A graphic designer who had a long career designing LP album art is being showcased at a local exhibition.
Michael Mendel, 83, spent the 1960s to the late-1980s designing record album art for some of the biggest names in music. This is the first time his work as an album designer has been displayed.
A small sampling of over 900 albums that he designed for performers like Tony Bennett, Gladys Knight, the Stylistics, Donovan, David Cassidy, Mel Torme, and many others is on display through April at Riverdale Senior Services.
The exhibition of LP ‘jackets’ called ‘Just for the Record!’ is intended to be a trip down memory lane, according to Maritza Silva, the center’s curator.
For Mendel, it is a retrospective of a career he loved.
As album art director, he was tasked with working with photographers and illustrators to market recordings, and with collaborating with record companies and the artists.
“I loved coming to work every day,” said Mendel. “No two albums were the same.”
During a recent interview he was filled with stories of working with artists and record company employees to come up with ideas – once even going so far as to create an optical illusion of a piano on fire in the days before digital alteration of photos.
“What was ideal was that a cover depict the theme of the album,” said Mendel.
He got his start at Columbia Records, now owned by Sony, designing the backs of Latin American albums.
“I had never heard of these artists,” he said. “It turned out that these were million-sellers in Latin America – but it was all Latin to me!”
As his career progressed, he worked for Epic, Paramount and independent labels, he said.
Mendel said that one of his favorite covers was for R&B instrumental band Brass Construction’s IV album, which featured an image of a coin with a design of a city under construction, complete with cranes soaring against a skyline.
“I created this coin design and we actually had the coin made into a souvenir that was given out at their concerts,” he said.
One of the artists he particularly enjoyed working with was an Israeli performer named Benji.
“What I loved about him is that he had a great personality, and we focused on his face in a real close up. It printed beautifully.”
Another standout effort, Mendel recalled, was the cover for indie-artist Rocky’s album ‘Whadda ya want to be…when you grow up.’
The artist was photographed in a variety of occupations: as a businessman in a suit, solider doctor, laborer, baseball player and even a street tough.
“He was so scared that the cops would find us,” said Mendel of Rocky during the shoot, which featured a photo of the artist holding an uzi in the city.
Some artists were very at home in his office. Donovan was often there, said Mendel, adding that he was a very spiritual man who made a ton of money.
The difficult part of dealing with artists often arose when he photographed a large musical group and the members could not agree on which photos to use.
Mendel own story was at times harrowing.
He was born in Berlin, Germany in 1934. His family was force to escape the horrors of the Nazi regime in 1938 and emirgrated first to Cuba and then to the United States two years later.
In recent years, he has blossomed into a fine artist, painting over 330 canvasses of street scenes and landscapes.