In Memoriam: Tony Palladino 1930-2014

TONY PALLADINO In Memoriam – Tony Palladino

You could say Tony Palladino had high hopes. For a boy who grew up in East Harlem during the depression and war years, Mr. Palladino’s achievements are all the more worthy of commemoration. While he was most famously known for his off-kilter, slashed “Psycho” lettering, Mr. Palladino’s work would extend far beyond this project. From designing a lamp that would be included in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, to creating poster designs for the School of Visual Arts.

Similar to the famous song about an ant with ambitions to move a rubber tree plant, Mr. Palladino’s favorite song, “High Hopes” by Van Heusen and Kahn, would become a theme song of his, playing when he was inducted at the Art Director’s Hall of Fame.

For Tony Palladino, every job he worked on was the best job he ever did. That’s what he told Myles Ludwig, a student and lifelong friend.

“He had a classical education in art and enough awards and prizes to fill a steamer trunk,” Ludwig wrote in a tribute to Mr. Palladino, who died in May. He was 84. “Though I knew he was proud to be honored, I never knew him to open that trunk.” Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 10.06.54 AM

Mr. Palladino was an integral figure in what the New York Times called “the last great generation,” which became a creative revolution for advertising. He brought the industry a fresh look at abstract expressionism and the Bauhaus-style aesthetic that garnered the attention of clients along Madison Avenue and fellow designer, Massimo Vignelli, who would become a good friend.

His eye for design was far-reaching, Ludwig said. “He was an example of that consummate designer, a man, who as Alfred Loos said of an architect, that he should be able to design a spoon as well as a city.”

Mr. Palladino was teacher and mentor to many for more than 40 years, in New York’s School of Visual Arts and beyond. His lessons went beyond the drawing board and the principles he taught would prove invaluable to their moving forward in the industry.

“What about the conceptual explanation for that traffic cone?” Jamie Reynolds wrote in The Concept of Tony Palladino’s Universe in Graphis Issue 338. “Palladino didn’t miss a beat in explaining it. ‘It represents stress in today’s society,’ he says, ‘and it becomes more beautiful when you understand the stress in it.’ It’s not a found object then, but a found concept.”

While his work in the advertising and design spheres was extraordinary, his character, too, was endearing. “His theme song was that Johnny Mercer-Harold Arlen preachy chestnut sung by Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers with the Tommy Dorsey,” Ludwig said. “He had a way of finding the adventure in the everyday, the pure juicy joy of chomping into a “Cadillac” — the burger to beat all burgers at PJ Clarke’s.”

Mr. Palladino left an unfinished film of his life and work, which his family plans to finish. “It’s like finishing up a Mozart concerto from notes and ideas once the great maestro is gone,” says his daughter, Sabrina Palladino. 

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