Car and Driver Magazine: A Future You Will Want to Hang Around For

Syd Mead has been drawing the future ever since he discovered that it paid better than drawing new Fords. Mead was designing the taillights for the ’62 Falcon Futura as a fresh graduate of the Art Center School in Los Angeles (later called the Art Center College of Design) when a freelance commission came in from U.S. Steel. The company wanted some illustrations of “cars of tomorrow” for a publicity book extolling the thrilling new uses for steel. The vehicles Mead drew were preposterously sleek, seemingly made of every possible material except steel, and often levitating by unexplained means. “I’ve been trying to get rid of wheels since 1963,” says Mead, who quit Ford after two years to become a full-time designer, illustrator, and “futurist.”

Today, Mead, 77, lives in the hills above Pasadena in a rectilinear mid-century modern home full of car models and wall-size reproductions of his own work. Significantly, his art is rarely just of vehicles. Mead has conjured whole worlds for his backdrops—Shangri-Las, really, with skies of lime green and ocher where handsome and tanned futurelings work and frolic among soaring glass pinnacles and iridescent chrome mushrooms, many of which are also levitating inexplicably. What is going on in these “immersive scenarios,” as Mead calls them, is often as baffling to people of the here-and-now as an illustration of a Southwest Airlines terminal might be to people in Ben Franklin’s day. But in Mead’s head, it all makes perfect sense.

“It’s an underground polar launch facility,” he explains. “The people here are on acceleration couches.” And, “this guy’s helmet tells you if you’ve met the person before.” And, “genetically, we’ll be able to adjust our appearance, and everybody will be buff. I like to draw very large, corpulent ladies and paint them in chrome suits. This one has a five-star frontal crash rating.”

 

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