The Time Covers of Arthur Hochstein, Pt. 2: Joe Zeff

The Time Covers of Arthur Hochstein, Pt. 2: Joe Zeff The next SPD Speakeasy features former Time art director Arthur Hochstein discussing 1000 Covers: Thinking Inside the (Red) Box, on October 27. Arthur was the art director at Time for 15 years, where he designed 1000 covers, and he'll be discussing the good ones (and the bad, and the ugly) and much more.

As a run-up to the 1000 Covers evening, we've asked a number of photographers, illustrators, and designers who collaborated with Arthur on Time covers to discuss their work and the process involved. For this second installment, we solicited comments from Joe Zeff, who worked as an art director with Arthur at Time in the mid-to-late 90s.

(Above) Time, May 5, 1997. Art director: Arthur Hochstein, illustration: Mark Fredrickson.
Joe Zeff: It was 14 years ago that I decided to exit the newspaper business and try something different. Weary of daily deadlines, rigid stylebooks and ink-sopping newsprint, I loaded an oversized portfolio with tattered tearsheets from The New York Times and other newspapers and attempted to elbow my way into the magazine industry. Few art directors took me seriously, and it's hard to blame them, as my press clippings lacked the razzle-dazzle that magazine designers typically bring to the table. One who did listen was a former newspaper designer himself, Bob Newman, then at Entertainment Weekly, who did something for which I'll forever be in his debt.

He introduced me to another former newspaper designer, from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. His name is Arthur Hochstein.

Arthur and I met in his office in the Time-Life Building and immediately forged a connection. Our Midwestern roots and newspaper backgrounds were kindling for small talk, and our shared interests in conceptual photo-illustration kept the conversation ablaze. I sensed the interview was going well when after about 45 minutes, Arthur invited me to step behind his desk and examine the upcoming cover on his computer screen. This was special. Seeing an in-progress cover of Time magazine on Arthur's screen was like viewing an embryo in the womb. Pure magic, and it was evident from the sparkle in Arthur's eyes that the experience was just as mystical for him, even after hundreds of covers.

I was sold. I resigned my position at the Times, passing up a promotion and the prospect of a careerful of Seersucker Days, and went to work at Time, where after a year I became one of Arthur's deputy art directors. That meant that whenever Arthur took a vacation, I had the opportunity to pinch-hit for Mickey Mantle--or more approrpriately in this case, Stan Musial--and design the cover of Time.

My first at bat was a fairly uneventful, but an out-of-the-park home run experience nonetheless. Arthur had left behind a Quark layout that required nothing but a corner banner. The cover story had been predetermined for weeks, a feature on addiction with a magnificent painting by Mark Fredrickson. I knew better than to tinker, because the cover of Time was Arthur's baby, not mine. Most weeks I had the best seat in the house, my nose pressed against the glass as his deputy, next-door neighbor, and occasional sounding board. Arthur worked his Rolodex like a sommelier, hand-selecting the most exquisite imagemakers in the world to perfectly complement the topic of the week. The Future of News: Chris Payne; Preshistoric Man: Matt Mahurin; Election Day: Tim O'Brien; Person of the Year: Greg Heisler. Often Arthur would launch three or four of these photographers and illustrators on the very same cover subject, presenting the managing editor with an art collection suitable for a museum, each topped off with a quintessential Arthur Hochstein cover line from his Lou Brock-quick imagination. His creativity was boundless, and the discards that filled his wastebasket are the stuff of which coffee-table books are made.

I became Arthur's graphics director and eventually left the magazine to start my own studio. Meanwhile, Arthur hung around for another 500-or-so red borders (and one green border, I seem to recall), completing a body of work that helped Time magazine maintain its stature as the most coveted plot of real estate in all of journalism, if not American culture, if not the world. I was fortunate to work for Arthur during a time when magazine covers were an art and not a formula, and the artwork itself was so valued that art directors would occasionally dispatch couriers on airplanes to travel halfway across the country to retrieve the paintings themselves. The experience of working with Arthur resonates to this day, and his unparalleled ability to turn images into icons remains an inspiration for a generation of magazine designers, myself included.
Arthur Hochstein comments: I'm blushing, but thanks Joe, for that great walk down memory lane. One thing about your recollection that differs from mine is the routine assigning of illustrations: Some weeks I may have done two or three cover illustration assignments, but the era of multiple illustration assignments actually preceded me. In days of yore, much of the cover art was assigned by an editor, and they routinely over-assigned to cover themselves. Walter Bernard, being an actual, real-live art director (and a great one at that) pretty much put an end to the shotgun approach when he took over as art director in 1977. Also, by the time I started doing covers, budgets had become a little tighter. So I had to make the assignments count, which was pretty nerve-wracking. During my run, Photoshop exploded on the scene, and gave guys like us a whole new avenue for expression. I created images to provide a safety net in case the editors didn't like the piece I had assigned, or if a photo bombed out. And I actually only multiple-assigned if it was a tricky subject, or to let myself sleep at night. Then editorial tastes began to change, and--for better or worse--the photo-driven covers took over. But that's another story.

Related stories:
The Time Covers of Arthur Hochstein, Pt. 1: Tim O'Brien
Arthur Hochstein's 15 Favorite Time Magazine Covers
Speaker Series: 1000 Time Covers: Thinking Inside the (Red) Box

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