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At the age of sevent y with a career that almost half a century, Karel Martens is active as ever. When I meet him in his industrious Amsterdam studio at the water last week, he is busy reviewing changes to the extended third edition of his book Printed Matter\ Drukwerk that is soon going to press and should be available this fall. There’s a couple of computers on a small desk, and rows of shelfs are filled to bursting with books and archival boxes. A prominent space is taken by a small oldfahioned printing press and an inkstained workbench filled with tools and various small metal objects. One of his legendary Chinese indigo blue working jackets is hanging over a chair… HL Throughout your work you’ve experimented plenty by manipulating the printing industry’s standard CMYK protocols. You have recreated images through type, developed your own strategies to create patterns, but you seldomly ever used symbols as such. Until recently, where the halftone dots are replaced by layers of various vector elements. What caused it? M artens birth announcement for my grandson (2002, Zeno) seems to be a moment in my live that I start to work with icons. The desire had been there for some time. Every designer or student seems to rediscover the crude halftone at some point, but I have always thought how nice it would be to create different shapes instead of dots. My father’s typewriter always fascinated me. I’d hit a button and the letter ‘a’ appears. But that ‘a’ might as well be a bird or another picture, something I’ve developed with Roelof Mulder for Emigré magazine (1992, Starface font made out of moviestar’s faces). Ten yars later I had the opportunity to figure
out h ow to doreconstruct the portrait of Zeno in a different way. HL Many people would like to know the secret… Karel Martel Well, it is quite simple, and I am sure others have discovered how to do it as well, I’m not going to tell you anyway! This assignment (2001, façade Cultureel Centrum) is about the perception of separate colours at close range and the mixing colours that one percieves at a distance. The fact that you can create a third colour out of two, is something that never ceases to exite me. It’s nothing less than a miracle! The problem here was to translate this idea (that was developed in PSD) into prints on large glass panels. Screenprinting proved to be too expensive, but after a while I found a company that could print on transparent material. As they needed vector outlines, this caused a neccesity to come up with a workable system to make that technical translation, which we finally did. HL What did this discovery mean to you at the time? KMartel Haha, well, feelings of thriumph of course! There’s also somewhat of a danger, because now I can use it in for all kinds of applications like the pattern design for Maharam (2008, fabric design developed with KM’s daughter Klaartje Martens) and other things. Although these designs are linked with earlier letterpress monoprints that were published in Counterprint (2004, Hyphen Press) as well. Also, the façades in Haarlem (2002, Philharmonic concert hall) and the tile project in IJburg (2010, in process), were created by using similar tools. HL One of the reasons why PM is such a popular book must be the fact that you’re so generous sharing your working process and project backgrounds. In a way you’re teaching through the publication as well. KM W ell, I don’t know… I’m not sure if I’m such a brilliant designer really, but I do like teaching very much. HL What I mean is that although the book is a of course a beautiful object with lots of appealing pictures, it requires a serious time investment from the reader to really get into the dense layers of information. In a way, the reader is invited to study. KM You should know that this is merely to the merit of editor and designer Jaap van Triest, who’s books are always full of information. Of course I contributed my share of time and energy, but the concept is Jaap’s. HL Recently in Dutch design education, there’s been a strong focus on intellectual aspects. I’m not only talking about theoretically biased schools like the Jan van Eyck academie, but also at the Rietveld academie and the
Werkplaats Typografie that you’ve initiated yourself. As a designer who’s work is embedded in materials and the practical joy of making, how do you relate to that? KM I think the ideal would be a mixture of the two. Originally, I’m not a real intellectual. In that sense, Wigger (Bierma, co-founder of Werkplaats Typografie) clearly represents the word. Armand (Mevis, who currently teaches at WT) also is a doer and an important engine for WT. We just finished the annual selection process, where out of 125 applicants we admitted 9 students for the next year. We’re looking at how this group is composed, and are trying to create a good balance between the workers and theoretians. Look, design or maybe life itself is about questioning the traditions. If you’re making a bookcover, you have to relate to all bookcovers that have been made before. To students I often say, try to act as if you don’t know what a book is, like you’ve never seen a bookcover before. Ask yourself, what kind of thing is that? Does it have to be strong? Does it need a dustjacket? That is simply impossible. But I think something like that would be the ideal situation, to ask a series of questions that have not yet been answered by many others already. And often in a very solid ways too, seemingly impossible to improve. HL Do you feel limited by tradition then? KM No, to me it’s a point of reference. In that sense I’m a Darwinist. I believe in evolution, more than in in revolution. Look at the introduction of the Macintosh, bringing new technical possiblities that thoroughly changed the graphic design trade. But still, you’re relating to Piet Zwart and everything that came before and after. HL How do your students at the WT relate to that? KM Of course this is different for each individual, but it’s obvious that there’s a strong demand for information. Take a golden oldie like Sandberg… Students sense there’s something original and sincere about him and his work, something organic… Which causes us to have an earlier publication translated in English. It’s about permanently questioning history. In regard to evolution, I grew up as a modernist, and I’ve always felt as a socialist. Still do. As long as the world is not a perfect place, things will have to change. Nobody will benefit from preserving the status quo as this will only lead to decay. So, in order to achieve a better life, change is neccesary. This is why you won’t find me idealising old techniqes like letterpress or lead type. I’m not a traditionalist! HL Running the screenprinting lab at the Rietveld academie one day a week, causes me to stay open minded and flexible. Sometimes I think I get more out of it that the students I work with… KM For me teaching is very important as well. Without teaching, this book (Printed Matter) might never have been published.
Interview with Karel Martens at his Amsterdam studio, April 6,2010 Text Harmen Liemburg for Étapes design and visual culture, international edition #21, September 2010
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Looking at the pre-19th-century typefaces that are still in widespread use today is a little like visiting a modern re-creation of an Anglo-Saxon village. If you ignore the aircraft passing overhead you can easily imagine yourself back in the first millennium. But however absorbed the inhabitants seem in their daily tasks, you know that at the end of the day they will take off their coarsely woven garments, slip into some Lycra, and head home, probably picking up a takeaway and video en route. However convincing it all looks, in reality it's an elaborate fake. And that's just how it is in the world of type. You may think you're working with actual letter forms drawn in the 16th century, but they're actually a 20th-century re-creation based on the originals, or what were thought to be the originals. It can get confusing. Plantin was based on a face cut by the French type designer Robert Granjon (working 1545-88); the printer Christopher Plantin himself never used the original source
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type. Janson, designed in 1937, is named after a Dutchman, Anton Janson, who had nothing to do with the face at all; the design was inspired by the work of the Hungarian Nicholas Kis (1650-1702). The various versions of Baskerville are all 20th-century work; the earliest one was not even based directly on Baskerville's type, but on what came to be known later as Fry's Baskerville, a piece of 18th-century intellectual piracy. In 1924 George Jones designed a face for the Linotype company which he called Granjon, but the design he used as inspiration turned out to be the work of Robert Granjon's fellow countryman and contemporary Claude Garamond (c. 1500-61). And the typefaces that bear Garamond's name — well, as the saying goes, fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy ride.He had long been regarded as one of the type designers par excellence of the century that followed Gutenberg's invention of movable type.
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STEFAN SAGMEISTER (1962-) is among today’s most important graphic designers. Born in Austria, he now lives and works in New York. His longstanding collaborators include the AIGA and musicians, David Byrne and Lou Reed. When Stefan Sagmeister was invited to design the poster for an AIGA lecture he was giving on the campus at Cranbrook near Detroit, he asked his assistant to carve the details on to his torso with an X-acto knife and photographed the result. Sunning himself on a beach the following summer, Sagmeister noticed traces of the poster text rising in pink as his flesh tanned.Now a graphic icon of the 1990s, that 1999 AIGA Detroit poster typifies Stefan Sagmeister’s style. Striking to the point of sensationalism and humorous but in such an unsettling way that it’s nearly, but not quite unacceptable, his work mixes sexuality with wit and a whiff of the sinister. Sagmeister’s technique is often simple to the point of banality: from slashing D-I-Y text into his own skin for the AIGA Detroit poster, to spelling out words with roughly cut strips of white cloth for a 1999 brochure for his girlfriend, the fashion designer, Anni Kuan. The strength of his work lies in his ability to conceptualise: to come up with potent, original, stunningly appropriate ideas. Born in Bregenz, a quiet town in the Austrian Alps, in 1962, Sagmeister studied engineering after high school, but switched to graphic design after working on illustrations and lay-outs for Alphorn, a left-wing magazine. The first of his D-I-Y graphic exercises was a poster publicising Alphorn’s Anarchy issue for which he persuaded fellow students to lie down in the playground in the shape of the letter A and photographed them from the school roof.At 19, Sagmeister moved to Vienna hoping to study graphics at the city’s prestigious University of Applied Arts. After his first application was rejected – "just about everybody was better at drawing than I was" – he enrolled in a private art school and was accepted on his second attempt. Through his sister’s boyfriend, the rock musician, Alexander Goebel, Sagmeister was introduced to the Schauspielhaus theatre group and designed posters for them as part of the Gruppe Gut collective. Many of the posters parodied traditionally twee theatrical imagery and offset it with roughly printed text in the grungey typefaces of punk albums and 1970s anarchist graphics. In 1987, Sagmeister won a Fulbright scholarship to study at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Here humour emerged as the dominant theme in his work. When a girlfriend asked him to design business cards which would cost no more than $1 each, Sagmeister printed them on dollar bills. And when a friend from Austria came to visit, having voiced concern that New York women would ignore him, Sagmeister postered the walls of his neighbourhood with a picture of his friend under the words "Dear Girls! Please be nice to Reini".After three years in the US, Sagmeister returned to Austria for compulsory military service. As a conscientious objector, he was allowed to do community work in a refugee centre outside Vienna. He stayed in Austria working as a graphic designer before moving to Hong Kong in 1991 to join the advertising agency, Leo Burnett. "They asked if I would be interested in being a typographer, " he later told the author, Peter Hall. "So I made up a high number and said I would do it for that." When the agency was invited to design a poster for the 1992 4As advertising awards ceremony, Sagmeister depicted a traditional Cantonese image featuring four bare male bottoms. Some ad agencies boycotted the awards in protest and the Hong Kong newspapers received numerous letters of complaint. Sagmeister’s favourite said: "Who’s the asshole who designed this poster?" By spring 1993, he had tired of Hong Kong. Sagmeister spent a couple of months working from a Sri Lankan beach hut before going back to New York. As a Pratt Institute student, his dream had
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been to work at M&Co, the late Tibor Kalman’s graphics studio. Sagmeister bombarded Kalman with calls and finally persuaded him to sponsor his green card application. Four years later on his return from Hong Kong, the green card came through. His first project for M&Co was an invitation for a Gay and Lesbian Taskforce Gala for which he designed a prettily packaged box of fresh fruit. Cue a logistical nightmare as M&Co’s staff struggled to stop the fruit rotting in the heat of a sweltering New York summer. A few months later, Tibor Kalman announced that he was closing the studio to move to Rome, and Sagmeister set up on his own. His goal was to design music graphics, but only for music he liked. To have the freedom to do so, Sagmeister decided to follow Kalman’s advice by keeping his company small with a team of three: himself, a designer (since 1996, the Icelander, Hjalti Karlsson) and an intern. Sagmeister Inc’s first project was its own business card, which came in an acrylic slipcase. When the card is inside the case, all you see is an S in a circle. Once outside, the company’s name and contract details appear. The second commission came from Sagmeister’s brother, Martin who was opening Blue, a chain of jeans stores in Austria. Sagmeister devised an identity consisting of the word blue in black type on an orange background. As none of the record labels he approached seemed interested in his work, Sagmeister seized the chance to design a CD cover for a friend’s album, H.P. Zinker’s Mountains of Madness. Many of his contemporaries felt that music graphics had become less interesting once their old canvas, the vinyl LP cover, had shrunk to the dimensions of a CD, but Sagmeister saw the CD as a toy with which he could tantalise consumers. Having spotted a schoolgirl on the subway reading a maths text book through a red plastic filter, he placed his CD cover inside a red-tinted plastic case. Replicating the optical illusion of his business card, the complete packaging shows a close-up of a placid man’s face, but once the CD cover is slipped out from the red plastic, the man’s face appears furious in shades of red, white and green. Mountains of Madness won Sagmeister the first of his four Grammy nominations. Invited by Lou Reed to design his 1996 album Set the Twilight Reeling, Sagmeister inserted an indigo portrait of Reed in an indigo-tinted plastic CD case. When the paler coloured cover is removed, Reed literally emerges from the twilight. The following year, Sagmeister depicted David Byrne as a plastic GI Joe-style doll on the cover of Feelings. One of his trickiest assignments was for the Rollings Stones’ 1997 Bridges to Babylon album and tour. Sagmeister struggled to persuade the band’s management to accept his motif of a lion inspired by an Assyrian sculpture in the British Museum. Also the astrological sign of the Rolling Stones’ lead singer, Mick Jagger (a Leo), the lion doubled as an easily reproducible motif for tour merchandise. As well as these music projects, Sagmeister still took on other commercial commissions and pro bono cultural projects, such as his AIGA lecture posters. The obscenely elongated wagging tongues of 1996’s Fresh Dialogue talks series in New York and a Headless Chicken strutting across a field for 1997’s biennial conference in New Orleans culminated in the drama of Sagmeister’s scarred, knife-slashed torso for 1999’s deceptively blandly titled, AIGA Detroit. In June 2000, Sagmeister decided to treat himself to a long-promised year off to concentrate on experimental projects and a book Sagmeister, sub-titled Made You Look with the sub-sub-title Another selfindulgent design monograph. The worst of the "bad stuff" was a 1996 series of CD covers for a subsidiary of the Viacom entertainment group. "Don’take on any more bad jobs," Sagmeister scolded himself in his diWary. "have done enough nonsenselately, I just have to make time for something.
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Marian Bantjes started working in the field of visual communiction in 1983, and subsequently worked for 10 years as a book typesetter (that is her education). From 1993 to 2002 she owned and ran a design firm with a partner, with 2 to 12 staff members, creating the usual gamut of materials for a wide range of corporate, education and arts organizations (that is her experience). Since 2003 she has crossed the boundaries between design, illustration and typography and currently works in this zone, mostly for other designers (that is her experiment). She is also in her 4th year on the british columbia board of the society of graphic designers of canada (GDC/BC), writes about design for the design website speak up, and teaches typography through Emily Carr institute in vancouver. Related links: http:// www.bantjes.com. Do you have a motto? No I don’t, so instead I will tell you my one wish (for when I find a genie) I wish that when I die, I will be satisfied with all I have done in my life. What is your daily routine? Well, its both pathetic and envious. I wake up any time between 6am and 10am and I’m at the computer about thirty seconds after I get out of bed. Email, check up on a few sites and futing around with god-knows-what until I get really hungry a few hours later. I will then get dressed and have cereal for breakfast. Unless I am working on some kind of deadline, I don’t really get into gear until mid-afternoon. Then I´ll work until about midnight (where work entails both drawing and being at the pc, lots more email and writing), and go straight back from my computer to bed. I´ll break to eat, and I´m trying to train myself to do things like watch movies or take some time out to read. My days are pretty much the same, seven days a week. This is pathetic because its possible for me to spend an entire day in a very small area. I could live my life from jail!
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