|"Design is more complex than art. There is good-good design, bad-good design, good-bad design, and bad-bad design. Art is just art."|
New York Times obit, published: July 23, 2009
Heinz Edelmann, ‘Yellow Submarine’ Artist, Dies at 75
Heinz Edelmann, the multifaceted graphic designer and illustrator who created the comically hallucinogenic landscape of Pepperland as art director for the 1968 animated Beatles film “Yellow Submarine,” died on Tuesday in Stuttgart, Germany. He was 75.
The cause was heart disease and kidney failure, said his daughter, Valentine.
The movie’s mod-psychedelic look, which typifies the era’s spirited graphic art, emerged around the same time as the related psychedelic work of Terry Gilliam, Alan Aldridge and Victor Moscoso, but it has its own whimsical aesthetic. The bulbous Blue Meanies, which personify an evil mood as actual villains, pursue the innocent, well-coifed cartoon Beatles across an ever-shifting milieu of mysterious seas and holes that can be magically picked up and moved. The yellow submarine itself stops in an ocean of pulsating watches, representing time, to light a cigar for a friendly sea monster.
Notably, the designs prefigured contemporary music videos, especially in their use of dancing typography. Letters spelling out the lyrics “Love is all you need” morph into a strobing neon wallpaper pattern.
“He became famous because of his work on ‘Yellow Submarine,’ ” said the graphic designer Milton Glaser, a friend. “But that celebrity actually obscured his real talent and imagination.”
A highly successful advertising and editorial illustrator in Germany, England and the Netherlands, Mr. Edelmann was known for combining Impressionist and Expressionist sensibilities leavened with wit, humor and irony. He developed a distinct graphic style that influenced many artists in Europe and the United States. He was given a Masters Series exhibition at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 2005.
In the 1960s he was experimenting with a stylized, soothingly fluid, neo-Art Nouveau manner. That caught the eye of Al Brodax, producer of a successful animated Beatles television cartoon series for children. He chose Mr. Edelmann to be the chief designer of his first feature-length animated film, “Yellow Submarine,” built around a 1966 song of the same name, credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, with lead vocals by Ringo Starr.
It was not easy to get initial approval for “Yellow Submarine.” The Beatles were unenthusiastic about Mr. Brodax’s more conventional-looking cartoon series (not done by Mr. Edelmann), Newsweek reported in 1968; their manager, Brian Epstein, was a stumbling block as well.
The tide turned, Newsweek said, during a stroll through the Tate Gallery in London, where Mr. Brodax and Mr. Epstein happened upon J. M. W. Turner’s “Peace — Burial at Sea” and marveled at that painting’s intense colors.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we could get those colors to move?” Mr. Brodax asked.
Mr. Epstein replied, “We would need great art.”
Mr. Edelmann was the perfect artist, Mr. Epstein finally agreed, and “Yellow Submarine” had some of the Turner’s shimmering quality.
It was a career-defining work, “designed, for the most part beautifully,” Renata Adler wrote in The New York Times in 1968, “in styles ranging through Steinberg, Arshile Gorky, Bob Godfrey (of the short film ‘The Do It Yourself Cartoon Kit’), the Sgt. Pepper album cover, and — mainly, really — the spirit and conventions of the Sunday comic strip.”
Despite the huge influence of “Yellow Submarine” on the culture of the time, Mr. Edelmann admitted that he could never quite connect with the 1960s aesthetic. Once the film was complete, he altered his approach to avoid being pigeonholed as a psychedelic artist, becoming considerably less ethereal and decorative and turning to what was on the surface his darker side, though it was never really morose but rather ironic.
Born in 1934 in the former Czechoslovakia, Mr. Edelmann studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf, one of the most progressive institutions in postwar Germany. After graduating in the late 1950s, he began working as a freelance designer, illustrator, animator and teacher. He created posters for the Westdeutscher Rundfunk radio station in Germany, book covers for the Klett-Cotta publishing house in Stuttgart and editorial illustrations for a smartly designed magazine for teenagers, Twen, whose art director was the adventuresome designer Willy Fleckhaus. He also illustrated the first German edition of J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.”
In 1989 Mr. Edelmann won a competition to design the mascot for the Expo ’92 world’s fair in Seville, Spain, with his illustration of a pudgy bird with a rainbow plume and conical beak.
In the 1980s and early ’90s his visual essays for the Sunday magazine of the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung addressed cultural and political themes in humorous or dramatic ways.
Besides his daughter, Valentine, who lives in Amsterdam and is an illustrator, Mr. Edelmann is survived by his wife, Anna, and one grandchild.
He lived alternately in Amsterdam and Stuttgart, where he taught design at the Stuttgart Academy of Fine Arts. Some students reported that his teaching consisted of metaphysical monologues examining links among the arts, literature, Asian mythology, graphic design and the dumbing down of youth.
One of the first things he would tell a student was not to pursue a career in illustration. He believed that illustration was the quickest way to penury because, he would argue, illustrators were never adequately paid, unlike their colleagues in advertising.
“His insights did not stem from some slowly grown academic wisdom and bitterness,” said the illustrator Christoph Niemann, a former student, “but from his experience on a job finished just the night before.”