Pretty much anyone can recognize an image by graphic artist Michael Schwab—even if you don’t know it yet. He has created award-winning logos and posters for a remarkable list of prestigious clients, including Apple, Amtrak, the Golden Gate National Parks, Major League Baseball, Robert Mondavi, Robert Redford, Sundance and Wells Fargo. His work is easily recognized by his signature use of large, flat areas of color, dramatic perspectives and bold, graphic images of archetypal human forms.
Last Summer, we were fortunate enough to have Michael Schwab design artwork for our
Ring cycle 2011 poster and program book cover. This year, we are fortunate yet again to have him design a new work of art for us depicting Nixon in China. We asked Michael a few questions about his work.
When and how did your association with San Francisco Opera begin?
Back in 1992, graphic designer, Kit Hinrichs, commissioned me to create a poster/portrait for the opera, Boris Godunov
. It was a very simple serigraph print (silkscreen) that went on to win several graphic design awards.
How does creating artwork for San Francisco Opera differ from some of your other, very iconic work (for example the National Park illustrations or your Amtrak advertisements)?
Very simply, it's opera! I've been very lucky to have worked with several great clients. However, I have a bit more creative freedom with the San Francisco Opera
than with most projects. Anything goes - as long as it helps evoke the thrilling power and drama of the opera. The artwork should not only inform, but entertain and seduce opera fans. The poster and the program cover should be part of the thrill of the evening.
What was your process and inspiration in creating the Nixon in China poster?
I began by studying photos of Richard Nixon on that original trip as well as photos from the new stage production. Originally, I tried portraying Nixon and Mao face-to-face with that historic handshake. However, after a few preliminary sketches, I realized that Nixon's large singular profile was more recognizable and powerful...alone.
What is an upcoming project that you are excited about?
Poster artwork for The America's Cup 2013 as well as a series of graphic icons for the Sea-to-Sky Highway
in British Columbia.
[Above: The color match print used in finalizing the Nixon in China
program book cover and poster]
What’s your favorite opera?
I'm still figuring that one out.
Be sure to keep an eye out for Michael Schwab’s poster design in front of the opera house the next couple of months, and stop by the Opera Shop to purchase a poster of his stunning work.
[Right: Michael Schwab's watermark.]