Written By by Published on October 3, 2011 at 6:24 pm
By THERESA TAYLOR
PUBLISHED OCTOBER 3, 2011
One exhibit at the Esther Massry Gallery is graphic designer Michael Bierut’s “30 Years 90 Notebooks.” This exhibit is a collection of notebooks that the artist has amassed over the past 30 years, mostly taken at meetings and including everything from numbers to sketches to ideas to random thoughts. It is an inside look at the thought processes of one of the world’s most recognized graphic designers.
At an artist’s talk that followed his gallery reception, Bierut recounted, with much humor, what inspired him to become a graphic designer. While a young boy, Bierut heard his father observe the logo on a Clark truck, and how the “L” came up under the “A” and held it up. He had an epiphany, as if he had had a sickness for which the cure had just been diagnosed, and began to immerse himself in graphic arts. Bierut attended the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, where he says he received a poor education, not because of the college, but because of his single minded pursuit of graphic arts.
Over the years, Bierut, of the renowned Pentagram design firm, has won hundreds of awards for his designs. His vast and diverse clientele includes everyone from the Museum of Sex, to the New York Times, to The Jets, and to United Airlines. Bierut shared his design experience with the Minnesota Children’s Museum. The building’s architects had used a lot of circles and balls in its design. Bierut incorporated hands holding balls into their logo, but decided to use real children as hand models for his design. The hand logo was then used to designate the five floors of the museum, with children’s hands lifting a finger for each floor. This motif continues throughout the museum, and includes hands holding a ticket on the auditorium doors that is placed so that the ticket visually tears in half when a child enters or exits through the doors. These are just a few of the many ways Bierut used this logo for this client.
At the Museum of Arts and Design on Columbus Circle in New York City, the square building inspired the artist to design a logo using circles and squares, developing a MAD font from this design that carried over into museum merchandise.
Another challenging project that Bierut took on was designing a big sign for the New York Times that had to be stuck onto the building’s 8th Avenue side. The sign needed to be visible day and night, yet couldn’t impede the view of the workers inside the building. Bierut made a model out of dowel rods. The finished project is made up of over 800 pieces stuck to giant rods. Bierut had really wanted to make a white on white sign that mimicked blind embossing, and that could or couldn’t been seen, depending on the way that light was reflecting; then he realized that he was asking his stunned client to spend a lot of money on a logo that no one might be able to read. He usually sits in on meetings his clients have to get a better understanding of them, including watching the New York Jets in training.
Along his journey, Bierut has learned a few adages, including that without problems, there are no solutions. Bierut recalled the time he had a really great idea he couldn’t get to work. One of his partners suggested that maybe it was because the idea wasn’t a good one to begin with. He forged on, until one day when he remembered a quote from his partner’s husband: “If you are digging a hole in the wrong place, and you keep on digging it deeper…” He realized the futility in what he was trying to accomplish. Bierut said he has done a lot of work that has ended up in garbage cans. The idea is to just keep doing what you do, until you become better and better. Art requires discipline, and Bierut talked about the Hundred Days Project where people commit to doing something for 100 days. It could be related to graphic arts or not. People who were still in the running after 25 days could almost always be depended on to complete the entire assignment.
When asked by audience member is he every feels stuck by a client, or if he had any advice for artists who feel stuck or stifled in what they want to do to advance their work, Bierut replied that “graphic designers are always at the mercy of other people” and that sometimes he might feel like “I have this great idea and my client won’t let me do it.” However, it’s moments like these that cause him to “push harder…you can’t climb a staircase straight up…it needs landings.” As far as feeling “stuck” on a project. Bierut reminded the audience that “even the best hitter in baseball still strikes out six out of ten times,” and he encouraged artists to find mentors.
The exhibit of Bierut’s work can be seen at the Esther Massry Gallery until Sunday, Jan 22. A commemorative poster of “30 Years 90 Notebooks” is available for purchase at the gallery. Signed copies are twenty dollars, and unsigned copies are fifteen