When I was in 3rd grade, I received a copy of National Geographic’s “Our Universe” for Christmas which featured a couple of future scenarios painted by the artist Syd Mead. Certain things get embedded in your mind at that age, and from the moment I saw his artwork I was hooked. Syd Mead’s work (for the uninitiated) started off on the tale end of the 50’s rocketship fin forward future and evolved into the genre defining vision of 21st century tech utopia. He was the key visual designer behind Tron, Blade Runner, and Time Cop, among-st many other great and terrible films. Mead definitely has a style, his technique is the perfect discipline of a mid century professional design illustrator who fell in love with the machine and learned to paint it, the way other’s would paint a figure. The machine always is at the center and everything else including the environments and people are really there to set off an obsession with machinery. His work has a feeling and color pallete (something that feels right on the other edge of dusk) and certainly a nostalgia for what the the future made from fiberglass and microchips wanted to feel like. He is a tremendous designer and apart from the lush illustrations, he (especially at his peak) developed a set of forms that gloried in a world made out of buttons and servos. Everything in his work looks fast, but also has an approachable candy like essence. His designs are inviting, maybe comfortable even as they are surrounded by aggressive super forms and monoliths creating a hazy metropolis backdrop to a night on the town, or a construction review meeting. He did a lot of speculative design for the greats of American Industry as it was reaching the apex of it’s curve. His work was at it’s peak right before our notion of high technology evolved from machinery into information. Everything he designs, draws, and paints feels kind of like the movie Tron. From the everyday components that make up a city, it’s doors, telephone buttons, coffee machines, and massive skyscrapers, to asteroid mining megaships possibly in the middle of a distress call but looking technologically fashionable even as disaster looms. All of his designs have an ellipse and line combination that feels inspired by a mix of circuit boards, calligraphy, and offset with a sweeping curve, and they all revel in the movement of light off of formed and curved surfaces. It feels like what the neon bubbled 80’s wanted to become if they didn’t have to move into the plaid pouting 90’s. If you haven’t seen his work then look it up. Here’s a link to the painting I saw in the National Geographic, but just look up Syd Mead and Blade Runner and you’ll get the picture.
The machine I painted today (A Sard D100 made in Italy) is a perfect example of the styling I’m talking about. I don’t know who designed this, but I promise you that they had a couple of Syd Mead books in the library. The big curved glass canopy with the dark rail detailing takes the cake, but the other elements such as the angled body, the curved bumpers, and especially the inset grey wheels are all Syd Meadisms as well.
The machine itself is apparently the only one of it’s kind in the country. I found it at Specialty Building Systems in Seattle which is a granite, marble, and tile shop. It’s function is to be able to grab slabs of stone and move them around. The long arm allows it to reach all the way into a container crate and lift stone from the back. I’d never thought of this, but it’s pretty clever. If you have a heavy object like a big tall piece of stone and it’s in a crate then it could be very challenging to remove it. you’d have to pull it out, put it on a cart, do something. This arm is thin enough that it can pick it right up, and because the whole things is back weighted, it has a huge lifting capacity without becoming front heavy. While I was painting this a man came up and said it looked like a scorpion. Yes it does, but it looks more like a Syd Mead painting which is even cooler.