Arnold Skolnick, Artist Behind Woodstock Poster, Dead at 85
Arnold Skolnick, the artist best-known for creating the iconic poster for Woodstock, has died at the age of 85.
Deadline, citing Skolnick’s son, Alexander, said the artist died June 15 due to respiratory failure.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Skolnick was reportedly just five years old when he began dreaming of becoming an artist. As an adult, he worked as a freelancer serving many of New York’s ad agencies. In 1969, he received a phone call from John Morris, the production coordinator of Woodstock. The festival had initially enlisted David Edward Byrd -- known for designing rock concert posters for the Fillmore East -- to design their poster. His creation, which featured a nude woman posing with an urn, was deemed inappropriate. Pressed for time, Byrd asked Skolnick if he could come up with something.
"They gave [the assignment] to me on Thursday ... and I brought it by to them on Monday afternoon," Skolnick later recalled. "It was just another job, but it became famous."
Inspired by the work of 19th-century post-impressionist artist Henri Matisse, Skolnick created his design by cutting shapes of colored paper. “The whole thing came alive,” he later explained. Initially, the artist planned to make his image a bird perched atop a flute, “but the flute is really jazz, so I made it a guitar.”
"It was very simple. It said the whole thing," Skolnick explained to the Stamford Advocate. "It said peace, it said music. It was very colorful, so people did not forget it."
Held Aug. 15–18, 1969, Woodstock became a pivotal moment in the hippie counterculture movement. With more than 30 acts -- many of whom rank among rock’s most celebrated artists -- it is often regarded as the most famous festival in American history.
Woodstock’s success made Skolnick’s poster legendary. The artist attended the first night of the festival, but opted to leave early due to the size of the crowd.
"If I had been 16 or 17, I probably would have enjoyed it," admitted Skolnick, who was in his early 30s at the time of Woodstock.
Skolnick continued as a graphic artist for many years, later transitioning to publishing. For decades he produced and published art books through his company Chameleon Books. He also regularly held exhibitions of his own work at galleries throughout the East Coast.