When graphic designer Milton Glaser began designing for Kevin Eggers’ record company in the 1960s, it was called Poppy Records. By 1978, the company had changed names several times, morphing into Utopia, then Atlantic Deluxe, and finally, Tomato Music Company. (It later became known as Tomato Records). The independent label featured an eclectic group of artists, including country musician Townes Van Zandt, jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, blues singer John Lee Hooker, and avant-garde composer John Cage.
With such a diverse roster of recording artists, conveying the music label’s identity to an audience demanded a unique approach. Glaser created the company’s new logo, a graphic red tomato, as well as this now iconic poster that you see above. In the poster, a dark, atmospheric room is punctuated by ornately patterned wallpaper and a floral carpet. A red curtain is pulled back to reveal the night sky out the window. On an end table a vase of roses sits beside a lighted cigarette. Resting off the corner of the table, the cigarette’s whiplash curl of smoke suggests that it has just recently been set aside by the occupant of the green velvet armchair. The whole environment appears to be the ideal place for listening to a great album of any genre. But there’s just one thing…
…there’s a giant tomato in the room.
The plump, red fruit’s presence lends the scene a decidedly surreal air. You can’t look away. You must know more. The tomato demands your consideration. You are already on alert, but Glaser reinforces the point through his use of a matter-of-fact slogan: “Tomato: Something Unusual is Going on Here.” Time to pay attention.
Caitlin Condell is the Curatorial Assistant for the Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design Department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.