N as in Xanadu: ONYX Posters, 1968 – 1971

Exhibit / July 3, 2019

Object Name: ONYX posters
Maker and Year: ONYX, 1968-1971
Object Type: Broadsheets/posters
Image Source: FRAC
Description: (Richard McKenna)

Though positing itself as an architectural practice, ONYX—like many of the progressive architectural concerns of the day—was as much a conceptual initiative as it was anything to do with concrete and construction. Active between 1968 and 1972, the New York-based group took its name from the agate whose multi-layered nature reflected ONYX’s desire to bring together diverse sensibilities. It also provided a catchy acronym: in the words of co-founder Ron Williams, “We saw the O as ‘Oh!’, the NY as where we were and the X as the unknown.”

Williams had met fellow architectural illustrator “Woody” Rainey at the University of Utah, and, after graduation, they both moved to New York, where they met artist Tommy Simpson and genius New Zealand graphic designer, art director, typographer and artist Mike Hinge. The four of them became the nucleus of ONYX, whose principal output was a series of “broadsheets”: offset-printed posters that were distributed to friends and colleagues, mailed internationally, and flyposted on walls around Manhattan.

Drawing on Pop Art, psychedelic art, nascent poster culture (especially San Francisco rock concert posters), postal art, and the work of Japanese artist Tadanori Yokoo—as well as the speculative science-fictional intent inherent in Hinge’s work—ONYX’s posters utilized their distinctive aesthetic to create graphic representations of their discussions and feelings about art and architecture through a striking language of graphic montage. 

Like many of their peers, ONYX left behind none of the physical structures we usually associate with architecture, and perhaps it’s the ephemeral nature of the project that makes their work, with its implicit utopianism, such a winning paean to creativity.

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