Ruth Ansel by Sandra Alvarez


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Portrait of Ruth Ansel 

“We’re all in the business of creating idealizations in one form of another. Even if the idealization is, “Let’s show how real this person is,” it isn’t real. That’s the interesting part for me. It’s all a fiction in one form or another” – Index Magazine, 2002, by L. Harding 

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Ruth Ansel, one of the most important female voices in the graphic and product design industry, started her career in the 1960’s, when illustrator and graphic designer Bob Gill was introduced to her, becoming husband and wife later on.

It wasn’t until 1961 when she joined the famous and breaking magazine Harper’s Bazar-Art Department, and at 24 years old she became along with Bea Feitler,  co-art director of the magazine, being the first woman to occupy the post in all the magazine history. Working along with Marvin Israel, her clean and modern work came defined magazine’s line of transcending topics like fashion and music, even  when she came from a non graphic design background but from a degree in ceramics design from Alfred University in Western New York.

In 1974 after her work at Harper’s Bazaar was already renown, the New York Times decided to give her the opportunity to redesign the Sunday Magazine into a new modern and elegant look more approachable to youth, as well as others jobs she was also accepting, like House & Garden magazine later on for example.

But surely, her most notorious and ambitious project came when she was asked to join in 1983 the Vanity Fair magazine, redesigning its view and aesthetics in order to capture the changes that happened from the point of view of more young generations like hers was, it was her mission along with the new Conde Nast chairman Samuel I. Newhouse and its team to update and reinterpret the new culture and politics in the US.

An example of her dominance in the industry, and her leading role is the cover of Harper’s Bazaar of the first male actor Steve McQueen in 1965 in a women’s magazine, photographed by Richard Avedon (also the guest editor).

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Vanity Fair December 1986 , photograph Herb Ritts

Although, what really needs to be mentioned from her career is her effort to empowerment  women at the decade, not only by being herself the first women that occupied a post in art direction at the time, but also with the stories that she created in both magazines Harper’s and Vanity Fair, in a decade of transition in art and fashion. She used art, photojournalism and graphic design as tools to open doors and to break with the  standards that were established.

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Jean Shrimpton by R. Avedon in April 1965, H. Bazaar.

Covers like “Space Girl” in 1965 by Richard Avedon were risky and daring, as they look for an intersection between pop-art, music, space exploration and a liberated youth culture. The cover leading article in the December 1965 issue “Out of this force”, introduced a young galactic beauty Jean Shrimpton that  came to the planet’s rescue, in a metaphor to empower women as a reckoned force in the sixties.

That’s right. It was this incredible moment in the early ‘60s, and Dick was out there sniffing around. He understood what was happening in politics and the new youth culture. He knew that Nancy White was not savvy enough to pull it off. His success as a photographer gave him great power, so he persuaded Nancy to let him take over the issue as guest editor, which was a wonderful idea”.

Ruth Ansel in Space age, Interviewed by Leeta Harding, for Index Magazine, 2002. 

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Jean Shrimpton by R. Avedon in April 1965, H. Bazaar.

Her idea of woman was in motion, “a dark, intelligent, introverted, beautiful woman,” as Avedon described in an article for Graphis Journal.

Her work became a window for artist like Andy Warhol or Richard Avedon , photographers like Melvin Sokolsky, Hiro, and Diane Arbus among others.

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Silkscreen portfolio by Andy Warhol, November 1962, as a tool to reject mass production through art and graphics design, the repeat image was as well suited for cars as it was for Coca Cola.

At the begging of the 1990’s she created a design studio herself, to create covers of books  like Dark Odyssey by Phillip Jones Griffiths, The Sixties by Richard Avedon, Women and The White Oak Dance Project by Annie Leibovitz, and a Taschen’s dissertation of photographs from Peter Beard.   

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Annie Lebowitz At Work, book cover by Ruth Ansel, 2008

Bibliography :

  1. Angela Tillman Sperandio and Samira Bouabana , Posted on 30th April (2010CR Blog) FeatureMagazine / Newspaperbooks, Music, Paula Scher, Pentagram / https://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2010/april/ruth-ansel/
  2. “#THELIST: ARTFUL ACT , Former Bazaar art director, Ruth Ansel, shares her most memorable pages”, harpersbazaar.com / http://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/photography/g4597/ruth-ansel-daring-moments/?
  3. Ruth Ansel, “About” / http://www.ruthansel.com/about.html
  4. Index Magazine, Leeta Harding / http://www.indexmagazine.com/interviews/ruth_ansel.shtml
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