Wearing many hats was second nature to Richard Hess (1934–1991). From a real desire to be a full-time painter, he eased into positions of advertising art director, graphic designer, magazine art director and illustrator—in no particular order. An open mind and adaptability allowed him to work in all aspects of visual communication. "Some people have expressed surprise at the broad spectrum of my work," he said, "but I view it differently. I think it's strange for anyone not to work in the complete language of the visual world."
After his early start in advertising with such agencies as J. Walter Thompson; N.W. Ayer; Benton & Bowles; and Fletcher, Richards, Calkins & Holden, Hess opened his New York design office in 1966. After three years of working on his own with editorial, advertising and corporate clients, Hess and Sam Antupit (art director of Esquire) formed “a compatible partnership” with Hess And/Or Antupit. After some time, their partnership dissolved and Hess continued to work on his own.
“Design, typography and communication graphics are a more severe discipline because of the need to cater to legibility and reading habits, and it most often requires a certain anonymity of authorship,” he said. “But the satisfaction derived from working within these limitations can be very great indeed.
“I had always intended to be a painter,” he said. “I became an art director to earn a living, but I found I could not pursue both activities at the same time. I resolved to stop painting and concentrate on design, until I could become successful enough to afford to go into painting full-time. I was close to my goal when some financial problems depleted my nest egg. I decided to try a different approach and solved a few assignments by doing a painting myself instead of assigning someone else to do it. These were seen and I started getting assignments from other art directors.
“My other experience was helpful. Being trained as an art director entails a certain skill in analyzing problems and isolating the useful solution.
Dick painted fourteen covers for Time magazine. Among the best known were Deng Xiaoping Man of the Year in 1979 and a gatefold showing a cross-section of Americans for the 1987 special issue on the 200th anniversary of the constitution.
As the fields of graphic design and advertising evolved, so did Hess's work. He was able to stay on top, to work with the times in a relatively young field, where things quickly changed. ca