We pause now from our usual duties to acknowledge the passing of legendary Village Voice art director George Delmerico, who died of a heart attack at the age of 67 on Sunday, Aug. 11 in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Delmerico, born in 1945, was an award-winning, innovative art director here from 1976 until 1985. He was known for his skill at graphic design, his knowledge of cartooning, his activism and broad interests in culture, art and music. He was a friend and mentor to many photographers, artists and designers who went on to their own successful careers.
What I credit him with is treating photography in an almost reverent way,” says the well-known photographer James Hamilton, who worked with Delmerico at the Voice for years. “He loved photographers in the way that some directors love actors. He felt the same way about illustrators. I don’t think he ever once cropped any of my pictures.”
He was a graduate of Dobbs Ferry High School in 1963, and went on to graduate first in his class at the Pratt Institute here in the city. In addition to his work at the Voice, he worked at New York magazine, the Newsday magazine, The New York Times culture sections, and Columbia Records.
Subsequently, he moved on to California, where he was the founding art director for the Santa Barbara Independent and director of publications at UC-Santa Barbara. He retired in 1995, but continued to generously give of his time to community organizations and non-profits. He was a 20-year survivor of HIV.
In 1972, when Delmerico was asked to create a poster for a talk by Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee at Carnegie Hall, he visited his local comic book store and brought a bunch of issues.
Then, he sat down and, quite amazingly, in his own hand drew the pastiche that is pictured here. His sister, Nancy Delmerico Vitagliano says just 300 of the posters were made, but the image became widely copied, reproduced, celebrated and sought after by collectors.
Among his other accomplishments were book and record covers. Most prominently, he served as art director for Steely Dan founder Donald Fagen’s 1982 “The Nightfly” album. The cover photo, taken by Hamilton, depicted Fagen as a late night disc jockey.
“George was one of the very best newspaper art directors in America, establishing an iconic style in the ’70s that is still being worked today,” wrote Uno Ramat, a friend and former colleague at the Voice.
Joel Ponzan worked under Delmerico as associate art director at the Voice in 1975 and 1976. He described “roaring up the Saw Mill and Taconic to the Patent Trader with the last round of layouts on the back seat, George’s mix tapes blasting out the open windows.” “I will never forget the creative freedom he offered,” Ponzan wrote.
The noted food writer Sylvia Carter, who lived with Delmerico in the early 1970s on Commerce Street in an apartment they jokingly nicknamed “George’s Pleasure Palace.”
“George taught me about big quarrelsome and loving Irish-Italian families, R. Crumb, girl groups, Charles Ives, big bands, Bix Beiderbecke, and Fats Waller,” she writes. “To this day, I make spaghetti sauce the way his mother did. He taught me that instead of indulging grief, it was best to stay up all night and redesign something instead.”
She recalled this moment from their days at the Voice. “Once, I wrote a story on staying up making croissants all night, for the Voice. George had once wounded me by saying he was tired of some of my stories. We had already broken up by then, but we were friends, and I watched anxiously as he read the piece. He laughed a few times. When he got to the end, I asked if he had liked it.
He said two words: “Art helps.”
Delmerico is survived by his sisters Jean Delmerico Moczarski and her husband Peter of Peekskill, NY and Nancy Delmerico Vitagliano and her husband Don of Dobbs Ferry, NY, as well as his nephew and niece, William George Vitagliano and Jill Kathryn Moczarski. He is also survived by his long-time partner, Ken Volok.”