Radebaugh wore many hats over his lifetime as a futurist, illustrator, airbrush artist, and industrial designer. He was prolific in advertising work for the automotive industry, where some of his most brilliant early art was done. He experimented with fluorescent paint under black light. His best visions of the future were illustrated from 1958 to 1963 in his syndicated Sunday comic strip, Closer Than We Think!
Bonowicz interviews Syd Mead (industrial designer and artist who gave us the dystopian version of the future in Blade Runner), amid a plethora of other artists, friends, and curators who are all enthralled with Radebaugh’s work. Mead points out the contrast between his approach and Radebaugh’s, and while it seems clear, we are headed more toward the darker, messier, world of Blade Runner than we are the sleek, clean experience of The Jetsons, Radebaugh’s future is more fun, and lighter in tone. His whimsical approach and mid-century hipster images of life in that shiny fantasy are amazing to see and contemplate.
“…evokes a desire to go find those illustrations and comics and pore over them.”
Radebaugh’s own path through time is less shiny. He was forced to reinvent himself repeatedly as the fashions of art and design changed. His story is fascinating, if a little downbeat, as his exuberance for the possible future was overshadowed by rapid changes in the world. He surfed that wave as best he could.
Closer Than We Think is a documentary to get lost in, repeated viewings are called for, and it evokes a desire to go find those illustrations and comics and pore over them. How close did Radebaugh get to predicting the future? What stopped his wildest dreams coming true? Who gets to live that dream? Who is left out? How can we make our future more like the one he saw, and should we? His art and vision provide deep food for thought. Here’s a visit to the past, and one concept of the future we can compare to our own lives. The film is a rich feast for the eyes and the mind.
"…his art and vision provide deep food for thought."