Syd Mead exhibit in SoCal honors his sunny vision of the future

Aaron Robinson

In Syd Mead’s future, everything is clean, sleek, and supersonic. The one-time car stylist left Ford in the 1960s to embark on a freelance career designing products and workspaces as well as envisioning mankind in a future state of harmony with technology and nature. Often resembling the lavishly rendered car ads of the 1960s, his early works of wedge-shaped sedans and levitating sportsters gliding up to structures comprised of glass orbs and soaring arches were advertisements themselves for a future that you want to be around for. They also served as inspiration to legions of car designers who followed.

“You absolutely believe it will happen,” said the late artist’s nephew, Monte Mead, who runs his own advertising and design firm in Denver and was attending the opening gala in California for his uncle’s works. “How could it not, it’s perfect.”

An exhibition of Syd Mead’s art, titled “Syd Mead / Progressions”, is on display through the end of March at the Laguna College of Art + Design gallery space in Laguna Beach, California. The exhibit is a rare chance to see 50 of Mead’s works up close. It features some of Mead’s earliest commissions for U.S. Steel in 1961, when the artist produced a portfolio of futuristic concepts highlighting potential uses of steel in transportation and construction. The exhibit also features Mead’s final work before his death in December 2019. It’s a painting called Shoulder of Orion which was inspired by the last words of the android Roy Batty in the 1982 sci-fi noir thriller, Blade Runner. Mead provided much of the design work for the film, set in a dark, techno-punk version of Los Angeles of 2019.

Blade Runner aside, Mead’s work was largely optimistic about the coming eras, depicting the genetically perfected (and often barely clothed) citizens of vividly rendered Edens enjoying the fruits of mankind’s ever evolving technology. “Nobody did chrome like Syd did chrome,” says Mead exhibition manager Mike Lund, referring to the artists fascination with highly reflective surfaces, such as in Hypervan-Crimson Plaza, painted in 2003 and depicting a sort of ultra-streamlined minivan seemingly finished entirely in polished chrome. Mead also often chose unusual perspectives for his vehicles, eschewing simple three-quarter views for angles from above and behind, sometimes to incorporate more of the “immersive scenarios” that Mead created around the subjects to accentuate the work. “It looks so simple,” says Monte Mead, “but it’s the hardest thing to do.”

The exhibit is hosted by the Laguna College of Art + Design, a private, 700-student school nestled in the canyon behind this sunny surfside village in Orange County, California. The exhibit was created to highlight the school’s entertainment design program, says gallery and collections manager Bryan Heggie. “We decided to choose Syd Mead because he was considered one of the eminent visual futurists of his time, and that fits well within the whole entertainment design field.”

The school’s gallery is at 374 Ocean Avenue, Laguna Beach, California, 92651. The exhibit is free, and the hours are Wednesday – Sunday, 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

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