A poster featuring blue block lettering and the word “free” in bright red announcing late-night museum openings in New York City, sponsored by Mobil, is in the permanent collection of the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany.
“Basically, for me, if a word was a beautiful word, it wasn’t the sound of the word that intrigued me but the look of the word,” Mr. Peckolick (pronounced PECK-oh-lick) told The Huffington Post in 2015. “I saw each letterform as a piece of design. Cat is not ‘cat’ — it’s c-a-t. That’s what led to the beginning of the expressive topography.”
Seymour Chwast, a fellow designer and illustrator, said in an email that Mr. Peckolick “was totally dedicated to design, its history, its function and what it might offer in the future.”
Eventually fed up with being a rainmaker for the advertising agencies he worked for, diverting his creative his energies to courting clients, Mr. Peckolick took up painting. As an artist, he was captivated by weathered billboards and their faded evocations of a vanishing cityscape.
“Signage has been covered so often by photography that as a subject it is a commonplace,” Grace Glueck of The New York Times wrote in reviewing an exhibition of his work at a SoHo gallery in 2002, “but Mr. Peckolick, good at the colors and textures of erosion, nicely captures the sense of time past that gives these brief messages their nostalgic appeal.”
Alan Jay Peckolick was born on Oct. 3, 1940, in the Bronx to Charles Peckolick, a letter carrier (actual letters, not the kind his son would work with) and the former Belle Binenbaum.
“I never knew anything about design or graphics or any of those fancy words,” Mr. Peckolick recalled in 2015. “But I used to draw. I used to draw everything. When my mother used to send out to get groceries, by the time I was back there were little drawings on the grocery bags.”
He graduated from Elmont Memorial High School on Long Island, just across the Queens border, after which, he said: “My mother put together a portfolio which was made of anything I drew on — handkerchiefs, scraps, whatever — and put it literally into a brown paper bag. She sent me out into the world to go to places like Cooper Union and the School of Visual Arts. Both schools, he said, “immediately saw there was no talent here, and they rejected me.”
Pratt Institute in Brooklyn accepted him, in the illustration department. But three months later, he was told to leave because his work was not improving. A schoolmate discovered him in a coffee shop, dejected.
“I explained to him,” he recalled, “that I was kicked out of art school because I couldn’t draw very well. He said: ‘Well that’s no problem. Why don’t you just become a graphic designer?’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about what it is, but you don’t have to know how to draw!’ ”
Mr. Peckolick graduated from Pratt in 1964 and opened his own office. In 1972 he joined Lubalin, Smith & Carnase (the firm later became Pushpin Lubalin Peckolick Associates). Through his mentor, Mr. Lubalin, Mr. Peckolick recalled, “I discovered other people like Saul Bass, Lou Dorfsman, George Lois — people who could think as well as design.”
“Then,” he added, “I was in the lap of luxury; I could steal from the best.”
He and Ms. Weber, who is also a graphic designer, lived in Manhattan and Sherman, Conn. In addition to her, he is survived by his brother, Paul, and his sister, Gael Rae-Garwood.
Mr. Peckolick was the author of several books, including “Teaching Type to Talk” (2013), and illustrated a number of others.
Despite his growing fame for defining corporate identities and designing annual reports, book jackets and posters (for, among others, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 thriller “Vertigo”), his longevity at advertising agencies mirrored his art school experience.
“I kept getting fired from these agencies,” he recalled, “because I spent too much time worrying about what the type looked like instead of selling the soap.”
After taking an afternoon off to go to a movie, he found himself standing in front of an art supply store in the late 1990s.
“I thought, I’ve never painted before, I’ve never held a paintbrush in my hand, let’s start something fresh,” he said.
But fine art proved to be challenging in its own way.
“When you are working for a graphic design client, you are solving the client’s problem,” Mr. Peckolick said. “When you are a fine artist, you have to come up with the problem and the solution. When I started, there was nothing more frightening than looking at a blank canvas.”
He began painting professionally in 1998, a few years before he learned he had Parkinson’s disease.
“It’s a hard disease,” he said, “but I always say to people, ‘If it really gets bad, I can become an abstract painter.’ ”
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