George Czerny passed away this week. In addition to this heartbreaking eulogy by Stephen Heller, we are republishing this article from the August 2014 issue of PRINT.
A nondescript envelope arrives in the mail. It contains a black bound folder labeled “Influences, Inspirations, and Role Models” along the gray spine, as well as the following note: Looks like it’s time to stop and look in the rearview mirror. ”
It comes from George Czerny. For the uninitiated, Cerny’s own influence is vast and profound. He has served as chairman of AIGA his second time. He is in the art director hall of fame. He has received an AIGA medal. He taught the first design course at the School of Visual Arts and created the SVA logo. His work is archived and displayed in permanent collections around the world. Milton Glaser Design Study Center Archives at MoMA and the Library of Congress. It’s not often that you get a package with a legendary design. So open it and publish it. Some artists are people you might want to talk to. But the best ones will motivate you to listen. Cerny falls into the latter category. – Editor
Lifelong influence, inspiration and role model
Written by George Czerny
We don’t immediately recognize our true role models. Only after finding your own voice, your own vision, can you acknowledge the sources of inspiration and influence. Then comes the obligation to pass on to the next generation a body of work worth imitating.
It was clear from very early on in my life that I had a strong visual sense and an aptitude for drawing. And it didn’t take long for me to figure out what I wanted to do with that ability. In the neighborhood where I grew up in Berlin, there was a movie theater that displayed giant hand-painted portraits of actors in current movies. These portraits sparked my desire to become a “commercial artist”. I’m still very comfortable with this profession, even though it’s currently less popular. Because just as copying can become literature, design can also become art when it reaches a certain level of originality and differentiation.
Growing up in a poor, working class family, I had to find art and culture outside of the home. The modern architecture that began to appear on the streets of Berlin from around 1930 caught my interest as I strolled through the city. A memorable example is the Columbus House by famous architect Erich Mendelsohn. There was a Woolworth’s on the ground floor of the building.I remember seeing reproductions of Franz Marc paintings there. big blue horse And I thought, what a crazy idea. We all know horses aren’t blue. It took me decades to find out who the painter was and to learn that art doesn’t always have to be literal.
Economic and political circumstances prevented me from receiving formal artistic training, but propaganda art was all around me, much of it offensive in form and content. There were some sane and humane voices during the Weimar Republic, such as George Gross, John Heartfield, and Kathe Kollwitz, but they were fighting a losing battle. At the time, I was too young to distinguish between these competing political voices, but by the time I was eight years old, in 1933, the battle was over and lost.
In 1930s Berlin, the dominant visual presence in the advertising world was Ludwig Holwein, the most successful German poster artist between the two world wars. Although he was admired for his virtuosity in playing light and shadow and his sense of pattern, he was underestimated for his ability to focus on the essence of his message. His cigarette posters at Grathwohl are a striking example of minimalism. The glowing cigarettes are the “point” of the message.
Then came Kristallnacht, war, and immigration. It was an eventful year, but not relevant to this essay, except for the welcome gift of the U.S. GI Bill for my military service in World War II. This ultimately allowed me to pursue my interest in art. I enrolled in Newark School of Arts and Crafts while simultaneously working hard to earn my high school diploma to attend Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
Before joining Pratt in 1947, I met Sonia, my current wife of over 60 years. What brought us together was our shared interest in modern dance. In addition to being an insightful and honest critic, Sonia has guided me intellectually and ethically by softening the horns of what is essentially a blue-collar designer, and her It had a lifelong impact on me.
My initial interest at Pratt was in crafts and technology. I viewed my formal education purely as a commercial school and passionately pursued drawing, rendering, and other skills without worrying about developing my own ideas. When I finally became interested in expressing myself creatively, I no longer had to struggle with execution. My figure drawings became more expressionistic, with gestures becoming more important than details. Intuitively, I followed the advice: “First develop a fool-proof technique, then be open to inspiration.”
Drawing from real people played an important role in my curriculum at Pratt, and fashion illustrator Karl Erickson (Eric) was a big influence here. He was an excellent draftsman who painted with the lightness of most people’s walking. He reigned in this field from his 1920s to his 50s. Eric’s paintings were notable for their confidence in a single line, selectively highlighting essential and important details. Fashion illustration ultimately lost out to photography. It was not to capture details as well as one might think, but to establish a more modern atmosphere and attitude.
During my second year at Pratt, two professors made a huge contribution to my growth as a designer. Herschel Levitt was a revelation. Levitt taught us about the works of famous designers, art, music, and art history. This filled a gap in art schools at the time, which did not offer academic or liberal arts studies. Similar to vocational schools, a diploma is awarded after three years of study.
One of the graphic designers Levit introduced us to was Lester Beall. I greatly admired his work and he was my role model more than any other designer of my generation. Beer integrated the European avant-garde of the 1920s and his ’30s into his own distinctive American style. His skillful combination of photography, type, color, and design elements paved the way for subsequent generations of designers.
Another important professor, James Brooks, taught lettering with a difference. Brooks’ artistic personality had two sides to him. On the one hand, there was the formal discipline necessary to do lettering in black and white, and on the other hand, his paintings were spontaneous and colorful. Not surprisingly, he became very famous as an Abstract Expressionist in his early 1950s.
Brooks introduced me to the work of Imre Rainer. With exquisite sensibility, Reiner combines traditional typography with highly personal and bold letter shapes. This typography, which ranges from cool to hot, has had a huge impact not only on typography but on design in general. Reiner’s skillful use of woodcuts, like Ben Shahn’s work, showed me that it is possible to blur the lines between “precision” and “applied” art.
I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned from magazines and books. typography Published in Switzerland in 1948, this book by Walter Bangerter and Walter Marti was not only inspirational but also enlightening. We learned that emphasis in typography is achieved not only through differences in typeface and size, but also through the use of color, weight, and spatial manipulation.
In the 1940s (or 50s), very few art schools taught photography. There were no photography galleries, and with the exception of the Museum of Modern Art, museums did not have photography departments.a magazine like life, and once again books were the primary resource. Henri Cartier-Bresson demonstrated the importance of: decisive momentWhether it’s photography, design or communication. He taught us to walk quietly and carry a small camera.
It was written as a dance book of the same name, but for me it was martha graham This is a photo collection of Barbara Morgan. Graham aficionados will be shocked to hear that I believe the actual performance did not live up to the expectations of the picture. Exquisitely printed in gravure in 1941, these images remain unparalleled in capturing dance today. Reading Graham’s book further piqued my interest in dance, and as a result I fell in love with movement and capturing it on two-dimensional surfaces.
In the early days, Bernard Rudofsky (“Are your clothes modern?Essay on modern apparel1947), Siegfried Giedion (Mechanization takes the lead1948), and EH Gombrich (Images and the Eye: Further Research into the Psychology of Pictorial Expression1982).
An unexpected influence was the modern jazz quartet.
Recorded by John Lewis in 1958 european windows Performed with the Stuttgart Symphony Orchestra. What is remarkable about this composition and performance is how seamlessly the music transitions from classical to jazz mode. In doing so, what Imre Reiner achieved with typography is reflected in music.
My association with the visionary architect, designer, and thinker George Nelson (1953-1955) taught me the most important lesson of all. It means not bringing preconceptions to a new project; starting with a blank page each time. Although this is not the most economical way to run a design firm, it provides the perfect environment for creative work.
High and Low: Contemporary Art and Popular CultureThe 1990 MoMA exhibit by Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik was more important as a validation and confirmation of my beliefs and attitudes than as a source of inspiration. Now, as always, the most pervasive influence on my work is the everyday culture around me. I enjoy getting nourishment from everywhere and finding the important things in the seemingly trivial things. Although my respect for high art is clear, there is no question as to which side of the high art vs. low art debate I belong to. As a commercial artist, I respect reproductions and their sources, unlike high-end artists who only value originals. I feel at home at the intersection of high art and low art.
Clockwise from top left in the header:
1) “The Seven Veils of a Man’s Belly” from “Are Clothes Modern?” by Bernard Rudofsky (Paul Theobald, Chicago, 1947)
2) UFA Theater, Moabit, Berlin, circa 1930
3) Franz Marc, The Big Blue Horse, 1911. Oil on canvas, 41 5/8 x 71 5/16 inches.Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
4) “Poster without words”, on-site photo, 2012.visual arts school
5) Modular Display Tower (one of a series), 1971.Pan American Airlines
6) Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances Photographed by Barbara Morgan (Duel, Sloan and Pierce, New York, 1941)
7) Logo suggesting a floor plan (Architect Fischer), from typography by Walter Bangerter and Walter Marti, Switzerland, 1948
8) & 10) Simple figure studies, ink and watercolor.Student work, 1949, Pratt Institute, New York
9) Exhibition catalog (front and back cover), 1961.American Federation of the Arts
11) John Lewis, Windows on Europe. RCA Victor Recording, 1958
12) Portrait of George Cerny’s father, painted at the age of 9
13) Cover and details, Germany, Deutschland uber alles, 1929. Kurt Tukolsky, author.John Heartfield, designer
14) Poster, 2011.Voice and Vision / PJ Library
15) Advertising, 1955.Herman Miller Furniture Company