Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wolfgang Weingart

Wolfgang Weingart's typographic design is very exciting. Stumbling through MoMA webgallery his work caught my attention. I think that the article from Keith Chi-hang Tam is the best source where you can get insight in Weingart:

Wolfgang Weingart’s Typographic Landscape

He started it all. It was he who ignited the spark of ‘typographic anarchy’ that exploded on the verge of the nineteen nineties. It was he who fathered what was subsequently dubbed ‘Swiss Punk’, ‘New Wave’ or whatever you care to call it – perhaps even post-modernism. His name is Wolfgang Weingart. Weingart was born in the midst of the World War II in Germany. Most famous for his experimental, expressive work that broke the mould of classical Swiss typography, Weingart began his typographic career in the early sixties as an apprentice of hand composition at a typesetting firm. He then decided to further his studies at the Basel School of Design in Switzerland, the cradle of classical Swiss typography. Following his rather unsuccessful attempt at completing his course, Armin Hoffmann, who was then the head of the Basel School, invited him to teach there, by the sheer admiration of his work. He has been teaching there ever since and had made extraordinary impact on the contemporary typographic landscape.

What exactly is ‘Swiss typography’? Swiss typography was founded upon the teachings of the Bauhaus in Germany soon after World War II and became a rational approach to typography. The use of grid systems was the key to the logical disposition of type and images on the page, along with sanserif typefaces for clear, functional communication. Figures such as Armin Hoffmann and Emil Ruder were the major proponents of Swiss typography, who were teachers at the Basel School of Design at the time. They believed that typography should be unobtrusive and transparent, in order to clearly communicate its textual content. By the beginning of the sixties, the language of Swiss typography had already gained reputation the world over. Swiss typography became synonymous with corporate design for multinationals, and subsequently referred to as the ‘international typographic style’.

At this point, our dear Mr Weingart barges in, hurriedly corrects my one-sided viewpoint of Swiss typography: ‘not only one conception of typography exists in Switzerland.’ He would proudly acknowledge that his experimental typography is also Swiss, because it was a ‘natural progression’ from the classical Swiss typography as we know it. To call what he did and still does as ‘deconstructive’ would be too simplistic a comment. His typographic experiments were strongly grounded, and were based on an intimate understanding of the semantic, syntactic and pragmatic functions of typography. Whereas ‘traditional’ Swiss typography mainly focused on the syntactic function, Weingart was interested in how far the graphic qualities of typography can be pushed and still retain its meaning. This is when the semantic function of typography comes in: Weingart believes that certain graphic modifications of type can in fact intensify meaning. ‘What’s the use of being legible, when nothing inspires you to take notice of it?’ How true.

Weingart’s work is characterized by his painterly application of graphical and typographical elements. The emotionally-charged lines, the potent, image-like qualities of his type, the almost cinematic impact of his layouts, all speak of his great passion of creating with graphical forms. His typographic layouts are compelling yet lucid, free yet controlled. Some of his personal work is almost akin to landscape paintings, only that his paintbrush is replaced by type, rules and screens. He doesn’t seem to perceive a divide between fine art and typography. His inspirations were mainly drawn from the processes of typesetting and reproduction, where he finds great pleasure in discovering their characteristics and pushing them to their limits.

Keith Chi.Hang Tam

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