We are pleased to announce that The Monacelli Press is releasing our book Symbols: A Handbook for Seeing on November 8, 2016. This richly illustrated anthology includes more than 400 examples of ancient and contemporary art and design in a range of media, including architecture, film, industrial design, graphic design, illustration, and photography. Symbols documents and celebrates the many ways in which designers and artists have chosen to express symbolic ideas visually.
As graphic designers and instructors at California College of the Arts in San Francisco, we bring an informed, curatorial eye to the book’s content. British artist and craftsman William Morris implored the public to “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” If the book is understood as a kind of house, then we furnished Symbols: A Handbook for Seeing with useful and beautiful ideas and images.
We were fortunate to be in New York in January where we visited the Judd Foundation in SoHo for the first time. The five-story cast-iron building was purchased by Donald Judd in 1968 as a home, studio, and permanent installation. The ground floor features a 1986 minimalist installation by Carl Andre titled Manifest Destiny which consists of eight stacked bricks, all bearing the legend “Empire.”
The third floor of the building houses Judd’s former studio which was perhaps our favorite space. The studio is comprised of three separate areas for activities that correspond to three distinct body positions: chairs for reading while sitting; a desk for drawing while standing; and a floor rug and wooden headrest for contemplation while recumbent.
Judd’s reductive arrangement of space within the studio and his prescription for a specific, different physical orientation while engaged in each task would no doubt serve to focus his attention and separate each creative endeavor in his consciousness. Daniel J. Boorstin, the author of The Image: a Guide to Pseudo Events in America, warns against the unconscious blurring of experience. Addressing technology and the “rise of images” in particular, he writes: “In twentieth-century America we have gone one step beyond the homogenizing of experience…. Even as we try to sharpen our artificial distinctions they become ever more blurry.”
Milton Glaser notes that “Drawing is thinking,” an observation I am fond of quoting. That said, the experience of being in Donald Judd’s studio leads me to an oppositional thought, which is: reading is not drawing is not thinking. While I still subscribe to Glaser’s dictum, I admire Judd’s implicit acknowledgment that while these three activities are related, they are not equivalent. The discipline (and clarity) demanded by Judd’s approach is revelatory. [MF]
While researching the symbolism of the shell for our (ongoing!) book project, we stumbled on an intriguing visual juxtaposition we thought we would share.
The goddess of love emerges from a seashell in The Birth of Venus by French painter Odilon Redon, c. 1912. Originating in the ocean, the shell shares water’s associations with creation and procreation, genetrix and matrix. Combined with physical characteristics which can suggest female genitalia, the shell is an emblem of fecundity and life and, by extension, felicity and prosperity.
Redon’s rendering of the shell’s elliptical silhouette and luminous interior creates a nimbus-like effect similar to the mandorla found in religious icons of the Virgin Mary or the Christ. (The lunate rim of the shell also echoes the crescent moon on which the Virgin often sits or stands.) The detail on the left is from a 13th century Byzantine manuscript in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
Like the early Christian almond-shaped aureole, Redon’s seashell is maternal womb, life, light, and utterly sacred. [MF]
René at his Saturday workshop with CCA students, “The Architectural Letter.”
In town for the TYPO conference, we had the pleasure of bringing Dutch designer and typographer René Knip to California College of the Arts to give a lecture to CCA’s graphic design students and faculty. I had the honor of introducing René prior to his lecture; what follows are excerpts from my remarks:
René has a fierce love of typographic forms, and this love is most often expressed in a material—and spatial—context. In a 2011 interview, René said: “I use letters like a photographer does a camera: I use them to illustrate emotions.”
These emotions are evoked by a typography that is liberated from the page and screen and made manifest in the physical world. It joyfully inhabits this world, interacting with it: René’s letters move, cast shadows, get wet, and age. Whether formed of water cut steel, milled aluminum, sand-blasted stone, or ceramic tile, René consistently creates typography with a monumental presence that is nonetheless idiosyncratic and personal. His is a typography with a point of view.
René Knip studied graphic design at the Academy of Visual Arts St. Joost, Breda, where he worked under type designer Chris Brand, perhaps best known for the face Albertina. On graduation, Knip worked for three years as the assistant designer to Anthon Beeke. In 1992 he started his own studio, Atelier René Knip, or A.R.K.
In 2012 René launched the type foundry arktype.nl with Janno Hahn. Together they have released 25 typefaces specifically designed for use in architectural lettering and environmental graphics.
In an age in which graphic design is increasingly virtual and temporal, I take great pleasure in the work of a designer that is so concrete—and literally so. [MF]