In 1962 George Lois produced an Esquire cover on which he correctly predicted the outcome of a world heavyweight title fight, prior to the bout actually happening. Alongside then-editor Harold Hayes, Lois went on to create a series of covers that not only reacted to contemporary and controversial issues, but which provoked debated and swayed public opinion. In our Issue #6 interview, of which an extract is included here, Lois revealed (and revelled in) the huge importance of the covers, but was keen to reiterate that he was, and still is, an ad man.
It’s Nice That: Did you always know you were creative?
George Lois: When I was 13 or 14 – when I was about to graduate from public school – my plan was to go to some normal high school. But my art teacher stopped me. She came up to me and said: “George, do you have 10 cents?” I said yeah, and she said: "Get on the subway right now, and go to the High School of Music and Art; it’s at 135th Street and Convent Avenue.” She didn’t have to describe where it was – I spent my whole youth delivering flowers for my father, who was a florist, and who delivered all over New York. I knew the city inside and out. She said: "Get there for 10 o’clock, and take a test and go to the High School of Music and Art.” She gave me a portfolio, one of those black portfolios with strings on it which I’m sure she paid two dollars for – a lot of money back in those days – and she opened it up and in it was about a hundred of my drawings she’d saved from the time I was six or seven years old. She said: "You will get into this school. They’re going to give you a little bit of a test, a drawing test, and you’ll do wonderfully”. And I’ve known since then.
So you drew a lot as a kid?
Yeah. When I was very, very young – five, six, seven, eight years old – my mother and father would force me to go to sleep at 10pm. I went to sleep with my sisters but I was in a separate area. I would sleep for maybe two hours, and then I would get up at 12am or 12.30am and I would spend two hours drawing in secret – I wouldn’t let my parents find out I was doing it. I would just draw and draw in the middle of the night, listening out with one ear in case somebody got up or something.
What about now?
I still did it until about five or six years ago. I’d sleep a couple of hours and get up for a couple of hours, go back for an hour and a half and then get up for the rest of the day. Now I’m little bit older I have to sleep for around four hours a night. But in any case, the point is I could draw terrific from the time I was a young, young kid. I used to cut out headlines from newspapers and I’d take a pencil and I’d draw perspectives – two lines disappearing into vanishing points. My teacher, when I was eight years old, said: "Oh my, George, who taught you perspective?” I didn’t even know what perspective was! I was just drawing what I could see – when I looked out of my window I could see how shapes worked, and how to draw them. When I got organised and really learnt about the history of art – when I read about people like Giotto and Duccio who were painting perspective – I remember thinking: but I invented perspective when I was eight years old.