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Archive for December, 2015


Jazz


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Part 1

Library, spines facing you, from every direction. The opaqueness of all this knowledge is overwhelming to put it mildly – your head spins of confusion. The environment breathes an air of calmness, yet great anticipation, as if the myriads of hardbound works of literature and art are eagerly yearning to reveal their insides.

You stand still indecisively – you feel yourself on the narrow interface between on the one hand panic like running down the narrow corridor, to the door, halfway collapsing onto the floor and dying, and on the other hand siting down, indulging yourself in every publication that catches your eye, never leaving.

You regain your grip on reality. You see a bright yellow rectangle in front of you. You reach for it and you look at the front cover.

The cover of Henri Matisse's Jazz

You look at the cover for a solid minute. You like the bright yellow colour and the sturdiness of the cardboard. You look at the image on the cover. Primary colours have always fascinated you immensely. The blue night, the black figure, the yellow stars, and above all the tiny Red Dot as a heart. You are intrigued – you know of this man, Henri Matisse. In your head appear images of bright coloured faces and dancers, composed with mildly crude yet incredibly accurate brush strokes. You also like jazz, and wonder what this book could be about. Filled with curiosity you open it.

The inside of Henri Matisse's Jazz

That’s it. You’re taking this one.

What appears to be a great and interesting book, turns out to be – according to knowledge that you have newly obtained – merely a small, relatively unimpressive excerpt from the original Jazz. Published in German, this small yellow book is actually a book within a book. A book about a book. The middle set of pages are reduced size copies of all images of Jazz. A ten-page introduction preceeds it; succeeding are German translations and a timeline of Matisse’s life. The design of the yellow book is not very striking – minimalist but conservative, done by the publisher. Judging from the looks, the middle part – the excerpt from the original Jazz - is by far the most exciting.

The original is a thick pack of folded paper, twice as wide and twice as high as the yellow booklet you have found in the library. Twenty colour prints, of which fifteen that span two-page spreads are included in the unbound book, together with seventy pages of huge, handwritten cursive text in French.

Marveling at the bright and bursting colours you wonder – How? Why? What does it all mean? You want to find out everything about this book, so you start researching and reading, to learn more about how this artwork came to be. As you learn more and more you suddenly find yourself 74 years in the past, in the south of France.

Part 2

You are now Henri Matisse. It is the summer of 1941, and you are 72 years old. You are living in a suburb of Nice, and you own a nice house with a flowery garden, a big studio and a personal assistant. The gods of health have not been benevolent to you – you were diagnosed with abdominal cancer a few months back, and though doctors have removed the tumour, you suffered from serious complications. You have been on the brink of death for a while, and since then you’ve been only slowly improving. Standing is possible but laborious, so you prefer to lay down on your bed.

Matisse and Assistant

You have tried to pick up painting again, but it is tiring and difficult, and virtually impossible from a laying-down position. Thus, the ultra-creative human being you are, you have invented alternative methods of creating colourful expressions of expressionist effervescence: the cut-out method. Simple but very effective: cut-out pieces of paper, laid on top of each other to create compositions. You have used this technique before when making paintings, but only as an aid to perfect the lay-out, never as a means to an end. Your assistant dyes paper with pure, unmixed gouache and you use scissors to cut them into any shape you want. Easy and less labor-intensive than painting, you really like this method.

Matisse Cutting

You feel that scissors carry way more feeling for line than a pencil or brush ever will. You feel so much more improvisational and spontaneous, and your life after your near-death state feels like an artistic renaissance. You feel like cutting out people, and flowers and trees. Flowers are so amazing to make, since the natural world is not hindered by preconceptions of classical art. As you once famously said:

Nothing in the world is more difficult than painting a rose, since before he can do so, he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.

Full of inspiration, you start to create one, two, twenty collages. You write handwritten text, loosely accompanying the themes of the collages. The text is very big because you feel it is necessary in order to be in a decorative relationship with the colour prints. Your publisher likes the book and wants to print it: 100 copies without text and 250 ‘deluxe’ copies with text. The copies are printed by brushing paint over metal stencils made in the shape of the cut-outs. The paint is the exact same gouache used to dye the paper, so the copies are highly accurate in shape and colour.

Le Toboggan

Page from Jazz: Le Toboggan (The Sled)

The collages depict circus scenes, stories, myths, abstract shapes and personal experiences, in vivid colours and an uninhibited style. The cover displays one of your first collages, the clown, and the title of the book: Jazz. You chose this title because you like jazz, and you think there are parallels with the music on the basis of your unbounded, improvisational and innovative way of working. You consider the previous title, le cirque, not inclusive enough for all the themes the book discusses. In the front of the book you include a ‘table of contents’, an overview of all the collages, with individual titles.

Cover of Jazz

Front and back cover of Jazz

Table of contents of Jazz

Table of Contents of Jazz

The book is received as a wide success and it kick-starts a new stylistic era: the next 12 years, until your death, you will work on more cut-outs. You like the works you have made, though you doubt the artistic quality of the book – you think that the best way of presenting these collages is in their original form: loose pieces of paper, laying on a table in your studio, playful and vulnerable to any gust of wind.

Table The End

Rietveld library catalogue no : mat 17

Process: how to choose an apple?


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

 

apple

 

choosing a book without paying attention to the content is like picking an apple based on its skin and form. you never know if the consistence and the taste is reflected by its surface but still you choose it, thinking that the appearance echoes what you want to find inside. this intuitive and impulsive choosing process based on your assimilation faculty, knowledge and cultural education, needs to be done without concession. avoiding everything that incorporates elements which make you doubt is a way to find the precise object that fits your taste. this process can be long but it makes you swim fast through objects and, at the end, allows you to find the right fruit, in which the design and the content are reflecting each other, the materialisation of your desire. this search technique lead me to an old fashioned catalogue issued for an exhibition of herman de vries at the groninger museum in groningen, the netherlands. the book was published in 1980 by the museum itself and is entitled, like the exhibition, “herman de vries, werken 1954-1980”. the design of the book is made by “std suurling treffers designers”. they also came from gronigen and they were, at this time,  the graphic designers of the museum. alongside of working for the museum and being independent designers they were also working at the minerva art academy. nowadays the studio doesn’t exist anymore.

 

1 3

 

speaking about the design of the catalogue, the cover appears fragile and at the same time raw, ruff and powerful. the delicate aspect of the book comes from two different components. firstly, the paper used as a protection for the book itself is created by two layers of recycled transparent paper. the weight of times altered the colour of the paper into different shades of beige and adds an antique aesthetic to the object. secondly, in-between this two layers of tracing papers, two real leaves drift with the rhythm of the reader turning the pages. on the website of herman de vries it is said that they came from a western tree called acer campester. strangely the copy from the gerrit rietveld library contains different ones, looking like the leaves of an elm tree, which is really common in the netherlands. we will probably never know, if the artist himself puts different types or if someone lost the original ones and exchanged them. these natural elements encapsulated into the cover protection remind on the origin of paper, namely trees and leaves, and point out that these objects, made for human use, were, first off all, living matter.

 

Ulmus americana - American ElmAcer campestre - Hedge or Field Maple 5 4

 

the cover reveals another radical choice: the absence of capital letters. this vacancy occurs in the whole book. most of the time, attributed to the bauhaus ideology of typography, this non-use of capitals could represent the honest approach of the artist herman de vries in his work and his aim to represent nature in it’s purest and simplest form. the first part of the the book, introduced by the director of the groninger museum, frank haks, is mostly composed of texts, essays and poetry by and about herman de vries. the designers chose to create the layout using the aesthetics of a type machine, therefore making use of the typography “courier”. looking at the work of herman de vries, this decision resonates his visual language. the paper being used is another example. it is brown, natural and rough. the second part of the book focuses on showing images of his art works. alongside to this change the paper changes as well. becoming more neutral, it gives the the work all the space needed for expressing itself.

 

8 10

 

on the back cover, a curious detail pops up: a red stamp saying “all”. it is hard to understand its visual appearance for different reasons, mainly because it is the first time that we see colour. in addition, the size and the disposition are not fitting with the layout either, they are more strictly constructed. during the research about the artist i came across a video which fulfilled my curiositiy. presenting his exhibition for the biennial of venice, where he was representing the netherlands, herman de vries showed an old mantra printed on a booklet in 1974 in katmandu. the sentence “to be all ways to be” is written in big letters inside of it, the typography and the size are exactly the same as in the book.

 

11 1998.1.0006(1-36)02_v3

 

considering the design of this book, it makes a good example for a successful reflection and interaction between the graphic designers and the artist. in this case, herman de vries took part in the making process, adding some characteristics of his own work to the cover. the catalogue therefore got a handcrafted look and gives the impression to handle something rare and authentic. the aesthetic choice demonstrate the graphics designer’s respect for the artist and merge the book with the world of de vries. a bridge is created, giving the book the aura of an artwork.

Rietveld library catalog no : vri 7

 


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