Life’s Twists And Turns
I was raised in a small southern town and worked in the local cotton mill, Dan River, during the summers to pay for college. It gave me a unique perspective on life and I knew I was destined for places far away. I wanted something else, but had no idea what that “something else” was.
Four years later, with a degree from VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) in Communication Arts and Design I hit the road in my new Chevy Nova for Atlanta, Georgia. On the way I stopped in Greensboro, got a job offer from The Design Group and never made it to Atlanta.
This was 1970 and no one was hiring, but I had worked on the VCU yearbook Cobblestone which hadjust won a lot of design awards. I would walk into a design firm or agency, set the yearbook on top of the receptionist’s desk and they would call the creative director and say, “you have to see this kid’s book.” It was truly my first business card, it just happened to be 12” square and 2” thick.
While in Greensboro, I had the profound luck of working with a client of The Design Group, Dr. David Campbell from The Center For Creative Leadership. Dr. Campbell was renowned in the field of organizational psychology for his work in career development and had authored many popular books. Two of these, If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, You’ll Probably End Up Somewhere Else and Take The Road To Creativity And Get Off Your Dead End would become major influences in my professional journey to become the best I could be.
After reading these books, I decided to put into practice what I had learned and applied for a job at the advertising agency McKinney Silver and Rockett in Raleigh, North Carolina. Their reputation of being “the best in the south” offered the challenge I was looking for. I had to work there, so I called, took my Cobblestone for the interview and was hired.
Several years of working with wonderful writers, art directors, print production people and Chick McKinney, who was one of the greatest advertising minds I would ever work with, I learned what it took to produce something of real importance. However, there was this subconscious feeling of more opportunities to explore in my quest for self-expression and a relentless passion for design.
In a proclamation, I chucked my advertising portfolio down the garbage chute at the agency, swore to never do another ad and moved back to Greensboro to open my first design firm, Fuller and Friends. The name sounded a lot bigger than any one person firm and it helped open a lot of doors.
Standing in a parking lot in front of my apartment one of those friends, Dr. June Mohler, a marketing executive from Fieldcrest Mills, introduced me to a friend of hers from New York. After exchanging business cards he asked me what I was doing that afternoon (to June’s big surprise) and if I could join them to see some fabric color proofs coming offline at the Fieldcrest plant. I had never seen anything like that before, so it was a resounding YES…
The next day, a knock at the door and Dr. June and Raymond are asking me to pack my bags, “we’re going to New York and you are going with us to help launch the introduction of a new bed and bath collection for Marimekko of Finland”... another resounding YES.
It wasn’t too long before I was asked to join their international design firm D/R (Design Research) in Boston. Working directly with the founder of Marimekko, Armi Ratia, her son Ristamatti and Raymond Waites, the brand image for Marimekko was meticulously honed and is still revered today.
The thrill and challenge of working on the concept of a new brand through the actual launch date enticed me to Atlanta where another groundbreaking agency, Cole Henderson Drake was engrossed in research for a completely new hotel chain. They were looking for a print art director who had a strong design background and also experience in the branding process. Timing is everything and when you are lucky enough to find the right ingredients, you get to produce something of value. That was the case for Omni Hotels. And we were able to bring a sophisticated and elegant look to an industry that continues to express itself in much the same way.
The Omni work brought many offers, but one was more intriguing than any other, a chance to relive a childhood dream of playing major league baseball. That would be imagined one more time through the worldwide agency McCann Erickson for Coca-Cola in Atlanta, where I produced a Norman Rockwell version of the Coke Adds Life To… campaign for major league baseball.
I had been thinking about moving to New York for some time, but had reservations as to whether I could survive in such an environment. I had to find out and soon found myself strolling down Madison Avenue gazing up at all those tall buildings and wondering what on earth am I doing here.
Jimmy Carter had just been elected President and there was this prevailing attitude of “southerners” being more accepted. By converting each opportunity into first time experiences I was able to imagine what it might feel like to fly on one of the world’s best airlines, Swissair, through the campaign tag line “We Fly The World Swiss Class”, and coax a Japanese company, Toshiba to challenge another, Sony for the first time ever in a U.S. market. There were other campaigns for Psychology Today, 20/20 News, Pepsi and GE’s “We Bring Good Things To Life”.
Having the chance to work with agency creatives like Joe Larosa, Dick Calderhead and Gene Federicio, photographers Pete Turner, Phil Marco, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, helped me develop a confidence I would use again and again in my travels to experience as much as life would offer.
And on April 1, 1980, I packed my bags and moved to Miami. It was the first time I made a professional move based on a particular lifestyle, rather than work. It was a hard decision, but one that would influence my life and work forever. I remember all of my friends in New York telling me I was throwing my career away by leaving New York. I just responded by saying, “I love walking to the end of a pier, jumping off, not knowing what’s there. I can swim, so I’ll be fine.”
A couple of years later those same friends were surprised to see my work in the New York media; two-page spread ads in the Wall Street Journal, Super Bowl TV spots for Ryder Trucks, photos taken under the Brooklyn Bridge for Bertram Yachts, TV commercials and print ads for the State of Florida’s tourism campaign “When You Need It Bad, We’ve Got It Good.” And best of all, a note from David Ogilvy written over one of the Florida tourism ads to Mike Sloan of Mike Sloan Advertising, “The most delicious mini ad I’ve ever seen.”
I’ve been honored to have my work appear in Graphis, Communication Arts, Photo Design, The One Show, Art Directors Club of New York and numerous other design and advertising publications from Europe to Japan. Voted a member of Adweek’s all-star creative team, “honoring creatives who bring fresh inspiration to every ad they tackle,” was my “get off your dead end and build the company you always wanted to work for yourself” moment.
With no savings to draw from, I opened Pinkhaus Design Corp on April 1st, 1985. (You had to be somewhat foolish to open a business that was built only on dreams.) After a month of working out of my condo, I mentioned to my partner Mark Cantor we needed to create an appearance of success if we were going to attract the kinds of clients we dreamed of. We signed a year’s lease in a new office building at 2424 South Dixie Highway. We were the first tenant in a building that had more than just a little resemblance of the Bauhaus home in Germany. By convincing the owner of the building to put our name along side his and the architect’s who designed the building, we got the position at the top because our company name was the shortest. Soon the building became known as the Pinkhaus building through all the local media. And it didn’t hurt to have Miami Vice shooting (sometimes literally) numerous scenes on the premises and in our offices.
One year we threw a Christmas party, but wanted it to be different from all others, so we celebrated the Chinese New Year (The Year Of The Snake) two months early. Hired a Reggae band to mix the cultural stew, sent out 500 invitations and 2,000 people showed up. Designers, architects, photographers, models, lawyers, real estate agents, bankers, stock brokers, political figures and the news media came. The following Monday in Miami Today’s Business Section, a two-page article appeared with 10 oversized photos and Pinkhaus’ name was embedded in the minds of a growing international business community.
Shortly afterwards How Magazine was also growing in reputation , mostly because of a pioneer from New York, Phillip Smith. Phillip had just been hired as the magazine’s “Editor In Chief” and was looking for a regional design firm using their design skills to manage their business through the latest technology available. It was an article for their new “Business Annual” and Pinkhaus Design Corp got the call, probably because of the Miami Today article.
That led to a position on How Magazine's Editorial Advisory Board, which promoted itself as having “eleven of the country's most distinguished designers” acting as advisors for their editorial content.
Then, as a member of Miami Ad School's Board of Directors, I got the opportunity to teach the first course in the school’s history where designers, art directors and copywriters worked together on specific branding assignments. I was challenged continuously by each and every student for totally different reasons, but loved every minute.
Then came the “Fellows Award” from AIGA/Miami (American Institute of Graphic Arts), The Fellows program recognizes mature designers who have made a significant contribution to raising the standard of excellence within their local or regional design community. I’ll never forget that moment, my 2-year old son Jackson was sitting on the floor with his mom (my wife), in front of the podium clapping his hands together like all little kids do, with the biggest smile you can imagine on his face. I realized then who I was really working for and why.
Publishing was also on Pinkhaus’ list of endeavors. We felt if we held to a solid business plan, we could have fun and make a little money at the same time. Our first was a table top book The American Directory of Architects, documenting the best in architectural trends throughout America.
One of our clients, Fairchild Tropical Gardens wanted us to develop a fund raising campaign, but had no budget for it, so we suggested they do a book to sell in their gift shop. We would take a percentage of every book they sold over a 10-year period to pay for our services, and they in turn would have a quality gift for their list of donors. So MANGOS, A Guide To Mangos In Florida - a colorful guide containing the most accurate and reliable information available at that time was created. Several years later a donor, who we coaxed into helping us with the scientific research, left Fairchild Tropical Gardens a large sum of money through his estate.
We had developed an incredible team of creative people, producing everything from annual reports to signage to products. Pinkhaus’ work appeared in 40 plus books and publications while garnering over 500 national and international awards helping to build a client list including Motorola, Nike, Pepsi, Bacardi, Mercedes-Benz and many other best of brands in their respective categories. One of those other clients, Gilbert Paper, (a division of the Mead Corporation) invited me to become a member of their Advisory Council of America. The council’s responsibility was to keep Gilbert’s in-house marketing team informed as to what designers were thinking and looking for when it came to making paper choices for their corporate clients. (Those paper choices represented big profits for their bottom line.)
Robin Rickabaugh (who has since deceased) and I were to provide a list of designers for them to choose from to design a new line of business papers for corporate America. However, we impressed the CEO and president with our attention to detail and passion for the project that they asked US to create the collection instead. So as co-creator of “ESSE”, a dream was fulfilled and an entirely new collection of recycled papers rapidly became one of the world's leading design choices for over a decade.
I was traveling a lot, mostly from Miami to LA and New York. It was what I referred to as my GOLDEN TRIANGLE. While on a photo shoot in Palm Springs working on the introduction of the Sterling automobile for the U. S. I was introduced to Steve Horman, creative director of the design firm The Designory from Long Beach, California. A year later we formed the largest design partnership in the U. S. with offices in Long Beach, Miami and New York. Nine months later we sold the company to Omnicom, the world’s largest advertising network.
Things were good, actually they were great for a while, then the reality of discovering when you sell your company, you don’t own it anymore and other people start to make decisions you always made yourself, started to reveal itself.
One early Saturday morning, I was alone at the office and pulled out a piece of large bond paper, taped it to the wall and began to draw. I first drew a big heart. I divided the heart in half (I remember saying to myself, “what does this mean?”). Then I drew a big arrow starting at the top of the paper, going through the center of the heart and down to the bottom of the page.
I knew then, I was done. It was time to regain control of my life. I started a collaborative project with architects Roney Mateu of Miami and James Meraz of Los Angeles on a conceptual redesign of my Coconut Grove home. The inspiration behind the redesign was based on my pursuit of a forgotten heritage, inspiring yet another company called “American Chik”.
American Chik was to become a creator, developer and distributor of original, contemporary, modern country products that reflected upon America’s past, its history, its people, their work, and their spirit. That vision is still incomplete, but American Chik remains an active corporation involved in projects of passion when time permits.
These days you’ll find me sitting, standing or crawling behind a camera, trying to interpret my own artistic statement: “Free to be oneself, primal forces colliding, facing one’s fears and desires, questioning one’s beliefs - unable to distinguish one from the other – embracing dreams, discovering an un-defined consciousness [ A Ceremonial Grandeur]”
The goal of having a solo exhibition within the first year of my new photographic journey came on the 351st day in November 2009. “13 stories” premiered on a Friday the 13th, at the Windsor Hotel, once a flop-house for transients in Asheville, North Carolina. Each photo’s caption used a direct quote from the hotel’s front desk logs going back to 1950. The hotel had been closed for some time, so to generate interest we hung some of the quotes (6’ and larger) in the lobby’s window for a month leading up to opening night. So many people showed up that the city fire marshal had to ask some faithful followers to leave before all the wine and champagne was finished.
In 2010 “Primal Faces Exposed” opened to an enthusiastic reception of 1600 creative souls at the national Hatch-Asheville conference (held to promote the next generation of creative innovators). The black and white images took a fresh look at a classic subject – the female nude- but in a new context, exploring how primitive and contemporary culture share the same DNA.
And in September, just before the 2012 presidential election “Political Rhetoric, the awful truth in black and white” challenged conservative and liberal minds alike. So much so, that the exhibition was extended 2 separate times, the last for the real possibility of President Barack Obama making a surprise trip to Asheville, North Carolina. Arrangements were made for him to receive one of the photos as a gift, then at the last moment the trip was cancelled. Maybe he should have come. The gift is still his to claim.
Two other exhibitions are now in the works: “Tattooed. Tales From Beneath The Ink” – Stories and tales that inspired tattoos. And “the Mermaid’s Song”- A calling for humanity to rise like an ocean and embrace the power of change. To resist the status quo and live in symbiosis with the planet.
“the Mermaid’s Song 2016” was the motivating force behind the latest move to Wilmington, North Carolina. I believe this coastal region represents as much about the future of our planet as any other coastal town or city, whether it’s New York, LA, New Orleans or the New Jersey Shore. Each of us will be confronted with decisions involving our changing environment, and whether it’s anthropology, biology, geology, or sociology, we must affect positive change.
The clock is ticking with over 7 billion people on the planet.