this thursday at mondocane you will find a few of familiar objects made of bronze, hopefully you will ‘see’ them differently. i remember at risd, a sculpture student transformed benefit street by simply laying grass the entire block east of waterman street. i watched amazed as students took off their shoes, reached down and touched it. a grass lawn was but 100 feet away. something familiar had changed and how they perceived it changed too. this is my hope as well. please drop by the show. it’s up until the 5th of december.
sutnar. certainly one of my favorite designers. i have posted about him before, but included only one of his letterheads. here are two that i attribute to him but cannot confirm that definitively. i suspect they are sutnar, but they lack a certain forcefulness that i have come to ’38 respectfully. sutnar was art director of prague’s largest publishing house, drustevní praise, at that time, so it’s feasible. no matter who designed them,they represent another study in the evolution of the avant garde letter-head that ihave come to love. simple, ordered and exhibiting all the sighs of tschichold’s ‘neue typographie.’ these were a real find. ebay strikes again.
over the next five days, i will share five different books designed by ladislav sutnar. think ‘orange.’ i love orange. i don’t wear a lot of it but i do have an orange lacoste shirt, an orange hermès hat and one pair of neon orange nike air rifts. oddly, that’s it. however, i do own a great number of orange items. many are in the form of books designed by sutnar. take off the dust jacket and you find a wonderful world of subtlety, drama, creativity and originality. remember, these books were designed in the 1930s.
this collection began with the discovery of a box labeled ‘sutnar’ at ‘the art of the book’ room at the sterling library at yale. the sterling library is vast. heaven, actually, but aren’t all libraries? ‘the art of the book’ houses many amazing things, and i sometimes think i was the first person in years to look through this archival box. there was no order, no organization, no cataloging and no shortage of wonderful things to examine. i would bet that, 20 years later, no one else has looked at that box. where do i find these books? living in the states makes it difficult. there are a few dealers who sell the czech avant garde, and i acquired most of mine from one particular dealer who now specializes in cookbooks. recently there was an ebay auction with many wonderful examples of sutnar designs and i didn’t win a single book, much to my disappointment. so many i had never seen. hopefully, these will be fresh to you.
all these wonderful examples were won on ebay. i love each one more than the next. two of them fall into two of my collecting categories: german book design and the czech avant garde. the third, well, is just wonderful type. i don’t really care much about who designed these or their provenance. they provide inspiration. over the years i have found it extremely helpful when discussing a design direction with a designer to pull something that he or she might not have seen. you often hear that a designer shows up with his or her portfolio and it is obvious that they have never heard of such and such a designer. i recall being asked by my teachers if i had every heard of this designer or that designer. since i studied art history first, i think my method for studying graphic design took a more historical approach. does that mean knowing design history is important to being a graphic designer or a creative director? i recall working in a studio years ago. it was a wonderful place, an amazing carriage house. next to the entrance was a framed josef albers print. one day a messenger came in and asked if it was a josef albers. i was standing there with a young designer who had graduated recently from art school, so i thought i would let her answer. she said she didn’t know. of course i was shocked. i thought every design student would know josef albers. the ensuing conversation that took place among the designers in the studio was about whether it was important to know who josef albers was and did it actually matter. i felt it was important to know what had come before, and that the knowledge would imbue your design. however one designer disagreed completely. he didn’t see what value it would add. well, the conversation divided into two camps. this was twenty five years ago, and i felt pretty strongly that design history, art history, architecture history, hell, history in general, is pretty worthwhile. do I still feel as strongly? i don’t think I would argue with quite the intensity i did then. i certainly would not get bent out of shape about it. i don’t know the individual designers of these pieces. however not knowing might be just fine.
a primary love of mine is the czech avant-garde. i have many wonderful examples that i intend to share. here are four covers of typ, a journal for the printing industry. a friend in prague who deals in the czech avant-garde and whom i met through ebay said the following about this publication:
“it’s an unusual magazine as it was aimed at ‘yuppies,’ young people in sales and printing industries, etc. making some cash in the ‘30s—almost like a lifestyle mag for people in those emerging employment areas. published by sfinx – b.janda, i think it began circa 1926 and ran for many years. jindrich styrsky was very associated with sfinx covers and made a lot of their book covers anonymously. i’m in agreement with some other opinions that many ‘30s typ covers are by styrsky, usually the black-&-white ones with a large black-&-white photo in the center column. yours look later and styrsky died in 1942, so my guess is they are not styrsky.”
there are many reason why i find these cover engaging but primarily it has to do with type and image: the wonderful juxtaposition of the photo with typography. these are as fresh today as they must have been in 1947 when they were done.