed up! Ms. Mendoza herself is an attractive woman, smiling widely, wearing a tropical straw hat, shell necklace and capri pants. I've always loved this album cover just because it was happy ... Celeste is fun! Anyway, the rest of the type is a bold san serif condensed, regular and extended buffet. The kerning is good, but the leading is a bit open, however, it's consistent, so it's not so bad.
Grade: B+

Another exotic and fun cover woman, except the model on the Epoca de Oro del Trio Los Panchos, is much more mod and funky. When I was a kid, I didn't notice that she's only wearing that hat and the blue scarf ... it's so 60's, isn't it? There's a lot going on this cover - it's a bit busy. It could be her hat, it could be the birds of paradise flowers, or it could be the type. Ok, it's the type. It's too much and I don't need to give you the obvious play by play. I will say that I do really like that 'Stereo' logo in the top left corner. The title is very reminiscent of the 'Guaguanco' Los Papines album, with the red type and the yellow stroke in that skewed, perspective angle.
I'm not going to review the back - it's overkill. The entire thing is excessively wrong.
Grade: I'm going to be tough on this one, C for both front and back.

'You Made Me a Woman' by Blanca Rosa Gil is campy and I love it! Why do I like this one and not the previous one? Because this one is understated and it's boldly theatrical. Ms. Gil's hair and make-up is spectacular and she's lit like she's on a telenovela. The corny line-drawing frame actually fits with the decorative serif type. The front cover WORKS or as they say nowadays, WERKS! She's framed and she gets our full attention ... it's simple, but effective. The back cover is all about this star - she's centerstage on all sides. The back cover showcases all of Ms. Gil's albums and fabulousness. Clearly, she had a very good designer and hung on to this person - all her albums were on-point.
Grade: A

In conclusion, all these record albums are pretty great in their own right. In regards to design, some are better than others, but I appreciate all of the graphics for the good and the bad. You learn from it - you see where graphics made some of the covers iconic, like the Marcos Antonio Muñiz cover. I gave out some tough grades, but it's all in fun. I tried to do more online research, but there wasn't too much that I could find; one of the albums I looked said it was 'rare'. Too bad they all have some kind of wear & tear on them; I wouldn't sell any of them though. I'm holding on to these gems for a LONG time - a small slice of music and design history. 

Walking Around Downtown Chicago on a Rainy Saturday

My old visual arts graduate friend, Andrew, was in town for a few days, as his girlfriend was here for a conference. We all met up for breakfast and caught up with each other. They had to leave to drive back to Indiana and I was going to hop on the Brown Line and head straight home. Then, I remembered that I read earlier this week, that walking at least 10,000 steps is a sure-fire way to get fit and lose weight. So I decided to walk some more to reach that goal (i did!), particularly since it stopped raining. Here are a few of my photos from my walk mostly around Michigan and Wabash Avenues in Chicago.

The Lightner Building, 1006 S. Michigan Avenue, has a gorgeous mural by Collin van der Slujis' "From Doom to Bloom" facing North.

The Lightner Building, 1006 S. Michigan Avenue, has a gorgeous mural by Collin van der Slujis' "From Doom to Bloom" facing North.

Water, indeed!

Water, indeed!

The placard says it all ... an old Sullivan and Adler building, deemed a landmark in 1981.

The placard says it all ... an old Sullivan and Adler building, deemed a landmark in 1981.

Built in 1912 in an Art Deco style. It houses lots of jewelry shops. Ahem, Jewelers Row.

Built in 1912 in an Art Deco style. It houses lots of jewelry shops. Ahem, Jewelers Row.

Pittsfield Building, built in 1927, sits on the corner of Washington Street and Wabash Avenue.

Pittsfield Building, built in 1927, sits on the corner of Washington Street and Wabash Avenue.

Rut-roh Scooby! Very tight turn and fit! (Wabash Avenue)

Rut-roh Scooby! Very tight turn and fit! (Wabash Avenue)

All About the Cornerstones

Since returning to Chicago after 14 years of living in Miami, I became mildly obsessed with finding history and old buildings from yesteryear. I think it's because Miami is relatively a 'young' city in respect to buildings and/or structures. It has great examples of Art Deco architecture, but nothing is really THAT old. I mean, although the Spanish Monastery in North Miami Beach is centuries old, it wasn't reconstructed until 1952, after being brought to the states, brick by brick by William Randolph Hearst. Miami's nickname is 'The Magic City' and the city is exactly that ... MAGIC. It is sleek, modern, shiny, loud and trendy. In my opinion, Miami is SASSY and borderline BITCHY and it doesn't have time to document or record its own history ... it just cares about THE NOW. It's about the body beautiful and the fastest 'whip'. Yesterday was so Al Capone!

As I started to reconnect with my beloved Chicago neighborhood of Lake View, I began to discover many cornerstones on buildings in my area. I would absolutely 'geek out' in delight upon seeing these old commemorative chiseled stone blocks; it represented the history that I was desperately seeking. These physical markings usually are found on churches and schools, but many old government, residential and private business buildings also have cornerstones. Cornerstones denote the start and/or finish of the construction of a structure; sometimes the architect name is also featured and maybe some random facts.

The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 wiped out all but 14 buildings in Chicago, so I think Chicagoans at the time of reconstruction, were eager to establish dates of new building and it sort of seems like they said, 'This one is gonna last!' And course, brick was the material of choice right after the Great Fire and most churches around that time were made of stone ... and so the cornerstone became an important feature. In essence, Chicago is just a hair ahead of Miami in regards to historical structural markings ... the Great Fire really put a dent in our architectural past. To compare the two cities is like comparing onions to oranges (the name, 'Chicago' is derived from the Algonquin Native American language word for onion). However, without a doubt, Chicago has a richer architectural past, thanks to European immigrants (the Germans, Irish and Dutch), Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Daniel Burnham and Mies van der Rohe. Sorry, not sorry, Miami.

Below are my photographs of cornerstones that I have found mostly in the Chicagoland area. Part of the fun is just stumbling upon them and then later on researching the building history online. I appreciate the craftsmanship and the typography in the limited layout space of the stone. Things like, is the type chiseled out or recessed back below the surface? Gothic, Blackletter, Serif or Sans Serif typeface use? I wonder what went into those decisions and why. There's a gorgeous '1890' church cornerstone (pictured below) in what seems, an organic, Celtic design. I wonder if the Irish were predominant in the Ravenswood area at one time? There are some cornerstones that aren't really on the corner, sometimes they are located in a ornamental disk and placed at the top of the building cornice or upper gable. Perhaps that was a stylistic decision from the traditional ... even if it was 1898. Anyway, I just love to see how these great old buildings have endured the test of time ... and in some cases, the test of Chicago winters or wrecking balls. I say we continue this Chicago tradition of keeping year-markers for future generation historians, architects, history-buffs or geeks, like me.

My Love Relationship with Bodegas

As as kid growing up in the Lakeview neighborhood in Chicago, we had our local bodega. It was named 'Cubanacan', aptly so, because the owners were Cuban. And we are Cuban, so we were part of the cast of characters that frequented that store, whether we wanted to be or not. As a Hispanic, access to specific foods and brands is very important ... it's CRUCIAL, actually. No, La Llave coffee is NOT the same as Café Bustelo – gotta get those things right. My mother would send me on several daily missions to Cubanancan, because she didn't stock up on anything. So I would be sent to get a bag of Goya black beans, 3 plantains and white rice for that evenings dinner. I would race down the alley that ran parallel with the former 'Ravenswood' train line, come to stop at Wellington Avenue, looked both ways and ran into the bodega. Everyone knew me and they would tease me about being sent by my mom, yet again. It was the only grocery store that I've ever known to allow customers to have a 'tab'. I sheepishly would have to tell the familiar cashier lady that my mom said to put it on her 'tab' and she would smile and say 'no hay problema'. She'd take the receipt and write my mother's name on it. No questions asked. Complete trust and that's unheard of in today's world, but hey, it was 1974. Such a different time and place. 
Cubanacan was just a great store - it had everything you could dream of. The produce aisle was also the aisle for check out, so that was tricky because it was very narrow; so you had to pick your ñame and lettuce while you moved your cart to get to the register. Canned goods were in the center area, then a bit further back were cleaning and cooking items and the back-end of the store held 'La Carniceria' or the 'butcher shop'. The carniceria had a very cool map of Cuba cut out of thick wood and hung on the wall - I learned about the five Cuban providences and what the Cuban coat of arms looked like that way. All the aisles were ridiculously narrow and stocked precariously almost to the ceiling - but whatever you needed, they had it. If you didn't see what you needed, the owner, Gerardo, would be dispatched to the mysterious storage room and he'd always magically appear with your item - always. Anyway, this bodega was convenient and it gave the Hispanics in the area a sense of place, belonging and community.

As time went by, rents rose and those Cuban owners closed the legendary Cubanacan, and packed up to retire in Miami. My family saw many Hispanics leave the area little by little - being priced out and I guess, feeling like they didn't belong anymore. Now developers converted bodegas and corner stores into apartments. I think new building owners and tenants thought neighborhood bodegas encouraged street gang activity, so they started to disappear. Not having that nearby bodega made cooking difficult for my mom - I was no longer her local Cuban envoy. Bodegas got spread out around the city - walking to one was not a reality anymore. We eventually found another Cuban enclave on North Clark Street named 'La Commercial' - it wasn't as good and not as magical as La Cubanacan. It was too similar to American supermarkets, like Jewel and Dominick's. I remember their store merchandise signs were printed, not hand-lettered. They had Tiger Beat magazines alongside the Spanish publication ¡HOLA! - it didn't seem so exclusive to Hispanics. It was a weird hybrid that was trying to cater to dual audiences and shoppers. La Commercial just didn't want to stand out - I don't think they wanted 'exclusivity'. Ok, that's cool, but it's boring.

I moved to Miami in 1999 and I could not believe my eyes when I saw stores and businesses with Hispanic names proudly exhibited. There were bodegas E V E R Y W H E R E in Miami and even supermarkets, like Navarro's and El Presidente. We initially did our food shopping at the El Presidente located on Calle 8 (8th Street) in Little Havana. I felt transported back to my youth - hand-lettered signs that blocked the windows with store specials. This store had parakeets flying around in its vaulted ceilings - it was so curious and people didn't care about the potential health hazards, so I learned to not care about it either. Most Miami bodegas have amazing desserts (capucinos) and treats (pastelitos de guayaba) for sale alongside a plastic demitasse of Cuban coffee. Everything was written in Spanish and I swear that most of the cashiers did not speak a lick of English. It didn't matter, because Miami was like being in Cuba or any Latin-American city, I guess. Now the more updated bodegas in Hialeah carry lanyards and rear-view mirror hanging flags of every Latin-American nation - ethnic pride for everyone! A flag for you and a flag for YOU!

Fast-forward 14 years, we have moved back to Chicago and trust me, the availability and variety in Hispanic food is super limited in this city. If you go to Jewel and peer into their 'Hispanic' aisle, you will see 20 different types of tortillas. And some hot sauce. Refried beans. Jars of jalapeños. That's it. It was very disappointing ... I'm sure Mexicans felt the same way! It seems like the American grocery stores don't really understand their Hispanic demographic - it's borderline stereotypical. We honestly did not know where to shop - we didn't know the bodega scene in Chicago anymore. Thankfully, we found Armitage Produce, which is on the West Side and it follows in the tradition of the old bodega stores. Narrow aisles, things stacked up to the ceiling, freezers full of bagged frozen yuca and a rockin' butcher shop. It caters to all Hispanics - they even have the stringed Hispanic flags nations display over the produce section. Having access to a good bodega means knowing that you can get fresh steaks, cut and run through the machine to your liking, you can get coconuts, you can get green and ripe plantains. You can get your STUFF ... sometimes you want 'fruta bomba' for dessert. You want what you want and you should be able to get it.

What I really love about Armitage Produce are their signs and store visuals - I can describe it as 'sincere'. If you look at the picture below, the signs are hand-lettered or at least not overly manufactured. I know that the Hobo typeface is not a revered one in graphic design, but it works so well here. It seems folksy and not haughty at all ... it's a typeface for the humble. The typographic hierarchy is 'big and bigger' - stacked with very little leading. I truly appreciate the serif letters that obviously someone bought at a craft store to spell out in a 'screaming' manner, 'PAPAS' ... which I find humorous, because it seems like people couldn't find the potatoes.
English, Spanish and Spanglish are used liberally in the signage and if you're a neighborhood hipster, you're gonna understand one way or another. I mean, at least you'll learn about language as you shop. I think the chalk signs are pretty trendy - I've never seen that in any bodega from memory. This photo looks like it could of been taken in 1974, barring the prices, this space relates to the common person; the neighborhood kid, the working-class family and the single moms. The only thing that I felt funny about is that, there are quite a bit of surveillance cameras and I didn't want to get i trouble for taking pictures. I'm sure the owners wouldn't believe me if I told them how much I appreciate their store aesthetic ... it's not like that anymore. So, if you want to enjoy a slice of nostalgia and yesteryear, just find a bodega; you won't be disappointed. You get your PAPAS and off you go.

Armitage Produce, 3334 W Armitage Avenue, Chicago, IL

Armitage Produce, 3334 W Armitage Avenue, Chicago, IL

Armitage Produce, interior, butcher shop.

Armitage Produce, interior, butcher shop.

The site of the old Cubanacan on Wellington Avenue and Sheffield Avenue in Lake View, Chicago, IL.

The site of the old Cubanacan on Wellington Avenue and Sheffield Avenue in Lake View, Chicago, IL.