Posts Tagged ‘Taschen’

Design | Logos Unlimited

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

1967 poster for Italian car manufacturer Fiat. Changes of colour and configuration give the various brands and models their unique identity.
© Armin Vogt / Reiwald Werbegentur for Fiat

Logo Modernism
By Jens Müller + R Roger Remington
Published by Taschen
Hardcover + jacket
432 pp, multilingual edition in
English / German / French.
Available now

6000 logos explore the distillation of modernism in graphic design

Not so amazing, I suppose, as finding a Charles Eames chair in a skip, I picked up a compact, concise book in used but good condition, jam-packed with logos, symbols and signs, off the top of an overflowing litter bin at the offices of a magazine I was working in Germany in 2001. It’s a little gem, called Zeichen + Signets / Signs + Emblems, originally published in 1982 by Bruckmann München in association with the famous design bible Novum Gebrauchsgraphik, (copies can be found online for around €12). Many of the same logos also appear in Taschen’s great big – soon to be even bigger, when the XL version comes out – new tome of a book, Logo Modernism, which covers the period from around 1940 to 1980, ie, from when ‘modernism in graphic design really began to take hold’ and before the post-modern era began. Amongst the 6000 logos included – almost every one credited and dated – some examples from the 1990s that share the same or a similar spirit are also shown.

Cleanly and simply laid out, in black on white cartridge paper with generous margins, the designs grouped into those based upon squares, dots, lines or crosses, and so on, with seemingly limitless permutations of approach, limited only by their method of production and with an eye to how they might be used in the limited variety of media available at the time, share a certain unity that contemporary computer-aided branding designers, often producing work intended for a much broader range of uses, find it neither useful, nor necessary to adhere to.

Massimo Vignelli’s, 1967, simple and striking
visual identity for American Airways
© Massimo Vignelli for American Airlines

Case studies such as Armin Vogt’s 1968 Fiat logo that continued to be used, albeit with modifications, until 1999, and FHK Henrion’s 1969 LEB (London Electricity Board) revamp, over a spread, or up to six or eight pages, act as breakers at irregular intervals throughout the book, and show how simple designs could be adapted to create distinctive visual identities.

Each of the studies has a useful potted history of the designer, while towards the back of the book there’s an extended, illustrated profile section on several leading designers of the period, including Adrian Frutiger and Paul Rand, describing and demonstrating via examples of their work, the consistent approach each adopted or developed over the course of their careers.

Almost limitless as a logo archive for the period, Taschen’s Logo Modernism means business about the business of good design.

All images courtesy Taschen

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The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us that we think might interest you.

The Blog’s publishers insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees that may, under any circumstances whatsoever, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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Books | Concrete Buildings – What’s Not to Love Now?

Friday, August 7th, 2015

Pierresvives by Zaha Hadid Architects, 2002 > 12, Montpellier, France
Archives, a library and sports department offices for the Hérault region.
The inclined concrete building combined with graphic
windows combine to give an impression of rapid movement

Photo © Iwan Baan

100 Contemporary Concrete Buildings
By Philip Jodidio
Published by Taschen
Hardcover, 2 volumes in slipcase,
730 pp, full colour

Bicentennial Civic Centre by Lucio Morini + GGMPU,
2010 > 2012. Córdoba, Argentina
Ministerial offices with cutout concrete facade
Photo © Leonardo Finotti

In the minds of many, concrete is synonymous with real or fictional, dysfunctional worlds. And, no matter how good they are, novels such as J G Ballard’s Concrete Island, in which his character Robert Maitland, a wealthy architect, finds himself stranded in a section of wasteland in the middle of a relentlessly busy motorway intersection and is forced to survive in his crashed Jaguar on whatever he manages to forage, don’t do concrete’s reputation any favours. Taschen’s non-fiction two-volume boxed set, celebrating the diversity of the best buildings constructed from this versatile, man-made stone, just might.

Editor-in-chief of French art magazine Connaissance des Arts in Paris since 1980 – his numerous published books include the Taschen series on contemporary American, European and Japanese architects, as well as monographs on Tadao Ando, Norman Foster, Santiago Calatrava, and Richard Meier – the books’ author, Philip Jodidio’s reputation and experience lend gravitas to subject matter already weighted down by its long-established association with urban decay and the detritus of past wars and present conflicts, but paradoxically imbues concrete’s history with unexpected lightness and sensitivity, in what must be the most comprehensive study thus far on the subject.

Amongst the global selection of individual architects (except for Foster, probably excluded because concrete is of a lesser importance than glass and steel in his building palette) and architecture practices’ projects, all the aforementioned practitioners are included. Alongside other famous names, such as Luis Baragan, Marcel Breuer, David Chipperfield, Antoni Gaudi, Herzog & de Meuron, Denys Lasdun, Oscar Niemeyer and of course Le Corbusier and Zaha Hadid, the publication also features many architects whose names are probably less familiar, but nonetheless worthy of inclusion.

Roberto Garza Sada Center for Arts, Architecture and Design,
Tadao Ando, 2009 > 12. New Mexico, USA
Part of the University of Monterrey, Monterrey.
The massive concrete
anchor of the building provides ample shade for pedestrians

Photo © Shigeo Ogawa

Jodido’s informative introduction reminds us that the Romans used concrete, but it comes as a surprise to learn that the ancient Egyptians invented and sometimes built with a variation of it. It’s interesting to discover that the concrete rotunda of the Pantheon was constructed without steel reinforcement – the key element that greatly strengthens the substance, allowing it to perform far better under stress, and which has been the backbone of countless concrete structures since the technique was invented by a Frenchman in the mid-1850s. By 1889, we learn that the first reinforced concrete bridge had been built in San Francisco and the construction of the Théâtre des Champs Élysées in Paris in 1913 established concrete – up until then regarded as ‘vulgar’ in certain quarters – as a ‘quality’ building material. Used, misused and abused, it is one that is as ubiquitously employed today in the construction industry, as once were bricks, wood and stone. Jodidio’s book set is about now rather than then, and our picture selections compare three recently-completed very different ‘quality’ buildings of similar scale from around the world, built for very different uses and designed by three very different architectural practices.

Lavishly-illustrated with high-quality photographs and sometimes the building plans of monumental as well as retail and small-scale residential projects, and with mug shots of the majority of the architects, as well as a respectable amount of informative text in English, French and German, you certainly get a lot for the modest price. From a readers’ perspective, however, the very long measure used for the relatively small – 11 or 12pt – condensed, sans serif text, throughout the book, might have been easier on the eye with more leading, or split into two, or even three columns.

Taschen has been known to publish gigantic books, as well as small fat ones. These two are neither excessively large, nor, at 352 pages each, so abnormally thick as to invite comment, but not only is the 100 Contemporary Concrete Buildings package designed to resemble a sturdy and uncompromising block of concrete, it is almost as heavy as one.

All images courtesy Taschen

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The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us that we think might interest you.

The Blog’s publishers insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees that may, under any circumstances whatsoever, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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Books | Dankeschoen Karl Blossfeldt

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Bryonia alba
White bryony, tendrils

Karl Blossfeldt
The Complete Published Work
By Hans Christian Adam
Hardcover, 544 pp
13.97 x 19.558 cm / 5.5 x 7.7 ins
Multilingual edition: English, French, German
Published by Taschen, 2014

I happened to be living in Munich, in 1996, when Taschen published an earlier, slightly larger format, softback predecessor of this book that ran to only 96 pages. A German friend, aware of my interests in both plants and gardens, as well as photography, kindly gave this little gem to me as a present. However, I made the dreadful faux pas of blurting out that I had just bought a copy myself only the day before. While I sat there wishing that the ground beneath me would open and swallow me up, my friend, crestfallen and humiliated, took back the present with a rueful smile saying that perhaps it would make a valuable addition to her own book collection.

Polypodiaceae Aspidieae
Polypody, young unrolling leaf

Bryonia alba
White bryony, tendrils

Karl Blossfeldt, (1865 > 1932) was not a photographer. His plant photography was a by-product of the teaching philosophy he developed over thirty years and intended to publish. However the publishing project never came to fruition, nor did his plan to create an archive of plant photographs.

Growing up in the central mountains of Germany, Blossfeldt began his working life as an apprentice modeller in an ironworks before he was granted a scholarship for a drawing course in Berlin. By 1890, having won another drawing scholarship to study nature, he found himself travelling throughout southern Europe, collecting plant specimens, and using Rome as a base. Influenced by his Professor, Moritz Meurer, who was already using his own photography as reference for drawing, Blossfeldt began systematically photographing plants.

Back in Berlin in 1898, by now assistant to the director of the Kunstgewerbeschule and giving drawing lessons, he soon became a permanent instructor teaching ‘Modelling from Plants’. He was appointed professor of the school in 1921. His photographic work having come to the attention of a prominent gallerist, Karl Nierndorf, in 1925, Blossfeldt had his first exhibition the following year, as a result of which his pictures were widely published in periodicals and books on design theory and architecture. Nierndorf having taken over the management of Blossfeldt’s photographic output, arranged to have a book of his prints published under the title Urformen der Kunst / Art Forms in Nature. It received enthusiastic acclaim and quickly became recognised by critics as a major work of photography, leading to a second edition the same year. Wundergarten der Natur / The Magic Garden of Nature, his second book, a continuation of the same theme, was published in the year of his death, 1932. Both books are much sought after by collectors.

A product of the arts and crafts movement of the 19th century and scientific in their presentation and purpose, Karl Blossfeldt’s carefully-lit and simply arranged photographic plant portraits are never clinical; his compelling images of leaves, stems and flowers reveal their subjects’ tactile qualities, their intricacies and often almost magical forms. Pioneering an artistic approach to image-making that would be enormously influential on twentieth century photography – from the still lifes of Irving Penn, the white background portraits of Richard Avedon, to the houses and water towers of Berndt and Hilda Becker – his legacy is one of the most important and most beautiful collections of plant photography ever created.

Aesculus parviflora
Bottle brush, tips of twigs

The book I had bought in 1996 had only the photographer’s name, Karl Blossfeldt, as its title and contained a short, succinct and well-written text by Professor Doktor Rolf Sachsse, who currently teaches History and Theory of Design at the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste (Fine Arts Academy) Saar in Saarbrücken. Moving around a fair bit during the intervening years, somewhere along the line I mislaid my copy. I remember that it had cost me around 20 Deutschmarks, equating to about £8.27 or €10, in today’s money. The original price of Taschen’s bumper Karl Blossfeldt. The Complete Works was £24.99 / €30, however this new 544 page edition is available at a mere £12.99, about €16.00. Its author, Hans Christian Adam is a specialist in historical images, and has published numerous articles and books, including titles on travel and war photography, is the author of Taschen’s Edward Sheriff Curtis: The North American Indian, Eugène Atget: Paris and Berlin, Portrait of a City.

In 2002, my time in Germany drawing to an end, I was justly repaid for my earlier insensitivity and social clumsiness when, having bought another Taschen book Kunst des 20. Jahrhunderts / Art of the 20th Century as an auf wiedersehen – and thank you for your patience – present for my German teacher, an art history student, she promptly handed it back to me with a smile and a Dankeschoen, but telling she already had a copy.

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The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us which we think might interest you

The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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Books | Je t’aime ma famille

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Jane & Serge. A Family Album
Andrew Birkin and Alison Castle
Published by Taschen
176 pp, Hardcover book set with poster,
stickers, and various other items

His and British actress Jane Birkin’s passionate love affair had already been over for a decade, when French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg died 20 years ago. If not for the notoriety of their timeless and seemingly explicit recording of his song, Je t’aime… moi non plus, which reached number one in the UK charts in 1969 – as I write it has had 6,721,880 plays on You-tube – the couple might well have faded into relative obscurity, at least here.

Married in the mid-60s to the respected English film music composer John Barry, gamine Birkin had a bit-part role in Blow-up (1966), but the majority of her moderately successful acting and recording career has been spent in France. In 1984, after meeting her on a plane, Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas, created the supple leather Birkin bag, in her honour, which quickly became an iconic, international fashion accessory. In 2002, Birkin picked up an OBE. She still acts and is involved in humanitarian projects with Amnesty International.

His diverse output ranging across genres from jazz, chanson, pop and yé-yé, to reggae, funk, rock, electronic and disco, Gainsbourg, is still regarded as one of the most important figures in French popular music, but he was also a poet, composer, artist, actor and director.

Written as an imaginary dialogue between two lovers during a sexual encounter, Je t’aime’s lyrics are neither vulgar nor obscene, but the breathlessness of the couple and their barely suppressed moans, remain sensationally suggestive. Sung in French – inscrutable to the majority of British people in 1969 (and perhaps still to most in 2013) – it was even more tantalising. The Pope declared the record obscene, while the media speculated it contained a live recording of sex, to which Gainsbourg told Birkin, ‘Thank goodness it wasn’t, otherwise I hope it would have been an LP.’

From the earliest days of their romance until their split in 1980, Jane’s brother Andrew Birkin was a frequent presence in the couple’s life. A keen photographer, he snapped thousands of candid family photos throughout those years. After early work as a runner and later location scout with Stanley Kubrick, by 1967 Andrew Birkin was first assistant director to The Beatles on Magical Mystery Tour. The following year, Jane’s marriage would break up and she met Gainsbourg, whom she introduced to her brother. Andrew claims to have recognised their love at first sight. He went on to become both a writer and film director, winning the Royal Television Society’s award for The Lost Boys (1978), and in 1980 a BAFTA. In 1993, he received a Silver Bear for best director at the Berlin Film Festival for The Cement Garden in which his niece, Jane and Serge’s daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg – now an internationally successful actress, singer and songwriter – played a supporting role. Birkin’s pictures, few of which have ever been published, are a rare glimpse of Jane, Serge and Charlotte’s sometimes humdrum and ordinary, always intimate, family life.

Designed by M/M Paris, Taschen’s Jane & Serge. A Family Album, isn’t only a book, but, with it’s poster (shown top, in two halves), sticker sheet, contact sheet booklet, colour prints, and embroidered patch, all contained in a clear plastic cover, it’s a collection of mementoes with undisputed provenance, however, it remains to be seen whether the British will understand the French concept.

All photographs © Andrew Birkin

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The Blog is about art, architecture, books, design and gardens, and anything else that currently interests us which we think might interest you

The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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Books | The History of Type in 2 Volumes

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Type. A Visual History of
Typefaces and Graphic Styles
Cees W de Jong, Alston W Purvis
and Jan Tholenaar
Published by Taschen
720pp, 2 volumes, soft covers
In slipcase, with keycard
Text in English, French and German

The glossy, bright red sleeve containing the matt linen effect, two-volumed book set, one black, the other white, the gold-blocking, spot-varnishing and the randomly positioned die-cut shapes punched through the slip-case, revealing both ornate and plain typographic characters, as well as illustrative elements on the covers beneath, combine to create a package that would make an ideal Christmas present for anyone who loves type in the way that those responsible for collating, editing and designing this publication surely must. Feeling at once modern, it cleverly evokes a strong sense of history without stooping into nostalgia. At first glance, the subject might easily be early twentieth century avant garde art and design, Dada, the Bauhaus, Surrealism, and perhaps have been designed by Pentagram with help from Kurt Schwitters and Piero Fornasetti, however Sense/Net based in Cologne, who for over the past ten years or so have designed many books on a wide variety of books for Taschen, including among others the Architecture Now! series (2009-2011), Cinema Now! (2007), Contemporary Graphic Design (2007), Helmut Newton, Sex & Landscapes (2004), were responsible for the art direction.

Design and publishing consultant Cees W de Jong, based in the Netherlands, Alston W Purvis, professor of the School of Visual Arts at Boston University, USA, and collector of the printed letter in all its incarnations, and Jan Tholenaar, based until his recent death, in Amsterdam, made up the editorial team, whose careful attention to detail ensured that all of the big names: William Caslon, Peter Behrens, Eric Gill, Paul Renner, Jan Tschichold, A M Cassandre, Aldo Novarese and Adrian Frutiger are represented, but equally that anonymous though often equally impressive examples of great typography were not left out.

This book set is representative of a very positive and growing trend among publishers for making available high-quality books, with a tactile hand-crafted appeal that offer a more precious alternative to e-books and other on-line publications, of which Penguin’s series Great Ideas (2004), designed by David Pearson, was an early example. The rather dry title, Type. A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles, belies the depth, complexity and sense of pure enjoyment that can be had by simply turning from one spread to the next of each volume’s 360 pages – volume 1 covering the period 1628-1900 and volume 2, 1901-1938. Given pace by constant changes of scale and sheer variety of content, the package is fully cogent, but also full of surprises, including the keycard that comes as part of the package and allows purchasers free access to an online library of high-resolution images of type specimens downloadable for unrestricted use, making it great value at £34.99 / €41. While the outer packaging is splendid, using higher grade paper on the inside pages, where the uncoated bond suffers a little from show-through, might have been a good idea.

Type samples from top
Schriftproben, Schriftgiesserei
und mechanische Werkstätte

J H Rust & Co
Vienna, 1887

Monotype Gill Sans
The Monotype Corporation
London, 1935

Schriften und Zierat
J G Schelter & Giesecke
Leipzig, 1909

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The publishers of The Blog insist that all images supplied for publication in our posts are cleared for that use before being sent to us. Whether pictures are sent to us as email attachments or made available as downloadable files, any responsibility for fees which may, under any circumstances, fall due, must be borne by the source supplier

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mouth2mouth | Mark Thomson

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

mouth2mouth | exclusive interview
mark thomson | book designer extraordinaire

Mark Thomson is based in London and is responsible for the design of the catalogue for the Mel Bochner: If the Colour Changes exhibition, currently showing at the Whitechapel Gallery. Trained in fine art at Chelsea School of Art, for a period in the 90s Mark was art director of Taschen, based in Cologne, Germany, where he produced, among many other books, the definitive tome Starck (1996). Back in the UK, he began working on books directly with artists. More recently he has produced artist monographs, exhibition catalogues and text-based books with publishers Ridinghouse, as well as with the British Council and British Museum. Among other projects, Mark is currently involved in producing a monograph on the British artist and 2003 Turner Prize nominee Anya Gallaccio. Thomson, an authority on typography, occasionally writes on design-related subjects.

In a 2005 issue of Eye magazine, referring to an exhibition of Swiss books at the Design Museum, Thomson said: ‘An inescapable fact about exhibiting books is that the essential ingredient of a book – its engagement with time – is impossible to show. Sculpture you can walk around, a painting can be seen from left and right.’ The real experience of a book, he tells us, has more in common with music or architecture. Significantly, in the same article he talks about the exhibition and its catalogue, designed by Laurent Benner and Jonathan Hares, as being co-dependent and that, in this instance, ‘the catalogue itself is the star.’

When did you study at Chelsea?
1980 to 1985, studying fine art. Anthony Hill was my main tutor there. He’d corresponded with Marcel Duchamp and was a central figure in postwar British and European constructivism. He had an anarchic alter ego called Redo (as in play-doh). These things made him extremely interesting to me. His 1983 mid-career retrospective at the Hayward is still one of the best exhibitions I’ve ever seen: work that was totally uncompromising, industrial, practically colourless and apparently devoid of angst or expression of any kind. I loved it, and still do.

Why the crossover from fine art to design?
After Chelsea I started writing about art, mostly reviewing exhibitions and interviewing artists I was interested in, such as Hans Haacke and Dan Graham. I did a bit of lecturing, usually on these subjects. Meanwhile the work I was making had something to do with structure and language; it was really no step at all from that to design. I started doing flyers for concerts, and gradually realised that design held a deeper mystery for me. It was not clear at all how design worked – the language was far more subtle than the idea of problem-solving that was being put about. Typography in particular became my obsession, as well as the overall language of design. The first exhibition catalogue and print material I did was for New Contemporaries in 1993. For the first time I felt that all my interests came together in a meaningful way.

How did the Taschen job come about?
At about the same time I had been working on a book about chairs for Taschen, and went to Cologne to show them what I had done. While there I worked on another book with them for a day or two, returning a couple of weeks later to do some more. Then it snowballed – we got on well and after a few months I was given the job of art director. I had my studio in London and the studio in Cologne. I went between the two for a few years.

The main task was to introduce a more international design language – although the company sold books all over the world it was still quite German-looking. I gave the typography a new direction: Scala Sans had just been released and it was readable as well as fresh, it was both new and somehow traditional, and it was perfect for the coated papers that art books are mostly printed on. Scala and Quadraat became the baseline typefaces for the company.

You’re currently based in London but do you still do work for overseas clients?
When I stopped working with Taschen I wanted to focus on working with artists and working internationally – over the last few years I’ve worked in something like 20 languages. My clients are all over – we Skype a lot.

Could you explain something about some of the other things you’ve worked on?
The work has fallen into natural categories: monographs, exhibition catalogues, writings and other text-based books. I have made monographs on artists like Simon Patterson and Chris Burden, and catalogues for recent exhibitions by John Stezaker and Josiah McElheny at the Whitechapel, on German Romantic prints and drawings at the British Museum, Nick Danziger and Yuri Gagarin for the British Council (where I also designed the exhibition, with Nick Coombe Architecture).

I work a lot with Ridinghouse, who are doing some great publishing on and around art. Recently we’ve done a series of collected writings of Michael Bracewell, Georg Baselitz and Fred Wilson, as well as a book called Unconcealed – a brilliant, incredibly detailed study of the artist, dealer and museum network around conceptual art in Europe between 1967 and 1977. The most recent catalogue is for Mel Bochner at the Whitechapel Gallery (and in 2013 at Haus der Kunst, Munich, and Fundação de Serralves, Porto, Portugal).

Was it very different working with an artist’s work that is often strongly typographical, as opposed to say figurative or purely abstract? How did it affect your approach?
I am only trying to find a form through which the work can speak. In my view the designer’s role here is to place the work in space, as well as it can be done, and then to get out of the picture. This applies to every aspect of the design – the editorial structure, the structure of the page, the typography and the production. The moment of interaction between eye, paper and ink is the critical one where the work can be found or lost completely. I still believe that having some kind of understanding of the work makes all the difference to the final outcome. Mel Bochner’s father was a signwriter, so his understanding of typography and lettering is very grounded.

The exhibition title, If the Colour Changes, doesn’t appear on the cover of the catalogue: what was the thinking behind this?
Only that the catalogue is almost a monograph. There is much less out there on Mel Bochner than I thought, and the scope of the exhibition is basically the scope of his career, even if a guiding theme of the show is apparently colour. This particular catalogue includes five critical texts as well as a selection of Mel Bochner’s own texts, a very detailed biography and bibliography, and of course all the works from the exhibition. That’s a lot of content.

Images from the catalogue
Mel Bochner: If the Colour Changes

Published in 2012 on the occasion of the exhibition of the same title by Whitechapel Gallery and Ridinghouse in association with Haus der Kunst, Munich, and Fundação de Serralves, Porto; edited by Achim Borchardt-Hume and Doro Globus, with texts by Achim Borchardt-Hume, Briony Fer, João Fernandes, Mark Godfrey and Ulrich Wilmes

Front cover, showing:
Blah, Blah, Blah, 2011 (Detail)
Oil on velvet (ten panels)

Double page spread, showing:
Actual Size (Hand and Face), 1968/2002
Two gelatin silver prints

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Books | Tree House Architecture

Friday, August 3rd, 2012
Tree Houses. Fairy Tale Castles in the Air
By Philip Jodidio,
Taschen, September 2012

The Baron in the Trees (Il Barone Rampante) by the Italian author, Italo Calvino was published in 1957. Set in 18th century Liguria, it has been described as a philosophical fiction and a metaphor for independence. It relates the adventures of twelve-year-old Cosimo Piovasco di Rondò who, in a rebellious fit, after refusing to eat a dinner of snails prepared by his sadistic sister, climbs up a tree and decides never to set foot on the ground again. I don’t have the book any more but having read it six years or so ago, seem to remember that the baron never got around to building a treehouse. ‘The idea of climbing a tree for shelter, or just to see the earth from another perspective, is probably as old as humanity,’ the Taschen blurb for Tree Houses. Fairy Tale Castles in the Air tells us, describing the phenomena as, ‘Childhood fantasy meets grown-up savoir faire’.

At Disneyland in California, where nothing is philosophical and everything fiction, you can take a tour of Tarzan’s Treehouse set high in an 80-foot-tall (24.4m) artificial Disneydendron semperflorens grandis, or Large Ever-blooming Disney Tree to you and me, on which we are told 450 – presumably, also artificial – branches and over 6,000 leaves grow – fake too, I would have thought. Hideouts like Tarzan’s jungle abode and Peter Pan’s Hangman’s Tree may come to mind when we think of treehouses but there’s a lot more to them than all the make believe.

Tree houses have a long and rich history in the real world and, as described in internationally-renowned author Philip Jodido’s forthcoming publication, building and designing them is still as popular as ever. Jodido, who studied art history and economics at Harvard has a long and rich history himself, especially with Taschen, for which his books include the Architecture Now! series and monographs on a list of prominent contemporary architects, among them, Tadao Ando, Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid.

The book offers a tour of the best tree houses around the globe covering all styles – a
lthough all the images released for press purposes are modern, contemporary – from romantic to modern, some designed by architects, others the work of anonymous craftsmen. Rather than relying  just on good photographs, each house is accompanied by one of new, young, LA-based illustrator Patrick Hruby’s charmingly primitive representations.

Images from top
Iwan Baan’s Go Hasegawa
Pilotis in a Forest
Kita-Karuizawa, Gunma, Japan
©Iwan Baan

Andreas Wenning of
Jungle House
©Baumraum/Andreas Wenning

Tom Chudleigh’s
Free Spirit Spheres
Qualicum Bay, British Columbia,
©Tom Chudleigh

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mouth2mouth | grundini

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

mouth2mouth | exclusive interview
grundini | graphic information supremo

Peter Grundy was a founding partner, with Tilly Northedge, of successful UK-based informational graphics design practice, Grundy & Northedge (1980-2006). Soon after he set up on his own. Releasing himself from the thankless task of producing beautiful informational booklets that no-one saw, and making a miraculous transformation into his alter-ego, Grundini, his work has gone global. As Taschen publish their latest design tome: Information Graphics, The Blog posts the first of an occasional series of interviews with prominent figures in the worlds of art, architecture, design, gardens, photography, etc.

Referencing Mies van der Rohe’s famous – and so very often repeated – remark, in terms of information graphics: is it enough for form to follow function?
Much of information design teaching follows the notion that designers should not infect the message with their own ideas. When Tilly Northedge and I started working together in 1980 we went against this theory, believing instead that the designer should function as a journalist and have an opinion on the messages they are asked to convey.

If the subject matter isn’t particularly interesting, is it enough to make your visual interpretation of whatever it is, attractive?
The most important part of any of my solutions is a good idea; that’s the bit most [information graphic] designers miss because they see things in terms of their own style. A good idea can bring uninteresting data to life, style probably not.

Is your preference for creating informational diagrams or poster images?
No preference. The Shell billboard posters I did are, as far as I’m concerned, information pieces, whereas Bodyparts – originally a diagram for Esquire – worked well as a poster.

How much input from an art director is comfortable for you?
They can contribute as little or as much as they like, but ultimately I’ll give them my take. I did a job recently for someone who was very prescriptive; I gave them my idea, they came back saying you didn’t put in what I asked for; you left off this and that, etc. I told them to find someone else.

How difficult is it to get the information you need from clients?
It varies. Mostly I get too much and have to edit it which, after 30 years, I’m quite good at.

In what form do you prefer to receive data from clients?
Simple, short messages. The Guardian’s G2 section were very good; they just provided the info they wanted to be included in the 30 spreads they asked me to produce – just as well, since one spread was required every week.

Albert Einstein said; ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’ Agree? Disagree?
Simple messages are sometimes communicated by complicated visuals.

What method do you use to extrapolate the information given to you by a client?
What I seek is an overview idea, instantly communicating the message that will take the audience into the piece and invite them to explore. The two main tools I use for this are humour and entertainment.

Milton Glaser has said that computers are to design as microwaves are to cooking – the inference being that aside from using one for defrosting frozen ingredients, the best cooks wouldn’t touch a microwave with a barge-pole. Is this an outmoded remark?
I don’t think MG or anyone else for that matter could have seen in the 1980s, or even the 90s, how new technology would change the world of communication. He was talking about early, crude computer tools failing the requirement of those designers who had made things by hand. Today the internet has created new media environments and design challenges that need to be addressed by evolving design technologies. Having said that creative intelligence prevails now as it did 50 years ago.

When did you start using a computer for design?
Late 80s

How did the change effect your way of working?
Not at all, other than Adobe Illustrator replaced my set of Kern drawing instruments. The way my work looked didn’t change at all. What did change was the way I communicated with clients. When I started business was done by talking to people either in meetings or on the phone – today it’s by email or Skype. Sometimes that’s a shame, but the advantage is that one has a global rather than a local market.

How do you start to develop a visual idea – pencil scribbles or do you go direct to your computer?
I think and scribble in a small book then I do a finished piece on a computer that I show to the client. I don’t show the client a rough anymore – they don’t get it. This is something that surprises people who say to me: ‘That’s a lot of work to have rejected if they don’t like it’. My answer is that the idea is the difficult bit – building the image is often quite quick, and if I’m confident in the solution I can often convince.

Do you ever produce work without the aid of a computer?

What computer programmes do you use?
Adobe Illustrator is my tool box.

For an RCA project you produced an alphabet based on sections of the London Underground map, originally designed by Harry Beck in 1931. How important was the tube map to the development of your ideas about graphic communication?
Well, it is one of the seminal influences on any designer. It’s a good idea, it’s a simple expression of a complicated thing and it’s elegant.

At art college, were you any good at life drawing?
Rubbish at drawing! And because of this, I had to develop an achievable way of communicating visually – and fast. So I turned to a set of drawing instruments and developed a way of representing things simply using simple shapes. If anything my drawing borrows more from typography than the life drawing class.

I sometimes think I detect influences from the great art deco poster designer, Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, in your simplistic style of drawing and the graduation techniques you use, say, in the image for the international section on your website. Is he an influence and from who else do you draw inspiration?
We all benefited greatly from the art history education we received in the 70s.

Some of your bold, simplistic stuff – I’m thinking of the hand image on your 2004 Action Aid International poster and the 2007 Men’s Health magazine, as well as the figure in your Price on your head double-spread diagram for Esquire, is reminiscent of the primitive art of modern-day Central America. Is this accidental or have you studied the art from that region?
Yes, that’s true, my attraction to these ancient ways of drawing is its achievability. But this is the style thing, style is not enough to communicate and, as previously mentioned, the main ingredient is the idea.

You’ve been enormously prolific since the Grundy & Northedge company closed up shop and you became Grundini. Do you miss working within a company or do you prefer to work alone?
When Tilly Northedge retired I had two choices: carry on the company or do something different. I choose the latter. My aim was to get away from projects which were 25% creative and 75% management and to concentrate on work that was all about the creative. I achieved that, the problem was I was working on my own which can get boring. So now I work on my own but within a creative studio, in Holborn, London, where I’m amongst the creative cut and thrust every designer and illustrator need.s

Is the work you do now more, or less, lucrative than that which you did at Grundy & Northedge?
More lucrative. In the days of G&N we used to spend weeks and months producing beautiful informational books that no one saw, with next to no budget. Nowadays I concentrate on just the imagery and I sell these not only to information clients, but to a whole spectrum [of clients], though I doubt I could have achieved this position without my previous experience of working with Tilly Northedge as Grundy & Northedge.

Images from top
Death spread, Men’s Health magazine, 2007
Tree of skills diagram, The Guardian Educational Supplement, 2007
Price on your head diagram, Esquire magazine, 2006
The Age of energy illustration, The Telegraph newspaper, 2011
The Transform Awards imagery, The art of the impossible, 2012
All images ©Grundini

Information Graphics by Sandra Rendgen & Julius Wiedemann with 200 projects and over 400 examples of contemporary information graphics from all over the world – ranging from journalism to art, government, education and business, includes four essays about the development of information graphics since its beginnings, an exclusive poster by Nigel Holmes – who during his 20 years as graphics director for Time revolutionized the way the magazine used information graphics – is published by Taschen

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Books | Taschenzine

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Taschen Booklist
Winter 2011/12

Taschen do something very clever. The book publishing house that proudly boasts it was established as long ago as 1980 and, as it says on the cover of its Winter 2011/2012 Booklist, ‘is for optimists only’, likes to surprise and even to shock. While many publishers have cut costs by putting their lists of forthcoming books exclusively on-line, Taschen’s, published biannually, which arrived here in the middle of this week – only 30 high street shopping days to go until Christmas! – takes the form of a well-produced magazine.

Whoever came up with the concept and put it together – probably Benedikt Taschen himself, who edits it – pays close attention to getting the details right. The cover is printed web-offset and the inside pages using the gravure method – only suitable for runs of over 300,000 copies due to the substantial costs involved (some of these having clearly been off-set by the inclusion of genuine, up-market advertising for the likes of Mercedes Benz, Chopard, Pirelli and Maybach) – giving it the familiar, floppy feel of news-based magazines like Stern, Paris Match, The (UK) Sunday Times Style section, The New York Times Magazine or even SAGA.

The cover shot is more than a little cheesy; it has a low-budget tang to it. It says this is a popular magazine; it’s inclusive, not exclusive; there’s something for everyone here. The cover type is overly colourful and looks like it might have been done in a rush to meet a tight deadline, however, the company name TASCHEN is subtly lacquered-over – perhaps to convey just a hint that what one is looking at is not all that it appears. Inside, looking for all the world like a list of features with page numbers, there’s – what could be more natural – a contents page. What could be a jauntily written editor’s intro, actually is just that and is signed off by Herr Taschen himself. The ‘features’ are mostly lavishly-illustrated using photographs or illustrations from the approximately 120 books individually listed at the back with prices. But there are what must be specially commissioned illustrations of the famous from Moby, Quincy Jones and Mario Testino to Rem Koolhaas, Pamela Anderson and Diane Keaton, each with a nice quote about their favourite Taschen book alongside them. These attempt to demonstrate the reach and ground this once best known for its cut-price art book publishing house has gained over the past twenty-five years. Taschen himself makes an appearance photographed, paparazzi-style, in a series of black and white images, most memorably in a full-bleed double-page spread with director Billy Wilder and photographer Helmut Newton at the 1960-built architectural landmark, Chemosphere house, in the Hollywood Hills in 1999. Newspaper USA Today’s quote about the Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot book – from Taschen, obviously – appears alongside: ‘A Wilder gift you couldn’t find for film fans.’ There’s a fashion ’story’ about photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin’s work – limited editions to 1,200 copies of the book are available, numbered and signed by the artists. This is up-market stuff but the way it’s packaged makes it feel democratic, accessible to the masses. Wine and food are covered; cars too. There’s sexy glamour from Bert Stern’s historic last sitting with Marilyn Monroe and a design ‘feature’ about information graphics. The Man from La Mancha, about a book on Pedro Almadóvar opens on a dramatic spread image with sparse headline, standfirst and quote, which is followed by a substantial text written by the director. There’s quite a lot of film-based stuff; Movies of the 2000 [sic] – the title of which must be a dodgy bit of translation from the presumably original German into English – opens with a complex double page spread of small film-stills and screaming headline, which, if this was in a real magazine, might be expected to lead somewhere, but doesn’t. There are a couple of spreads – please excuse the pun – about The Big Book of Pussy – the offending organ having been masked out by little, yellow smiley faces – immediately followed by a spread of illustrations of Toucans,’Big-billed technicolor marvels’, which at first glance might be taken for a special offer of the type one associates with sets of decorative plates, had the book cover not been slipped in at the bottom.

The tone and pace of the content is keenly balanced, some items picture-lead, others text-heavy, some short, some long, in such a way as to convince anyone casually flicking through the pages that he’s holding a real magazine. There’s no crossword or puzzle page but there is a game that encourages the reader to search for the character Faulpeltz – familiar, apparently, to past recipients of this publication – hidden within the pages of the magazine: the successful participants earning the chance of winning the Taschen sweepstake or book tokens. This is psychologically-clever salesmanship. First-timers are drawn in, made to feel comfortable in familiar territory – it’s the game that advertorial plays, when it apes the editorial of the magazine it appears in – until suddenly the penny drops and you feel rather let down, fooled. Make no mistake; this ‘magazine’ is 100% advertorial. But maybe in this particular case you can convince yourself to rest easy – this is a smartly-executed joke – you might have been fooled but now you get it and it’s so well done that you’re not ashamed at all that you were had. On the contrary, you begin to appreciate the level of intellectual thought and creative consideration that went into this fine thing. You want to tell all your friends about it: do a blog post on it – exactly what they want you to do. You might put it aside – you never know, one day it might be a collector’s item, and be worth something. Anyway, that’s what I’m going to do with mine.

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Typography | No Qualitative Easing

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Letter Fountain
Website companion to Taschen’s book Letter Fountain by Joep Pohlen

Designers born after 1980 have a total [sic] different view on visual culture, on aesthetic products, visions and history than the people born before the eighties – Extracted from Everyone is a Designer in the Age of Social Media, edited by dutch pair Geert Lovink and Mieke Gerritzen – first published in 2001, substantially revised and republished in summer 2010 by BIS publishers.

Until I began composing this blog post, I wasn’t aware of Everyone is a designer… but agree – with some reservations – to the authors’ sentiment regarding the democratisation of design for publishing and that nowadays anyone who wants to can turn their hand to layout or graphic design and even design typefaces.

Born well before the 1980s, classically trained in the use of typography, my peers and I at art college even set metal type and printed from it. Modernist that I’ve turned out to be, I make no apologies in admitting to being one of those designers who struggled (and continue to struggle) with what used to be called new technology. New technology – aka design on computer, arrived rather late, in 1990, at The Sunday Times Magazine where I had recently been made Art Director. Interestingly, Joep Polen and graphic designer Geert Setola’s first version of Letterfontein (Letter fountain) was published, only a short time later, in 1994, but rather unhelpfully, only in dutch and french. The 2011 manifestation is more international, with editions in english and spanish.

Aesthetically pleasing as the typography and design of Pohlen’s book and the website are, and although in their blurb Taschen claim that Letter Fountain will be useful for a new group of people interested in typography and typefaces, the very clear and classical presentation might easily be construed as dry, possibly patronising and rather academic to today’s snowboarding, crowd-surfing and web-surfing generation. For silver surfers, though, this book/website combo, might turn out to be a godsend.

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and anything else that interests me and I think might interest you

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