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Herbert Bayer was born to a tax collecting father and a mother whose family owned the local Gasthaus (hotel) in the pleasant village of Haag am Hausruck, Austria. Herbert was a timid child who lacked any vital emotional relationship with his parents, yet had their support to pursue his artistic ambitions from a young age. When his father passed, Herbert had previous aspirations to study in Vienna yet finances held him back forcing him into the army where he luckily avoided combat towards the end of WW1. Once the war was over,

Herbert returned to Linz where his family was residing since 1912 and met art historian Gustav Guggenbauer. Guggenbauer opened his \library of Austrian Baroque to the teen. Inspired to travel throughout Germany and Austria, HErbert documented the landscapes and architecture. Eventually in 1919 he landed himself an apprenticeship with Georg Schmidthammer who introduced him to the arts and crafts movement. Schmdthammer was the conductor of the movement in Linz who presented Bayer with new techniques such as lithography and the era’s tools for graphic design. In 1921, he departed from Schmidthammer to work under the Viennese architect Emmanuel Margold in Germany at the Darmstadter Artist Colony. The artist colony introduced Bayer to unseen publications and movements such as Kandinsky’s “Uber das Feistige in der Kunst” Concerning the Spiritual in Art]and Walter Gropuis’s Bauhaus Manifest the Bauhaus Manifesto. Ultimately, he became determined to join the Bauhaus, where Kandinsky was teaching at the time. Bayer was interviewed by Groupius himself, and his early training enabled him to bypass the probationary period and enter as a full student.

Dessau Bauhaus building, typography designed by Herbert Bayer


Bauhaus masters on the roof of the Bauhaus building

During his years at the Bauhaus as a student and then a professor, Herbert solidified his iconic involvement within the movement. He initially enrolled in the courses of Swiss painter Johannes Itten who began his classes with exercises in concentration, breathing, and rhythm. From 1922 to 1924/25, he studied in the wall painting department under the prestigious Wassily Kandinsky who had inspired him earlier on in his teens. When the Bauhaus was moved from Weimar to Dessau, Walter Gropius appointed Herbert Bayer as a junior master there in 1925. During this time, Herbert shined into the roles we now recognize him as. From 1925-1928, he directed the newly founded Printing and Advertising Workshop. The focus of the workshops was the production of typographical products for advertising. Bayer dedicated himself to the design of new types of lettering, their practical application and the general issues of modern advertising with its technical, economic and psychological aspects. In terms of typography, Bayer made use of the simplest geometric elements. His goal was the standardisation of communication processes and the development of a uniform typographic presence for the Bauhaus.

self portrait, 1927, experimenting with geometry. LACMA

cover of the bauhaus exhibition catalogue 1923

This sample of Bayer’s universal typeface was set in Bayer Press, an i n-house font developed by Victory Type based on Bayer’s narrow face bold version of universal, designed in 1925. Presently, a geometrically perfect and historically accurate remake of universal is in development by Noah Rothschild.

In 1925, Gropius commissioned Bayer to design a typeface for all Bauhaus communiqués and Bayer excitedly undertook this task. He took advantage of his views of modern typography to create an “idealist typeface.” The result was “universal” - a rather simple geometric sans-serif font. It utilized simple curves and has other unadorned attributes.

In 1928, Herbert Bayer left the Bauhaus school along with Gropius, Moholy-Nagy and architect Marcel Breuer. BAyer became art director for VOGUE’s Berlin offices while also establishing his own design firm. Berlin gave Bayer opportunities to increase his professional scope and acclaim. Working with such clients as Bazaar magazine and the international advertising agency Dorland, Bayer incorporated his photography, which revealed the influence of surrealism and Dadaism on his work, into his graphic design commissions. During his time at Bauhaus, he had managed to marry chicago-native Bauhaus photography student Irene Hecht. The two had met during the Haus am Horn exhibit and endured a tumultuous relationship while never divorcing until 17 years after their sepeartion which occured in 1928, and their daughter Julia Alexandra was born in 1929. Later on in life, Irene was living in Santa Monica, CA when she passed in 1991 shortly after her daughter. With her training in photography, she supported Herbert Bayer in his photograpic and technical work, but she also took her own photographs independently. Her pictures of Bauhaus members and their everyday life at the revolutionary art college scintillate with the spirit of a dawning new era and joy in life prevailing there – a spirit otherwise only found in T. Lux Feininger’s photos.

bazaar magazine cover

profil en face, 1929

metaformosis. 1936

the lonely metropolitan, No date

Goodnight Marie, 1932

hands acr, 1932

Herbert Bayer remained in Germany far later than most progressives. In 1936 he designed a brochure for the Deutschland Ausstellung, an exhibition for tourists in Berlin during the 1936 Olympic Games - the brochure celebrated life in the Third Reich, and the authority of Hitler. However, in 1937, works of Bayer’s were included in the Nazi propaganda exhibition “Degenerate Art”, upon which he fled Germany in 1938 to settle in New York City where he had a long and distinguished career in nearly every aspect of the graphic arts. In 1944 Bayer married Joella Syrara Haweis, the daughter of poet Mina Loy. He would later be buried close to her and Irene in Aspen, Co. He established an office below the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), then housed in Rockefeller Center. Spurring Bayer’s emigration was his nomination by a group of his former Bauhaus colleagues to assemble the first major Bauhaus exhibition in the United States, to be held at MoMA. Upon its opening, Bauhaus 1919–1928 was hailed as a pioneering moment in American exhibition design. The acclaim of this success quickly led to two more exhibition design commissions: Road to Victory, directed by Edward Steichen at MoMA, and Airways to Peace, an exhibition on flying. Parallel to this exhibition design work, graphic design remained the mainstay of Bayer’s practice, and while in New York he worked for a variety of high profile clients. Life and Fortune magazines both used his services, as did book publishers and corporations, including General Electric and the Container Corporation of America. During the holidays of 1945, Walter Paepcke, the head of the Container Corporation, invited Bayer as his guest to the old mining town of Aspen, Colorado. There Paepck e offered Bayer a position as the design consultant to both his company and the dilapidated town as it was being transformed into a world-class ski resort. The allure of the mountains combined with the scope of the project trumped Bayer’s reservations about abandoning his successful practice in New York. Bayer moved to Aspen, where he remained until 1974.


Marble Garden, 1955 Aspen Meadows Hotel In this experimental garden, Bayer introduced modernist imagery into the environment for perhaps the first time. Slabs and blocks of white marble were sourced from a nearby abandoned quarry for this thirty-eight foot square experimental garden that begins to suggests the notion that all gardens are nothing more than three dimensional sculpture.

The “Grass Mound� (1955), came to inspire a whole generation of earthworks artists and initiated the ground for ecological design and restoration projects of today.

In his commercial graphic design work, herbert was an advocate of social responsibilty in dEsign -- products or services that promote positive ideas and behaviors while promoting the company. In 1941 the Container Corporation which produced 90 percent to 95 percent of its cardboard from wastepaper hired Bayer to oversee a series of posters promoting the companies ability to recycle products on a grand scale, linking corporate responsibility with the environmemnt. He then became the director of the design department at the Container Corporation of America in 1956. Between 1958 and 1961, he was a member of the arts council of the information office of the USA. He also began to work as a creative consultant for a number of important advertising agencies and department

Early paitnings by Herbert suggest he had always an interest in modular forms being incorporated into the human environment. As a true artist, he left his mark not only on Graphic Design but also the streets ot thw world where his structures are seen everyday. Ranging from the Arco Plaza in Los Angeles, the earth mounds in Aspen, and the articulated wall in Spain and Colorado, it is evident this man’s artistic existence is alive today and influential to our future like much of the Bahaus movers and shakers.

Double Ascension, Los Angeles

Bayer’s work in the landscape expanded into outdoor sculpture as well, including Aspen’s Kaleidoscreen (1955); Articulated Wall (1968), a commission for the Mexico City Olympics; and Double Ascension, built for Atlantic Richfield (ARCO, 1972). Bayer also remained active in graphic design, book layout, mural painting, publishing, exhibition design, and industrial beautification. His painting also flourished, with imagery influenced by surrealism, Modernism, and color theory as well as his personal experiences. Though these years were pleasant and productive for Bayer, the harsh extremes of Aspen’s climate were taking a toll on his health. In 1975, Bayer moved with his wife, Joella, to Montecito, California. Removed from the place that he had shaped for 30 years, Bayer continued to work prolifically on a variety of projects. His work for ARCO occupied much of his time, particularly the Breakers project, which involved renovating and redesigning the interior and exterior spaces of an aging mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean, transforming it into a plush executive headquarters for training. And as always, Bayer continued to paint. In California, his visual language became more introspective and regressive. Lifelong themes of mountains and geology, nature, and color came to the fore in his Anthology series of paintings. Bayer’s final environmental work, Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks Park in Kent, Washington, combined the sculptural vocabulary of his Aspen projects with ecological functionalism. The two-and-a-half-acre site was designed to retain stormwater from the eponymous watercourse as it flowed down through a tight canyon. A series of berms, mounds, and excavated rings provided sculptural interest for viewers as they meandered through the composition. Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks Parkis Bayer’s most acclaimed work due largely to its successful resolution of two perceived competing interests: art and ecology. However, the Bauhaus master likely saw both of these components as merely integrated parts of the larger field of design practiced in its myriad of expressions—an approach he had employed for his entire, remarkable professional career. Herbert Bayer passed away in Montecito, California, in 1985 at the age of 85.

gateway, Santa Barbara

Herbert Bayer  

A final for my History of Communication Design

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