Galleries

The Man Who Dreamed Up the World of Blade Runner

by Hrag Vartanian on May 17, 2012

Syd Mead, "Disaster at Syntron" (1978) (all images courtesy BravinLee Programs) (click to enlarge)

BravinLee Programs in Chelsea has one of the most eye-popping shows currently on display in the city’s art galleries. The gallery has invited Syd Mead, the futurist designer behind such cult classics as Blade Runner (1982), Aliens (1986) and Tron (1982), to exhibit his creations at their West 26th Street space.

Syd Mead checking out some student work at the Vancouver Film School (via blog.vfs.com)

The futurist visions are painted with gouache on board and reveal a very hedonist vision of the world of the future. Figures are sensual, details are abundant and the angles shift to see the world from above, below and from impossible perspectives that give the universe he imagines an ethereal tint.

What’s peculiar about Mead’s work is how it feels strangely familiar even if it is situated in another time. Like Victorian visions of the future or images of the late 20th C. created during the Jazz age, there is a slice of life feel to these scene that make them as appealing today as when they left his desk or easel.

In an era where almost all illustration is done on a computer, it’s enjoyable to see this artist’s mastery of a very physical medium that gives his visions an inviting veneer. Yet this future is not without its faults. There is no poverty, disease or sadness in Mead’s world, only 1%ers whose lives who all seem to enjoy the endless improvements brought to their lives by technology, which should be no surprise as many these images were commissioned by corporations and visually seduced the viewer with their glistening vision of commercial products.

There is also the peculiar fact that it’s hard to visually date many of Mead’s images. Some of his images from the 1970s look like they could have easily have been created last week, while others from a few years ago appear steeped in a 1980s vision of the future. This confusion doesn’t appear to be as much about details of fashion or style as competing visions of luxury that each decade projects onto consumers — in other words, the future is like shifting sands in the desert and there’s a new dune each place you look.

I received a small tour of the show with co-owner John Lee, who is an obvious fan of Mead and his work. “Syd’s work appeals to me. He’s a legend that not everyone knows. I didn’t even know who he was until around 1995 — but always loved Blade Runner. It’s a thrill and an honor to have his work in my gallery,” he says. “If I were the emperor of Japan I would designate Syd Mead a goddamned national treasure. If I were the queen of England I would fucking knight the artists I like. But I’m neither so I did what I could and gave him one person show at Bravinlee programs.”

At last week’s opening, according to the New York Times Wheels blog, “Lee established a Skype connection on his iPad for visitors to the gallery to converse with Mr. Mead in his studio in Pasadena, Calif. It was futuristic moment in itself.”

"Enzmann Daedulus Probe" (1979) (click to enlarge)

"Hypervan - Crimson" (2003) (click to enlarge)

"Hypervan Profile" (2005) (click to enlarge)

"Party" (2000) (click to enlarge)

"Cavalcade" (1996) (click to enlarge)

"MegaCoach" (2010) (click to enlarge)

"Running of The 200th KD" (1975) (click to enlarge)

Syd Mead’s Future (Perfect) continues at BravinLee Programs (526 West 26th Street, Suite 211, Chelsea, Manhattan) until June 30.

  • Subscribe to the Hyperallergic email newsletter!

Hyperallergic welcomes comments and a lively discussion, but comments are moderated after being posted. For more details please read our comment policy.

Previous post:

Next post: