Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Walter Gropius

Walter Adolph Georg Gropius (May 18, 1883 – July 5, 1969) was a German architect and founder of the Bauhaus School who, along with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, is widely regarded as one of the pioneering masters of modern architecture.

Gropius's career advanced in the postwar period. Henry van de Velde, the master of the Grand-Ducal Saxon School of Arts and Crafts in Weimar was asked to step down in 1915 due to his Belgian nationality. His recommendation for Gropius to succeed him led eventually to Gropius's appointment as master of the school in 1919. It was this academy which Gropius transformed into the world famous Bauhaus, attracting a faculty that included Paul Klee, Johannes Itten, Josef Albers, Herbert Bayer, László Moholy-Nagy, Otto Bartning and Wassily Kandinsky. One example was the armchair F 51, designed for the Bauhaus's directors room in 1920 - nowadays a re-edition in the market, manufactured by the German company TECTA/Lauenfoerde.
In 1919, Gropius was involved in the Glass Chain utopian expressionist correspondence under the pseudonym "Mass." Usually more notable for his functionalist approach, the "Monument to the March Dead," designed in 1919 and executed in 1920, indicates that expressionism was an influence on him at that time.
In 1923, Gropius designed his famous door handles, now considered an icon of 20th-century design and often listed as one of the most influential designs to emerge from Bauhaus. He also designed large-scale housing projects in Berlin, Karlsruhe and Dessau in 1926-32 that were major contributions to the New Objectivity movement, including a contribution to the Siemensstadt project in Berlin.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Vince Frost

was born on 23 november 1964 in brighton, UK.
vince studied at west sussex college of design and
began his creative career in 1989 working for
pentagram in london, becoming their youngest
associate. in 1994 he set up frost design in london,
and in 2004 made the move to sydney, australia.
vince’s work includes anything from postage stamps
to magazines, books, identities, TV advertising,
art direction and the built environment.
he has created award-winning work for clients as
diverse as the independent newspaper, nike,
new york-based rizzoli books, swiss re centre for
global dialogue, deutsche bank asia, V&A museum,
seoul international finance centre, international hedge
fund EIM, macquarie bank and sydney dance company.
he lectures at international colleges and conferences.
a major retrospective of his work ‘frost*bite: graphic
ideas by vince frost’ was shown at the sydney opera
house in 2006. 

SAUL BASS (1920-1996) was not only one of the great graphic designers of the mid-20th century but the undisputed master of film title design thanks to his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger and Martin Scorsese.
When the reels of film for Otto Preminger’s controversial new drugs movie, The Man with the Golden Arm, arrived at US movie theatres in 1955, a note was stuck on the cans - "Projectionists – pull curtain before titles".
Until then, the lists of cast and crew members which passed for movie titles were so dull that projectionists only pulled back the curtains to reveal the screen once they’d finished. But Preminger wanted his audience to see The Man with the Golden Arm’s titles as an integral part of the film.
The movie’s theme was the struggle of its hero - a jazz musician played by Frank Sinatra - to overcome his heroin addiction. Designed by the graphic designer Saul Bass the titles featured an animated black paper-cut-out of a heroin addict’s arm. Knowing that the arm was a powerful image of addiction, Bass had chosen it – rather than Frank Sinatra’s famous face - as the symbol of both the movie’s titles and its promotional poster.
That cut-out arm caused a sensation and Saul Bass reinvented the movie title as an art form. By the end of his life, he had created over 50 title sequences for Preminger, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, John Frankenheimer and Martin Scorsese. Although he later claimed that he found the Man with the Golden Arm sequence "a little disappointing now, because it was so imitated".
Even before he made his cinematic debut, Bass was a celebrated graphic designer. Born in the Bronx district of New York in 1920 to an emigré furrier and his wife, he was a creative child who drew constantly. Bass studied at the Art Students League in New York and Brooklyn College under Gyorgy Kepes, an Hungarian graphic designer who had worked with László Moholy-Nagy in 1930s Berlin and fled with him to the US. Kepes introduced Bass to Moholy’s Bauhaus style and to Russian Constructivism.
After apprenticeships with Manhattan design firms, Bass worked as a freelance graphic designer or "commercial artist" as they were called. Chafing at the creative constraints imposed on him in New York, he moved to Los Angeles in 1946. After freelancing, he opened his own studio in 1950 working mostly in advertising until Preminger invited him to design the poster for his 1954 movie, Carmen Jones. Impressed by the result, Preminger asked Bass to create the film’s title sequence too.

Now over-shadowed by Bass’ later work, Carmen Jones elicited commissions for titles for two 1955 movies: Robert Aldrich’s The Big Knife, and Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch. But it was his next Preminger project, The Man with the Golden Arm, which established Bass as the doyen of film title design.
Over the next decade he honed his skill by creating an animated mini-movie for Mike Todd’s 1956 Around The World In 80 Days and a tearful eye for Preminger’s 1958 Bonjour Tristesse. Blessed with the gift of identifying the one image which symbolised the movie, Bass then recreated it in a strikingly modern style. Martin Scorsese once described his approach as creating: "an emblematic image, instantly recognisable and immediately tied to the film".
In 1958’s Vertigo, his first title sequence for Alfred Hitchcock, Bass shot an extreme close-up of a woman’s face and then her eye before spinning it into a sinister spiral as a bloody red soaks the screen. For his next Hitchcock commission, 1959’s North by Northwest, the credits swoop up and down a grid of vertical and diagonal lines like passengers stepping off elevators. It is only a few minutes after the movie has begun - with Cary Grant stepping out of an elevator - that we realise the grid is actually the façade of a skyscraper.
Equally haunting are the vertical bars sweeping across the screen in a manic, mirrored helter-skelter motif at the beginning of Hitchcock’s 1960 Psycho. This staccato sequence is an inspired symbol of Norman Bates’ fractured psyche. Hitchcock also allowed Bass to work on the film itself, notably on its dramatic highpoint, the famous shower scene with Janet Leigh.
Assisted by his second wife, Elaine, Bass created brilliant titles for other directors - from the animated alley cat in 1961’s Walk on the Wild Side, to the adrenalin-laced motor racing sequence in 1966’s Grand Prix. He then directed a series of shorts culminating in 1968’s Oscar-winning Why Man Creates and finally realised his ambition to direct a feature with 1974’s Phase IV.
When Phase IV flopped, Bass returned to commercial graphic design. His corporate work included devising highly successful corporate identities for United Airlines, AT&T, Minolta, Bell Telephone System and Warner Communications. He also designed the poster for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
To younger film directors, Saul Bass was a cinema legend with whom they longed to work. In 1987, he was persuaded to create the titles for James Brooks’ Broadcast News and then for Penny Marshall’s 1988 Big. In 1990, Bass found a new long term collaborator in Martin Scorsese who had grown up with – and idolised - his 1950s and 1960s titles. After 1990’s Goodfellas and 1991’s Cape Fear, Bass created a sequence of blossoming rose petals for Scorcese’s 1993’s The Age of Innocence and a hauntingly macabre one of Robert De Niro falling through the sinister neons of the Las Vegas Strip for the director’s 1995’s Casino to symbolise his character’s descent into hell.
Saul Bass died the next year. His New York Times obituary hailed him as "the minimalist auteur who put a jagged arm in motion in 1955 and created an entire film genre…and elevated it into an art."

Monday, 4 October 2010

Russian Constructivism

Constructivism was an artistic and architectural movement that originated in Russia from 1919 onward which rejected the idea of "art for art's sake" in favour of art as a practice directed towards social purposes. Constructivism as an active force lasted until around 1934, having a great deal of effect on developments in the art of the Weimar Republic and elsewhere, before being replaced by Socialist Realism. Its motifs have sporadically recurred in other art movements since.

The book designs of Rodchenko, El Lissitzky and others such as Solomon Telingater and Anton LavinskyJan Tschichold. Many Constructivists worked on the design of posters for everything from film to political propaganda: the former best represented by the brightly coloured, geometric jazz-age posters of the Stenberg brothers, and the latter by the agitational photomontage work of Gustav Klutsis and Valentina Kulagina. were a major inspiration for the work of radical designers in the west, particularly
The Constructivists' main political patron early on was Leon Trotsky, and it began to be regarded with suspicion after the expulsion of Trotsky and the Left Opposition in 1927-8. The Communist Party would gradually come to favour realist art over the course of the 1920s (as early as 1918 Pravda had complained that government funds were being used to buy works by untried artists). However it wasn't until around 1934 that the counter-doctrine of Socialist Realism was instituted in Constructivism's place. Many Constructivists continued to produce avantgarde work in the service of the state, such as in Lissitzky, Rodchenko and Stepanova's designs for the magazine USSR In Construction.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

History of Serif Typefaces

The first half of 20th century is the end of the Modern era, the moment when revived typefaces were flooding the typography mainstream.  But it was also the time when a completely different font design was booming, called sans serif (which is French for "without serifs").  It wasn't an absolutely new idea at that time, since first sans serif faces had appeared in the beginning of 19th century; but never before this seemingly peripheral and exotic trend claimed so much importance as in 1920s and 30s.
Actually, it is amazing that the simple idea of dropping serifs at the ends of strokes didn't occur to the great many typographers who experimented with their shapes and sizes so much.  In part, it is due to the inertia of scribes' tradition who, with their quills, simply could not produce a reasonably clean cut of a stroke.  Undoubtedly, old typographers also knew the fact that was later confirmed by experiments: Serifs help the eye to stick to the line and thus facilitate reading.
But the biggest part of the serif persistence was, of course, due to plain habit.  When the first examples of sans serif fonts finally appeared, they seemed so controversial that the first name given to them was "grotesque," and they were very rarely used except in advertising.  And so it remained until the newest trends in art and industrial design, most notably the German Bauhaus movement of 1920s (influenced by earlier Russian constructivism), required adequate means of typographic expression.  These movements stressed utilitarian aspects in design, claiming that a thing becomes beautiful only when---and because---it serves a practical purpose, denying any attempts to artificially "adorn" it.
The most influential type design of that epoch, the Futura font created in Germany in 1928, displayed the core of the Bauhaus ideology: strictly geometric outline, lacking any embellishments and just barely conforming to the historical shapes of letters.  The resulting blend of geometric consistency and aesthetic awkwardness may be disputable, but it was at least something quite new, and therefore impressive, at that time.  Now we're much more accustomed to the look of Futura (and its many derivatives), but the inborn radicalism of the font still shows through. 

As any other radical movement, the "new sans serif" typography of the 1920s couldn't do without auguring an imminent death of all serif fonts whatsoever.  This didn't happen, of course.  Moreover, Futura itself didn't manage to become so neutral and familiar in the mass perception as to become a standard sans serif font for all occasions.  (Instead, this position was taken by Helvetica, a typical "no-nonsense," "no-big-deal" font that became ubiquitous almost to the point of being misused and nauseating.)  However, it cannot be denied that Futura played an important role in sans serif becoming a mainstream type style, an accepted contrasting pair for the time-proven serif fonts.
Of course, sans serif proliferation was also due to the higher demand for display typefaces in all media, the demand which is much more severe than at any time in the past.  The most natural use of a sans serif font is still for display purposes (ads, titles, logos, labels of all sorts), although it can be successfully used for body text as well.
It is interesting to note that the development of sans serif typefaces in this century went in a direction opposite to that of the serif type development of previous centuries.  Indeed, we've seen how serif faces have gone from arty and liberal Old Style, through neutral Transitional design, to the rigid, mannered Modern typefaces.  Conversely, sans serif fonts started from Futura with its artificial look, then were for a long time dominated by neutral "transitional" Helvetica, and recently a number of distinctively liberal (and, in some classifications, even termed "humanist") sans serif faces became popular.  Thus, the 20th century process of sans serif humanization is a negation, a mirror image, a contrasting parallel for the earlier process of serif dehumanization in 15th-19th centuries---just as sans serif itself is a contrasting match for serif. 
So what are the features of humanist sans serif faces? One of the first such designs was Frutiger (a.k.a. Freeset, developed in 1976); at first sight similar to Helvetica, this font reveals to a careful investigation some "anti-geometric" features, such as uneven width of strokes (especially in bold variants), non-perpendicular cuts, and slightly bent off tips of strokes (e.g. the bottom of the vertical stroke in "d").  All these subtleties were intended to smooth out the too harsh edges of the generic sans serif design and improve legibility of characters, and their net result is a relatively warm and friendly-looking typeface---especially if we compare it to the apathetic Helvetica or phrenetic Futura.
The trends that were hinted at in Frutiger were later fully developed in a family of fonts now extremely popular both on the Web and in print design.  The original typeface of this family, called Meta, was developed in 1984 by German designer Erik Spiekermann.  In Meta and its offsprings, strokes have slightly varying width (the creator's goal was that in small sizes, thinner strokes should not "drop out" but, on the contrary, become undistinguishable from the thicker ones) and, in compensation for the missing serifs, vigorously bent-off tips of vertical strokes in letters like "d" or "n."  Both uppercase and lowercase characters are narrower than in most other sans serif fonts (i.e. letters are inscribed into rectangles, not squares).  Perhaps here we have an example showing how far can we go in "humanizing" sans serifs and borrowing serif-specific features, while remaining within the sans serif paradigm. 

Interestingly, the problems that the designer tried to resolve with the new typeface were purely practical---Spiekermann's goal was to create an economic font readable in a wide variety of sizes and conditions.  Here's what the designer himself writes in his article: Meta has been hailed as "the typeface for the nineties"; young designers seem to appreciate its rugged charm, which owes a lot to the detailed requirements of small type on bad paper.  It was never designed to be a trendy typeface, rather it was designed to solve specific problems.  Maybe it is that honest, unpretentious background which appeals to graphic designers and typographers around the world.
Here's a truly enlightening comparison: Note how the two approaches to a "purely utilitarian" font design, differing only by the fact that one was rather theoretic and the other driven by practical needs, resulted in two fonts as different as Futura and Meta.

Paul Renner

Paul Renner (August 9, 1878 – April 25, 1956) was a typeface designer, most notably of Futura. He was born in Wernigerode, Germany and died in Hödingen.
He was born in Prussia and had a strict Protestant upbringing, being educated in 19th century Gymnasium. He was brought up to have a very German sense of leadership, of duty and responsibility. He was suspicious of abstract art and disliked many forms of modern culture, such as jazz, cinema, and dancing. But equally, he admired the functionalist strain in modernism. Thus, Renner can be seen as a bridge between the traditional (19th century) and the modern (20th century). He attempted to fuse the Gothic and the roman typefaces.
Renner was a prominent member of the Deutscher Werkbund (German Work Federation). Two of his major texts are Typografie als Kunst (Typography as Art) and Die Kunst der Typographie (The Art of Typography). He created a new set of guidelines for good book design and invented the popular Futura, a geometric sans-serif font used by many typographers throughout the 20th century and today. The typeface Architype Renner is based upon Renner's early experimental exploration of geometric letterforms for the Futura typeface, most of which were deleted from the face's character set before it was issued. Tasse, a 1994 typeface is a revival of Renner's 1953 typeface Steile Futura.
Renner was a friend of the eminent German typographer Jan Tschichold and a key participant in the heated ideological and artistic debates of that time.

Josef Albers

The German-American painter and art teacher Josef Albers was born in Bottrop on March 19, 1888. In 1905 he is trained to be a teacher in Langenhorst and Büren and works in Büren up until 1913. From 1913 to 1915 he attends the "Königliche Kunstschule" in Berlin, where he also takes the examination for art teachers. He changes to Essen in 1916 and attends the School of Arts and Crafts until 1919. Afterwards he attends the Munich Academy and is accepted into the drawing class of Franz von Stuck. He enrolls at the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1920. In 1923 he is given a teaching assignment by Walter Gropius, in 1925 he is appointed "Jungmeister" (Young Master) at the Bauhaus. Josef Albers takes over the glass workshop and leads the preparatory course along with László Moholy-Nagy, as of 1928 he holds this position by himself. He takes over the furniture workshop when Marcel Breuer leaves the Bauhaus in 1928.
Josef Albers' artistic activities reach their peak during his Bauhaus years. His designs of furniture, objects of utility, but also typographs, linocuts and lithographs clearly reflect an idea according to which all artistic activities are determined by both the object's intended use and the material. He feels obliged to this philosophy throughout his life. The influence of the Dutch artist group "De Stijl" becomes obvious in Albers' Bauhaus works.

Josel Albers immigrates to the USA after the Bauhaus had been closed. He follows a call to the newly found Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where he is head of the art department until 1949.
From 1933 to 1936 Josef Albers is a member of the group "Abstraction-Création", and joins the "American Abstract Artists" in 1938. He becomes director of the Department of Design at Yale University in 1950. The artist and his wife Anni move to Orange near New Haven in 1969.

Josef Albers' variations of the "Hommage to the Square", on which he works as of 1949 become quite famous and also determine his later works. They originate from his ponderings on theories of reception, on which he also makes a number of writings, he releases "Interaction of Color" in 1963 and "Formulation: Articulation" in 1972. Josef Albers' activities as an artist, theoretician and teacher can be observed in American Colourfield Painting as well as in Op-Art.
He increasingly uses graphic techniques, especially silkscreen and lithography, in the 1960s and 1970s.
Josef Albers dies in New Haven, Connecticut on March 25, 1976