Eye Magazine: I Braved Designer Scorn to Champion the Kings of Californian Airbrush


3 of 5 stars
What’s this?

Is the commercial airbrush look, once so dominant in the nineteen-seventies and eighties but then quickly discarded as nearly irredeemable, set for a comeback? Norman Hathaway thinks it might be. In this blog post, he gives a brief overview of his forthcoming book “Overspray: Riding High with the Kings of California Airbrush Art,” which looks closely at the work of four giants of the style and the ideas — or lack thereof — underlying their works.

Hathaway notes plausibly if perhaps defensively: “These pictures weren’t beating you over the head with cleverness or conceptualism. Many airbrush illustrations are simply about objects, free of environments or situations included to support a hokey angle or narrative. There’s usually no puzzle to solve, or plot to follow: perhaps that’s why many are quick to brand the work as empty or frivolous.”

For my part, I very much grew up with this visual vocabulary and was surprised to realize that I had neatly swept it under the rug for so long that I had almost completely forgotten about it. Looking at this work is very much like looking at photos from high school (provided one is of a certain age, of course). The work is exquisitely embarrassing, and yet I can’t deny a certain fondness for it. For those like me whose interest is piqued by this leading edge of nostalgic kitsch, Hathaway has more writing on the subject at the book’s eponymous blog.

  1. We have the book and I have to say it’s pretty freaking fantastic. It sure opened my eyes to this serious craft which I had previously relegated to spring break shirts acquired in Destin, Florida.

Thank you! Your remarks have been sent to Khoi.