A chat with the French graphic designer famous for capturing movement and unpredictability in his work
The unofficial French ambassador happens to be a trusted messenger for the cultural powerhouses—museums such as the Louvre and Musée d'Orsay, publishers such as Éditions de La Martinière and Robert Laffont and luxury brands such as Hermès and Yves Saint Laurent. His brilliance has the rest of the world requesting his art, too, including Gagosian Gallery, Design Museum London, Phaidon Press and more. Graphic designer Philippe Apeloig takes lines, letters and shapes and transforms them into captivating structures of movement—which explains why he compares his craft to that of an actor or a dancer. Never one to approach a project the same way, Apeloig captures a lively, impulsive essence in his visual imagery, largely thanks to his bespoke typography and steady consumption of culture.
While still only mid-career, Apeloig is already the subject of a retrospective exhibition "Typorama," at Paris' Musée des Arts Décoratifs that highlights more than 30 years of work. For those who aren't able to visit in person, a hardcover book of the same name will soon be hitting stores in North America. The mammoth monograph (384 pages) features a selection of Apeloig's designs organized by thematic chapters: museums, performing arts, publications, posters and typography, logotypes and visual identities and, at the end, sketches. More than just a collection of images, each project is accompanied by an explanation of the brief, sources of inspiration and how the idea came to realization—a rare look into a distinguished graphic designer's creative process. The section of sketches is what proves to be most illuminating; the stormy mind of Apeloig unfolds as he brainstorms and experiments on paper and in digital form. We spoke with Apeloig to dig a little deeper.
My imagery connects to the human figure in motion.
You're known for capturing life and movement within your typography and posters. How do you refrain from making the final product overwhelming and finding that balance of energy?
Originally I wanted to be a painter, a set designer for theater or a choreographer, but I was also attracted by literature and philosophy. While studying art and design, I signed up for modern dance classes and attended many performances. These subjects helped me veer away from a conventional typography approach or severe functionalism into ambiguity and vitality. My imagery connects to the human figure in motion. With type elements, I use repetition and overlapping signs (like kaleidoscopic patterns) to explore synchronicity or de-synchronicity, patterning and rhythm. A poster should sustain visual vitality and richness, which can happen through an unexpected mix of graphic shapes: grids, letters, symbols, photos. I try to give the poster a coherent sensibility and style so that an emotional resonance and tension accrues from its unpredictable formalism.
Can you tell us how your process has changed from 20 years ago to today?
Clearly the technologies have changed our methods of working. The introduction of the computer generation had the impact of electroshock. However, I think that I am loyal to my own creative process, relying on the way I learned design from the beginning. I do research, reading, drawing, sketches, collages and computer tests with typography. We might note how easy it became to use letters—to select a font—in the computer age. The choice is now incredibly huge, without any limit. Most of the time my entire project starts with typographic elements at different stages of development. A project drives me onto a path until I have a fresher eye. All of a sudden I discover connections and mental references that I’ve collected over the years, haunted by my constant desire to invent something new while communicating the subject of the project. I am surrounded by the technology—it attracts me and repulses me.
As someone who works with text daily, have you explored foreign languages with entirely different alphabets, such as Chinese or Korean?
I am now working in collaboration with Atelier Jean Nouvel on the signage for the Louvre Abu Dhabi. All the directional information and the mediation texts are in three languages: Arabic, English and French. I combine the Frutiger Pro for the Latin alphabet and a new font in Arabic which has been designed by Kristyan Sarkis especially for the project. I wanted to juxtapose a universal modernism for the Latin letters with refreshed classical drawings connected with the calligraphic style of the Arabic. Until today, I had no chance to work with Chinese or Japanese alphabets. However, the qualities I like in foreign lettering have little to do with readability. Suddenly the letters appear only for their shapes and qualities, with the emotional and conceptual dimension of art as the typographers originally conceived them.
What was the last book you bought, and why were you compelled to buy it?
Recently, I went to Amsterdam to visit the [Kazimir] Malevich exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum. I bought the catalogue. Along with [Joan] Miró, he is one of my favorite references in modern art. One can find many connections with graphic design and typography in both of them. I go to bookstores in every city that I visit, no matter how short the trip. Whatever the language is, I like looking at books, both the newest ones and the antique ones. I like to have them in my hands, simply because holding them wakes more senses than only the gaze. I enjoy looking at them, at the invention or purity of the typography, and the high qualities of the image reproduction. I like to see both hard- and softcover books and examine the diverse printing or embossing techniques. I also pay attention to the size of the book, the heaviness of the paper, the coated or uncoated surfaces, the almost unspeakable smell of the ink and the palpable noise of the pages as I go through them.
"Typorama," the retrospective exhibition of Philippe Apeloig, is on view at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris until 30 March 2014. The accompanying hardcover book, also titled "Typorama," will be released in North America on 8 April 2014 for $75. The volume was edited by Tino Grass and includes essays by Ellen Lupton, curator at Cooper–Hewitt, National Design Museum, and Alice Morgaine, art director at La Verrière, the hidden art gallery in the back of the Hermès store in Brussels.
Portrait image courtesy of © Carlos Freire 2013, all other photos by Nara Shin
The Danish designer/artist/musician on blurring the creative lines and making coffee
A look at Henrik Vibskov's Central Saint Martins student ID reveals a great deal about the formidable Danish designer: he's curiously shirtless and sporting a pretty progressive haircut (particularly for 1998), but most telling are the words "BA FASHION (MIXED MODE)." While this declaration outlined his university focus, Vibskov has seemingly always lived his life as a hyphenate, and his wonderfully outlandish runway shows reflect his conceptual hybrid thinking and motley talents.
Taking home first prize by breakdancing in an electric boogie competition at the mere age of five, Vibskov—now 42 years old—has since amassed a simultaneously impressive and intriguing biography, portfolio and unsurprisingly, an international cult following. A fashion designer, costume designer, contemporary artist, drummer, retailer, professor and potentially anything else he puts his mind to, Vibskov not only takes on almost any type of creative endeavor that piques his interest, he does it on a massive scale.
We've chronicled Vibskov's beautifully bizarre world in the past, but we recently had the chance to meet with him in person in Cape Town, where he gave a presentation at Design Indaba as part of a diverse group speaking about Danish design. Naturally, Vibskov took an unusual approach to the conference, remaining seated while speaking (which he explained was because he needed to pee) and regaling the audience with anecdotes about the times he's failed (like when his idea for a "mountain of boobies" ended up being just a small pile) and how he creatively overcomes those obstacles. Below we discuss process, reflection, making coffee and the importance of being yourself.
During your talk, you mentioned the fashion industry's push to do two seasonal collections a year. Do you dislike being on their schedule, or does that structure help in some ways?
I like it some ways. I have to say there’s many things in fashion that I maybe don’t like, but sometimes I also like the tempo, that you have to quickly reflect on things. But it's a really aggressive tempo. Somehow I like stuff happening and I like the tempo. In general though, I've always been really slow in school, and I didn't do my reports until the night before [they were due]: "I'll get up early!" Then I would put my alarm to five and then it's like, "Oh fuck, it's 6:30!" But I think if I didn't have a deadline I would be [whistles] on a spiral.
I'm usually working on 10 projects at once, but once I thought, "OK, instead of exhibitions, music touring, costumes I'm doing for the opera house, let me only focus on the show and doing a collection." Then I was like, "Now I'm ready to come up with the best idea ever, I have time." In the end—I don't know if it was a better project—but time-wise, I was using the same [amount of] time.
How do you find time to reflect if you’re always in motion? Or does it matter?
Oh, but I think when you are in motion… If you’re just lying there, you go inside your room and stay there for three months, I’m not sure you would [reflect]. When you’re in a flow—and for me it’s very important that I work on different things like music, or theater costumes or installations—because suddenly maybe you produce that thing. Because you're in a process, and there are a lot of things that can be used, from an object into a pattern, paper-cutting of the sign or more general ideas. But being in different processes can give something to you.
Do you try to out-do yourself each time? Or is it just whatever you're currently thinking about?
Yeah, that’s just—I really like a little bit of a twisted, surreal universe. So I don’t know, some of them are better than others. Some are rubbish. Some grow with time.
Music seems to be an important part of your life. Does that come into or inspire in some way the other parts of your creative output?
Sometimes the reason why I’m actually doing what I’m doing comes definitely from music and how we, as people, communicate through clothing, books, films. In those small social circles, how we define and are sending codes and signals out to other people about what we like. I think when I was 16 and suddenly all band members were dressed in black, looking to the same pointy shoes, or three years after we were a little more grungy, you know. Suddenly I was like "Hey!" I was suggesting some pretty wild things for some of those indie bands I was playing in, and some were completely off track and not very masculine either for some of those times.
But there were some kind of big connections between the music and how you appear. And I think suddenly it was like, "Yeah." I found it pretty interesting how looking into all different medias and how people are appearing, and music videos or artists doing films—like Matthew Barney—and creating identities. And that whole identity and how to communicate, suddenly I think made a purpose instead of only thinking about clothing in a commercial perspective.
Do you consider yourself an artist, a designer or a musician?
I got a little bit uncomfy and unsure when I did my presentation because all the other guys, they’re designers and focusing on emergency problems, a lot of doctors, hospitality, systems, reports and numbers. And they are designers but I’m also a designer but in that whole setup, it’s like, am I just a creative person or can I call myself a designer? I was trying to reflect quickly up there like, “Fuck, they’re all talking about doctors and emergency problems and how we can save the world. And I’m just sitting here, like a fashion designer,” you know. But then yesterday I skipped the conference and I went to a township; we were seeing a workshop and I just did a little walk through the whole thing and it’s really pretty hardcore, without water and electricity. But then I also saw some beautiful women and they were missing a lot of things in say, a normal society.
But their appearance—how they were appearing—was extremely important to them, how they were dressed and how they were appearing. And all of the small houses were extremely clean. The more aesthetic things are extremely important for mankind. And so I don’t have any medication projects that could save the world, but maybe the dream or the beautiful side of appearing, that’s maybe my… Because I think it can burn, it can be rainy and everything is going down, but you know, people would still be aware of how you are and how you’re appearing in that whole catastrophic scenario. And also, you know, humor. Make people laugh or do a project that’s maybe a bit far out—if you can manage to really give people a thought or a smile, that’s as important as whatever kind of medicine, you know.
You know, I’m not a painter, I'm not an artist in that perspective. Sometimes I try to stick to, "Hey, I’m a designer. I’m craftsmanship, I have my material." Because artists sometimes are just so fluffy and when you’re traveling around the world, there are so many artists that you’re like, “Hey, it’s really nice to be a craftsman, something that people can relate to.” I have some friends who are artists. But I’m actually doing design and I’m just trying to (for my own mind) stick to something because it’s simpler. Should it just be a creative mind? Sometimes I doubt what I should call myself. Do I really want to call myself an artist? Music I know. I can play music.
Does it matter what you call yourself? It's just a word right?
Yeah, I think it is. And I think in general, we’re all pretty unsure feeling and that’s why we’re wearing a hat—a duty—we do stuff that we feel safe doing. The titles are some kind of safety position. Sometimes people are very unsure and feeling unsafe about me because I’m doing many different things. And they really want to put me in that box: "Hey, you're a fashion designer, you cannot do this, you're not allowed to start doing hospital equipment or do art exhibitions." I’m pretty cool with it, I do a lot of different things. I have a big exhibition in Finland right now, a retrospective on all the things that I have done. And it’s going really well, but I can see some people are like, "What is this? Is this some kind of art trip? Oh, there is some clothing!"
What are you working on at the moment?
I'm working on costumes for Swan Lake at Den Norske Opera House. I'm working on three different ones actually. And then, I made a really stupid deal. I moved to Paper Island in the middle of Copenhagen. The paper distribution guys are struggling so they kind of moved out and there's this big island they've emptied and a few guys moved out there. I moved into the mechanic workshop where they used to fix all the trucks. But I also needed the small house that was next to it. But the owner didn't want to rent it. He said, "No no, I need a cafe." So I said, "I don't know what you're thinking, but I think I could do a pretty cool little little little coffee shop." He said OK, and now it's been eight months since I've been living out there, and he comes in his Porsche (which is very uncommon) and says, "So when can I have my first espresso?" Coming up!
So the plan is when I get back, we open the coffee shop. We have one week—it's in the contract. Typical me; getting involved in these kinds of stupid deals. We're not going to earn any money on it. And who's going to stand in that little coffee shop making coffee? So that's next week. We’ve been working on bits and bobs, it’s nearly there, but we just need to make coffee. Probably the coffee is going to be really bad.
I don't know, people can pull at you in so many different ways. But I'm just doing the things that I like, and I think that's kind of important. Maybe it goes wrong, but at least I'm trying.
Additional reporting by Evan Orensten; images courtesy of Henrik Vibskov
Greasing the wheels of greatness around the world with a new project each week—from experimental art to humanitarian causes
by Hans Aschim in Culture on 11 March 2014
Acting as a sort of reverse Kickstarter for do-gooders and action-oriented creatives worldwide, Awesome Without Borders (AWB) is non-profit funding mechanism like none other: there are few barriers to being eligible for the groups grants, whether it's a non-profit, an art project or something entirely outside the box, there's very little red tape to cut through. The NYC-based organization—a chapter of the Awesome Foundation—combines a truly global reach with a wide-ranging area of influence. The organization fosters creativity, innovation, community building and flat-out "awesome" ideas with no-strings-attached grants of $1000 to new organizations each week. Born out of a partnership with The Harnisch Foundation and working closely with Ruth Ann Harnisch, the foundation's president, AWB has funded projects ranging from site-specific light installations in Georgia to infant health initiatives in Afghanistan.
"The only negative part," says executive director Jenny Raymond, "is that we hear from so many projects." The AWB team fields around 50 applications per week, each vying for the one-off grant to make their project a reality. "The board has to reach a unanimous decision, even if I really go to bat for something, it's a group decision," Raymond adds with a laugh. The wide-reaching nature of the organization—both geographically and in terms of outreach—sets it apart in the world of cause and project funding. "Each project is so different, and all of the successful projects are things where we say, "Wow, that's awesome."
Upon browsing through some of the successfully funded projects, it's clear there are truly no limits to the "awesome." One grant helped NYC-based EpiBone—a biomaterial startup that allows patients to grow their own bones—move into a new lab at the Harlem Biospace. While Raymond struggles to pick a single favorite project, she sites the Blogologues—a female-led live comedy group that "performs the internet" live on stage from Craigslist missed connections to viral memes—as a standout. The group's funding led eventually to improv workshop curriculum development for teenage girls, with laughter an added benefit of the leadership and self-confidence the classes help to develop. "It's a totally bizarre niche but there's this strong value that came out of it. All from a one-off grant," Raymond says.
Check out all of Awesome Without Borders' funded projects online and keep an eye out for new grants added each week.
Images courtesy of Awesome Without Borders