The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Galerie Dennis Cooper presents … Piet Zwart

 

‘Personally, I admire the rebels, the forward thinkers, the people despised by society for being “different.” Zwart was, according to several sources, “not an easy man.” He was known for his “indiscretion” and many considered him “self-centered.” When have people like him ever been understood by the mediocre?

‘Others recall that he was driven to excel. He worked late into the night, usually until three in the morning, set high standards for himself that others thought were unattainable by any person. He was concerned about promoting himself and paranoid about others having the wrong impression of him. As he was named The Most Influential Designer of the Twentieth Century by the Association of Dutch Designers (although some articles on Zwart list it as the Professional Organization of Dutch Designers) in 2000, he obviously succeeded in making his mark, despite the rumors and innuendos from those around him.

‘Many, it seems in my research probably felt more out of jealousy from Zwart’s ideals of perfection and his insistence on being involved in articles and books about him. The Oxford Journal writes, ‘Yvonne Brentjens’s new monograph… charts his struggle to arrive at an objective, scientific and technically perfect design, hence the word Vormingenieur (engineer of form).’

‘Piet Zwart was born on May 28th, 1885 in Zaandijk, North Holland (died in September 27th, 1977 at the age of 92). From 1902 until 1907 he attended the School of Applied Arts in Amsterdam where it is said there was little division between several disciplines as drawing, painting, architecture and applied arts. Zwart and fellow students developed by themselves with little interference from above, as teachers weren’t always present. “A smashing school with no idea of a program,” as Zwart recalls.

‘It was this lack of formal classroom training that led him to approach his design, especially typography in a fresh and untraditional way. While the purely horizontal grid design of straightforward type and images was the norm, leading to the Swiss School of Design in the 1940s and 1950s (also read the Noupe article on Swiss School designer, Josef Müller-Brockmann), Zwart felt his designing from his gut.

‘As with most geniuses, there was a self-initiated method that broke the very same rules he had never learned, or, as I suspect, he cared nothing for and wanted to break. He also experimented in the use of photography incorporated into his designs, leading to photomontages. Still, with all the rule breaking and experimentation, Zwart was concerned with readability, feeling that typography should be clear and functional. If any influence must be assigned, he used the basic principles of constructivism and “De Stijl” in his commercial work.

‘One must put Zwart’s work into context of the time and design influences. His use of type and montage was incredibly ahead of his time. Even today, such work is inspiring, fresh and unique. His lack of training shows a gift and inner creativity that is individual and comes from deep within. One has to wonder if Zwart’s “difficult” personality, as nay-sayers put it, is a reaction to the misplaced and vociferous opinions of other contemporaries who couldn’t fathom Zwart’s designs.

‘While time has proved him to be a truly great creative, it must have been hard for him to put up with life as the target of harsh critiques from charlatans and mediocre talents. It’s a great lesson for designers to understand that one’s own creative vision is not fodder for other creatives to comment upon. In the long run, history will be the judge of great creativity and not the opinions of others in the field.

‘Zwart had been fired from the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts in 1933, after he had been quite explicit about the redevelopment of art education. Some say he was teaching communist ideals to his students and some say his progressive ideas had been closely linked to the innovative methods and objectives of the Bauhaus School in Dessau where he was asked to host a number of lessons in 1929.

‘As with many who lived in the dark days of the Second World War, Zwart, along with 800 other prominent citizens were arrested and held by German soldiers. After the war, when he was released from captivity, he mainly focused on industrial design. One can only imagine what years of captivity did to him. He never spoke of those years. It is amazing he went back to creative work, albeit in another field.

‘One cannot have much introspection into a person’s private pain. The old saying is that an artist must suffer for their art. Zwart certainly suffered although it’s hard to tell how much of it was self-imposed. It is, however, his legacy of creativity that lives on and has lessons for the creatives of today. His drive and dedication to his vision is a great lesson. His work, if one thinks of the time and culture of his heyday, was such a departure – almost futuristic but he still managed to convince people that his vision was the best way to communicate the message.’ — Speider Schneider

 

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Further

Piet Zwart @ Wikipedia
Piet Zwart – Index Grafik
PIET ZWART INSTITUTE
Piet Zwart – iconofgraphics.com
Piet Zwart: The Rebellious Type
Piet Zwart Timeline
PIET ZWART AND HIS INFLUENCE ON DESIGN

 

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Extras


Everything Must Change – Piet Zwart (2012) – Trailer


Zwart


Piet Zwart Institute Master Lens-Based / Master Experimental Publishing

 

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Kitchen

‘Piet Zwart (1885-1977) owes his reputation as much for his design for the Bruynzeel kitchen in 1938 as for his progressive graphic designs for companies like PTT and cable manufacturer Nederlandsche Kabelfabriek. Piet Zwart preferred to call himself a form engineer or form technician rather than a designer. He believed in functionality, standardisation and machine production, and profiled himself as one of the first industrial designers in the Netherlands. In his eyes, a design must take account both of ergonomics and user-friendliness, and of the demands of mass production. The kitchen he designed for Bruynzeel in 1938 is a good example. It was highly progressive for its time. This was the first time that domestic appliances like a refrigerator and stove could be integrated in the design in a practical way. All the elements were designed with logical proportions, and customers could combine them as they wished. Handy details like glass containers, a pull-out bread board and storage racks made the kitchen a textbook example of comfort and efficiency.’ — Kunstmuseum Den Haag

 

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Quotes

 

The more uninteresting the letter, the more useful it is to the typographer.

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We used the camera only as a means of expression and as a visual medium that offers possibilities found in no other artistic technique, possibilities that the eye cannot catch in their totality. We tried to establish a characteristic vision of photography.

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Colour is a creative element, not a trimming.

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Among the few I have indicated, is there no dynamic man of action, the rebel who will help determine the aspect of the collective expression of tomorrow? Ponder this question and know that to make beautiful creations for the sake of their aesthetic value will have no social significance tomorrow, will be nonsensical self-gratification. Every era contains the conditions for providing a rebel.

 

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p.s. Hey. ** David, Hi. Well, that’s certainly a notch on your belt, or almost a notch. No, it’s a notch. Shouldn’t you be putting all these stories in a Word doc titled ‘as yet untitled memoir’? Uh, a little drizzle here, no sign of snow, Paris biz as usual. ** David, Thanks! I agree with you on three of the four films on your list that I’ve seen. ** Misanthrope, I’m sure I’ve mentioned that I met Justin once briefly in Tokyo. We happened to both be in a shitty pizza place at the same time and he recognised me and said hey. Seemed nice. That ‘Spiderman’ movie is quite the gigantic humongous hit over there, I hear. Shows … oh, you mean the NYE in Times Square shows? I think I only ever watched the MTV one back when MTV was what its initials indicate. ** Rafe, Oh, shit, feel better. And thank you! Obviously thrilled to play a little part in your betterment. Don’t worry about the double posting. This blog is a technical weirdo. I.e., it’s its fault, not yours. ** Ian, Thanks, Ian. My favourite Joy Williams novel is ‘The Quick and the Dead’. She’s also a writer of killer insanely great stories. If you go that route, I would just go ahead and pick up her collected stories book ‘The Visiting Privilege’. Or, if you want to start slower on that front, maybe try ‘Breaking and Entering’. Later gator. ** Maria, Isabella, Camila, Malaria, Gabriela, Hi! Thank you! Yeah, don’t kill your husband. Even if he deserves it, you’ll regret it, trust me. SHINE by the Camouflage seems pretty charming, but I need finish this p.s. thing so I can listen without the distraction of needing to think up and type words. So I will do that. Thank you a lot for making sure I know about it. ** _Black_Acrylic, The first ‘Gremlins’ is a fantastic film, I totally agree. ** Dominik, Hi!! Oh, wow, there I am in his book. How cool. ‘Shuck’ is on my radar. It’s true, I did make a leap of faith in thinking the guy in that gif would be a good writer. Maybe I should have said he was excited because his selfie was accepted for the next issue of SCAB. Your love of yesterday sounded like the makings of a quirky slave profile. In other words, awesome! Love balancing a plate of nachos on his head, G. ** Bill, Thanks, B. Every light should flicker. But maybe not the sun. So I finally watched ‘The Feast’. To be honest, I didn’t really like it. For me, it was too self-conscious and laboured and it just never engaged me. Well, except for maybe when that guy ate the son’s leg. I’m sorry. Taste is taste, you know, and what can one do? Yeah, I should at least watch something on NYE. Which is tomorrow, shit! ** T, Thanks, T. Whoo-hoo about the Covid evacuation. So you’re headed back here tonight. Overnight ferry: can you sleep on that? Dude, I have a potentially really awful meeting with our film producer tomorrow, and I so need a run of good luck, and I thank you greatly for that wish, from my knees almost. May your day involve a lot of fond hugs and sweet farewells and then the calmest channel waters in recorded history. xo. ** Kage, It’s true for me too that alcohol can add a pleasant side effect to certain drug effects if it’s drunk judiciously. No, I almost never remember my dreams. When I do, they always involve someone or something trying to kill me. Literally always. ** Steve Erickson, Our cases just shot into the stratosphere yesterday. Oops. Strangely, I still don’t know a soul here who has or has had the virus recently. I suspect that’s about to change drastically. I still feels very Covid normal here, as of this morning. I agree, I think you’re onto something with the muzak sampling. Kudos. ** Right. When I live in Amsterdam in the 80s, I got very into the work of the great Dutch designer Piet Zwart for a while, and a memory of that interest popped into my head, and that is why you’re getting an unusual two galerie shows this week. Have a lookabout, please. See you tomorrow.

9 Comments

  1. David

    I would write a memoir Den but my ‘Microsoft word’ blah…. ain’t working properly…. maybe when my new laptop arrives who knows…. it’s on the way… I wrote a poem about McQueen… it’s changed a few times over the years as bits always cringe me out at the later date…. in short he goes through the wardrobe…. having got off with him and been on the verge of suicide myself in the past on more the one occasions… I’m the Don? I’ll spare you the details…. we’ve all been there right…

    I once wrote a poem about Professor Stephen Hawking… called ‘The whore king’ I didn’t ever get off with him down an alley from what I can remember… although I know how it is to invent a ground breaking ‘time lag thing’…. (pulls a serene face and nods ethereally) Den

    I’m back to London this evening…

    Loving this post alot… there is some stunning design imagery… cheers

    it’s getting close to new years eve are you doing anything???

    thanks Pal xx

  2. David Ehrenstein

    Zwart is remindful of the Soviet avant-garde, and Richard Hamilton — a very great British artist deserving of a “Day” on this blog.

  3. Dominik

    Hi!!

    Well, either way, that GIF guy/poet would be more than welcome to join the SCAB family. (Talking about SCAB, it’d be so great if people actually read a few issues or even just a few pieces before they submitted their work. I truly appreciate everybody’s interest and submissions, but it’s such a sad waste of both of our time when they send me poems about birds and spring flowers…)

    I’ll embrace your love very carefully; I don’t want him to drop his plate of nachos. I might eat some of his burden, though, now that I imagined it. Thank you! Love brushing his teeth three times a day, for 10 minutes each time, and his smile still looks like a black hole, Od.

  4. _Black_Acrylic

    Piet Zwart is a new name for me and I very much enjoyed this day. Like him, I have a definite soft spot for the awkward rebel genius. Certainly always appreciate a nice kitchen too.

  5. Dom Lyne

    Hey Dennis,

    Hope you had a good Christmas. I was hoping for a nice quiet end of year, but we all know how things go with me; however I wasn’t expecting my telenovela life to go all “Dallas” on my ass lol.

    I ended up having to come up to my mum’s a day early as my brother got stung and arrested, so I had to – after watching the video (yeah it was live-streamed) – inform my mum of what he’s been up to, and then it turned out whilst going through his room, and talking to other people, he is not the person we thought he was at all. Like he’d been lording over us for years how he was this top-of-the-class student blah blah blah, turns out he was just middle of the road, telling family friends he was some locum GP when he was just a nurse. He’s also been cutting people off from my mum, isolating her. It’s so crazy!! But now little things make sense, like how I was never allowed to visit his place when he lived in Surrey, my big mouth would have blown up his lies in a second. It’s seriously like he thinks he’s some soap opera villain or something. I just handed everything to the police and was like deal with it, if he wants to communicate, he deals me with and me only… needless to say, we’ve heard nothing.

    So Christmas was a bit different this year, but we still celebrated it as usual, only we had to do the cooking haha. I’m hoping next year is going to be less dramatic, I already have some hospital appointments lined up at the end of January but these are all results things, so should be conclusions rather than beginnings. Anthony (the boyfriend) is coming up to visit tomorrow (31st) for a few days, so will be nice to have another friendly face around my mum’s house.

    Much love and hugs, and best wishes for the New Year.

    Dom

  6. T

    Hey Dennis. These are really smart – some of the letter work reminds me of the design/typeface of your ‘Frisk’ or at least of the edition I read, but maybe I’m making the connection just because you said you were into him when you were in Amsterdam. I’m typing this out now on said overnight ferry and hoping I am just in reach of the UK mobile networks so I can fire this off. Don’t expect to sleep much, in response to your question, they have reclining seats but I’ve never been able to master the art of sleeping sat up unfortunately. If I had more money I could get a cabin though. And damn ok, well wishing you straightforwardly the best possible outcome for the meeting with your producer tomorrow – is this still about getting the funding to shoot it? Anyway, got my fingers crossed for however it turns out. xT

  7. Joseph

    Hi Dennis! Hope you’re well as can be considering the world in which we live now (or have always?)

    So the blog hasn’t worked on my laptop of a large swath of the past year (nor have word processors and I’ve taken to just writing clandesdine small poems in email drafts) but I’m testing out this husk of a PC I brought home from my job.

    Speaking of my job, I recomended God JR to the the five other people I work with today. I only know that one of them reads any books at all but one other expressed an interest in Banjo Kazooie and Conker’s BFD. So I was all “who wants to borrow a book?”

    There was another I came here tonight but it has escaped me. Happy new year wasn’t it but definately that too.

    I will show this post to my partner tomorrow. Their passion for seafoam kitchens is strong.

  8. Bill

    Hmm, does Peter Saville mention Zwart being an influence? Some of the typography, the flat blocky colors…

    What would be an appropriate NYE movie this year? Well my night-before-NYE movie was Blood on Satan’s Claw. I know it’s a classic, influential etc, but I just kept getting distracted by the goofy soundtrack, some actor’s slipping into American accents, etc.

    Bill

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