Tuesday, 13 November 2012


Industrial designer and accomplished illustrator John Vassos, whose family immigrated from Greece to Istanbul before the outbreak of World War I and eventually came to Madison Avenue as an esteemed public-relations man, had a keen sense for fully limning a caption and left a visual legacy of concepts told in pictures. One series of sketches covers the abstract topic of clinical phobia, which was not a new designer-ailment, certainly, invented for the bourgeois and nouveau riche of the Roaring Twenties, but I think Vassos portrayed such insecurities in a thoroughly modern way, not shrill and gory but ominous and oppressive, slow and quietly suspicious fears, which started out as very useful reflexes in terms of survival and self-preservation, but viewed from the wrong end of the telescope, becoming abysmal contagions—a sort of hexing thinking that no one wants to catch.
There are new niches for phobias to occupy, wearing old grooves that are not easily to extract one’s thoughts from, but I think, nothing novel in the way of irrational fear. We’ve had the same old companions for a long time, like the basic inventory of seasonal ailments that accept treatment, prevention but no cure. Neo-Luddites and paranoia with the computer screen are not really new things, but I think maybe some manias over material have come and gone—possibly with the germ of sensitivities to come.

Though glass was already a ubiquitous substance for urbanites of the late Victorian Era and was not being used in new ways, a peculiar phobia spread like a virus especial in gentlemanly circles, whose sufferers were convinced that they had suddenly become fragile, like spun glass, and were in near constant vigilance against being handled too roughly or stumbling.

It was a very strange episode and inarticulate for a cause—perhaps it was never owing to the glass or brittleness but the rise of alternatives to the medium, rubber, gum and synthetics and the fear was subsumed, for the most part, with bodily harm or explanation.

I wonder if there might be yet undescribed crises of grace and dexterity when it comes to preferred methods of input and output.
To be paralyzed with terror is always a handicap but it seems even worse and more abstract (and hard to communicate through drawing) when phobias come out of environment, preference and personal comforts. That is beginning to sound more like a dozing dream or a nightmare rather than a primal fear.