Recently, TheRichest had the opportunity to chat with film director Jennifer Hou Kwong and executive producer Ellis Goodman for an exclusive interview about their new documentary, Art Paul of Playboy: The Man Behind The Bunny. The film takes a look at a lesser-known but incredibly integral star of the successful men's entertainment magazine, Playboy - its art director for nearly 30 years, Art Paul.
Paul passed away on Apr. 28, 2018 at the age 93, just after the final cut of the documentary was made and he is missed dearly by his family, friends as well as the art/design community and of course, his wife, writer and photographer, Suzanne Seed. Seed, also an artist, was married to Paul for 42 years and played an essential role in the documentary, often showing through her actions that she was her husband's biggest fan. She is the author of two books, Saturday's Child and Fine Trades and her work in photojournalism have appeared in magazines such as Time, Life, People, Sports Illustrated as well as major television networks such as CBS and NBC.
We were excited to have the chance to speak with the woman who probably knew Art Paul, arguably one of the most influential art directors of all time, best of all.
TheRichest: Hello, Suzanne. To begin, Art said, “I have to be an artist.” As his wife of 42 years, did you witness him incorporating art into his everyday routines such as making breakfast, etc.?
Suzanne Seed: Well, yes, he was very creative in everything he did. He just had a creative way of thinking about things. It might be in part due to his training at the Institute of Design which was very much about making the students creative people not just teaching them how to do things but it was his nature, too. What astonished me the most was when he began to have these problems in aging with macular degeneration and these other problems, how the creativity came through. It was just astonishing. He played with macular degeneration. He was delighted when he had these visions that it gives you when you start seeing things that you know aren’t there. He’d say, ‘Oh, this is so interesting.’ He’d shake his head and make after-images happen. He would say, ‘Oh, I can make a crowd out of one person, it’s so interesting.’ Rather than just complaining and bemoaning, he would play with it. He said, ‘The macular degeneration makes it hard for me to see what I’m drawing, it makes my lines wiggly but I’m just playing with animation and seeing what can happen.’ It just takes my breath away. I’ve never seen an artist do that. I’ve grown up with art, went to art school, been an artist, studied artists. I’ve seen how artists compensate when they have disabilities but not play with it. It takes a lot of humility to do that. Making the best out of the situation by using creativity was astonishing.
TR: Throughout the documentary, several of Art’s quotes are displayed. Do you have a personal favorite?
SS: Well, his favorite was ‘form follows frustration’ meaning that you’re always going to have clients who just don’t get it and you have to keep trying to show them what you’re doing. That was his favorite, they’re all my favorites. It’s hard to say. They’re all so insightful. He said so many wonderful things. He was such an astonishing writer. I came across one the other day that said, ‘My eyes have a mind of their own’ after he had macular degeneration. It’s such an interesting way to put it. He never complained, just noticed… and made these philosophical comments.
TR: Together, you and your husband created a piece called War Kills The Sun for a peace poster. What was collaborating with your husband like for this project?
SS: Very casual. It was a simple poster. I came up with the idea that war kills the sun and he liked that idea. We had other ideas for political posters but we never got around to it.
TR: Art’s work and life obviously had a tremendous impact on pop culture. In your opinion, what was Art’s biggest impact?
SS: At Playboy, he mentored and commissioned more artists than any other art director. He wasn’t afraid to hire beginners if he saw something in them. So, it stands to reason that he would have done the most commissions ever. He was inventive and encouraged all of the illustrators to be as inventive as possible. He had so many ideas about how to present art. He had participatory graphics and puzzles that people would cut out and put back together. No one else was doing that. People used to say, ‘I read Playboy for the articles’ but a lot of young designers and artists would buy Playboy and Bazaar in the 60’s because they were most innovative and artistic magazines.
TR: From the documentary, we can see that Art is very humble. He didn’t work to promote his personal art in exhibitions or galleries. How did he feel about the documentary being made about him?
SS: I told the documentarians, I told Jen, ‘you will have to convince him.’He won’t let me convince him of this. I just thought that she and her husband could do a better job and they did. He was a very shy person in a way. If someone were to insist that he had an exhibition, he would. Otherwise, he wouldn’t do it. Finally, he was getting close to 90 and I said, ‘Art, if you die and all of this beautiful work hasn’t been seen and it’s just in drawers and it’s too late to do anything with it, it will break my heart.’ And when I told him that it would affect me, then he agreed to do it.
TR: Art seemed to have a need to connect with the reader. Was this need reflective of Art’s personality, caring about reaching others?
SS: Oh yes. Things he drew as a kid were very dramatic. He wanted to be an illustrator. All of the artists that he chose were very strong and graphic with some sort of impact. [Before Art passed] all of these young art-and-graphic designers started to take Art under their wing at a [local] design museum. It was the sweetest thing. I was so thrilled with that. He mentored all of these people and now people were including him and that was sweet.
TR: From the documentary, we can learn a countless amount of things about Art that made him a truly incredible and interesting man. Can you tell us your favorite things about Art?
SS: Gosh, that’s hard. They [the documentarians] just covered everything! My favorite thing, they didn’t quite cover, because he couldn’t hold forth on camera verbally when he started to have aphasia, were all of these funny things he would come up with when he couldn’t find the right word, so he would just come up with all of these wonderful things. One time, I told him ‘it’s my birthday today.’ Because his memory was getting bad so I just thought I’ll just tell him it’s my birthday. He was delighted and said, ‘Oh, a thousand cookies!’ Then I could see he stopped to think. I could see his mind working like ‘cookies are my favorite thing but what’s her favorite thing?’ So then he said, ‘And a thousand houses!’ because he knew I like to fix old houses. It was the best birthday gift I ever got. He would make up special things to say. He would make up some new image like, ‘I love you all over the world!’ With aphasia, it stops some people from talking. But with Art, his creativity would pop through and he wasn’t intimidated by it. He had a fearless and humble way of dealing with dementia, too. He remembered all of the social graces, he never forgot any of that. He would notice people’s feelings and was very insightful. I just loved how he dealt with things.
TR: You are an accomplished writer, photographer, and artist. Do you have any upcoming projects or recently completed projects that we can check out?
SS: I’ve had things published in the past and I’ve discovered playwriting and it just felt more right than anything else I’ve done. Now, I’m doing plays and I’m going to be sending them out soon.
TR: What is the hope for viewers to take away from the documentary?
SS: At Art’s memorial, I did a eulogy and my point was that I hope people will be inspired by him to go creatively with whatever life throws at them and be their best as people.
TR: In the film, Art’s nephew made a very sweet comment about the two of you as a couple. Usually, opposites attract but being both artists and having many similarities, did this help draw you closer together?
SS: I met him by calling on him with my portfolio. Everybody that I ever met who called on him said the same thing. ‘He made time for me, I didn’t feel rushed, he made me coffee, he gave me suggestions.’ And he was very busy at that time. That’s quite a testimonial. He was the same way at parties. I couldn’t get him through a party, art exhibit or an opening. He’d make time for anyone who wanted to talk to him. It didn’t matter if it was the delivery boy. He’d ask them questions about themselves. He’d talk to everyone the same. He really was a sweet guy.
TR: Can you share your favorite book with our readers or what you are currently reading?
SS: Oh, but that’s so hard. I’m always reading many books at once. I do like Dickens. I do love A Christmas Carol. And Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics. They’re little stories where scientific principles become characters who talk about themselves. That’s a wonderful book.
TR: Well, Suzanne, thank you so much for your time with me today. I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary and can’t wait to let our readers know about it. From everyone at TheRichest, we’re so glad that this film gives Art the recognition that he deserves.
SS: I enjoyed it too, I’m glad I did it. Thank you very much.
Readers, if you have an appreciation for art, you'll likely fall in love with Art Paul of Playboy: The Man Behind The Bunny just as we did. It's the story of a talented man who lived his dream and you won't have to look hard to find the true romance in the film as well.