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Wim’s approach to typography
Having set up your own practice and developing your own distinctive visual approach, what influence did Wim have on the development of that approach when you were a trainee at Total Design?
When I was a trainee at Total Design during the summer of 1983 and later once again in 1985, I didn’t work directly with Wim Crouwel. He was around of course, busy and many times in meetings as far as I remember. I believe that Wim couldn’t know all the interns who were among the team. I was too timid to approach him, and truly before I arrived to The Netherlands, I didn’t know who he was, nor even the importance of Total Design in the Dutch culture. As a young student in a French Art School, I was ignorant about graphic design history. Moreover I hadn’t made a real choice if I wanted to be a graphic designer. My dream was to do theatre set design or to become a painter.
So I learn’t about Wim Crouwel’s work by looking at what he designed over the years, by looking at the TD archives and what was in progress during the time I was there. I remember that, in the early eighties, Total Design was ready to invest in a sophisticated computer system called Aesthedes. They were several demonstrations that I attended. Wim Crouwel and all the designers around him were obviously fascinated by the new possibilities of this equipment.For the first time I realised that technology will affect the design process.
Mostly I was very much attracted by the abstract approach of Wim Crouwel experimental typography. I remember a magazine that was published for the Fodor Museum with an innovative font which revealed the early computer aesthetic. The abstraction applied to typography explored the nature of letter shapes as artistic material in every detail.
The design was clearly very much in the spirit of functionalism, but it appear to me also as a pictorial rendering, a continuation of the De Stijl movement. The theories of Dutch modern art were applied in the design for industry, even the area of typography. The regular forms of letters referred to a geometrical computer gesture which had a notable influence of my design education. The tension between shapes and space defined the equilibrium between creativity.
On the other side, I was attracted by a spontaneous gesture to bring authentic feeling and emotional dimension, this came from my fascination for live art such as contemporary dance and theatre. Now, by studying and learning at TD, it was possible for me to feel a strong connection between Minimalism and Conceptualism in experimental typography.
The work of Wim Crouwel was profoundly related to the contemporary art. Many posters he designed were for artist’s exhibitions. All of them reveal the ‘artist universe’ without showing a reproduction of a piece of art. It has a quasi-philosophical engagement for radical modernism, analytic abstraction in type design and for those reasons Wim Crouwel appears to me as a key precursor and his experimental work as the emblem for modernity.
I had no frustration anymore to be connecting to graphic design far away from the traditional typography that I learned in France. Within the rigorous geometric structure of graphic design which was developed at TD, the grid system, I found my way for personal expression. At that time typography became the exclusive focus of my artistic concern.