Alfieri & Lacroix (to be pronounced as ‘Lah-crwah‘) occupies a place of great protagonism in the history of the Italian graphic industry.
Founded in Milan in 1896 by Edoardo Lacroix and Emilio Alfieri, Alfieri & Lacroix was a major print house specialized in fine art printing. Lacroix was the technician and Alfieri was the financier and administrator. Since 1923, the management of the photoengraving department was directed by Dario Morani, a pharmacist and sportswriter who later joined as general manager. In 1924, in addition to Morani, Antonio Crespi, who purchased the society from its founders, hired his former military school classmate Antonio Boggeri, a musician and photographer, to work alongside with him. Boggeri learned to manage the printout in its complete process, from design to finished product, and by 1933 he opened the legendary Studio Boggeri, a masterpiece in the history of graphic design, one of the best and most important design studios in the world, with collaborators such as Albe Steiner, Aldo Calabresi, Antonio Boggeri himself, Armando Milani, Bob Noorda, Bruno Monguzzi, Bruno Munari, Carlo Vivarelli, Enzo Mari, Erberto Carboni, Ezio Bonini, Fortunato Depero, Franco & Jeanne Grignani, Imre Reiner, Marcello Nizzoli, Max Huber, Remo Muratore, René Martinelli, Roberto Sambonet, Walter Ballmer, Xanti Schawinsky, and many others.
Alfieri & Lacroix pioneered a then-new form of printing known as zincography, or photogravure. In the postwar years, Morani needed to restore the printing house’s status as a high-quality commercial firm that remained technologically cutting-edge, and he turned to another Studio Boggeri collaborator to help: Franco Grignani. As the Ticino-born Bruno Monguzzi reported, Boggeri’s belief was that perfection, like Swiss credo, was not enough in graphics (“the cobweb theory“). “Normally the graphic composition in Italy and Switzerland (taken as a model) tended towards a distribution of elements in a position of rest. But communication itself is dynamic.” [from the Italian-French magazine “arte e società”, 6/7, 1973]. “Though some trends in the world of design, in the teaching that is done in the schools, are for stressing the need for balance among similar spaces, to produce a feeling of contemplative motionlessness, all the rules of strict form and all balanced structurings yield silence.” [from the text read on the occasion of the “Vision 65“, first World Congress on New Challenges to Human Communication”, Carbondale, U.S.A., 1965].
In his own way, Grignani was able to “de-sterilize the rigor”, and in a happy and unrepeatable period within the so-called “milanesi terribili”, he participated in the fusion of two cultures: “the Swiss, logical and constructive, and the Italian, poetic and libertarian”.
With a modern promotional concept, the advertising campaign carried out by Franco Grignani (all in black with often no more than three colors) was worth the recognition of the graphic magazines of all the world, the gold medal of the 11th National Award for specialized advertising for technical magazines (“XI premio Nazionale della pubblicità per l’annuncio specializzato per riviste tecniche”) in 1954, and, in 1967, the highly coveted recognition merit of the ICTA – International Center for the Typographic Arts – of New York for the “Typomundus 20“. Various A&L ads were exhibited on the occasion of solo and group exhibitions in the USA in the 1960s. An A&L ad of 1965 is still exhibited at MoMA in NY.
“The phenomenon is rare, perhaps even unique: a series of graphic designs intended to advertise a large company in the graphic industry and having little or no direct reference to the product, but making continual allusion to the medium used”, wrote in 1966 the art critic Gillo Dorfles in the Swiss magazine Graphis n° 126 (a periodical committed to presenting and promoting the work of exceptional talent in international graphic design, advertising, photography, art, and illustration). “[…] Anyone who glances through the complete series of these designs is getting an authentic lesson in the use and manipulation of the graphic medium for the purpose of investing it with aesthetic and informatory value. […] to my mind the really outstanding aspect of his work is the metaphoric quality he lends to every composition. The graphic sign is almost always shifted from its normal connotation to another, so that it assumes a metaphorical, transposed, metonymical meaning which may either evoke a smile or, by its elements of surprise, may effectively put over a piece of information. […] No other documentation could demonstrate quite as impressively to the reader just what potentialities a letterpress and offset printing establishment can offer to an artist who is gifted and perspicacious enough to make full use of them.”
In 1965, during the already mentioned first World Congress on New Challenges to Human Communication (“Vision 65”), Grignani stated: “In 1952 I was asked by a large Italian printing establishment, Alfieri and Lacroix, to devise a programme of advertising. This firm, after it came through the war, had been built up again and had doctored its war wounds. It was established in 1890 and had always been considered a pioneer in the printing field for having been the first to introduce certain technical procedures up to that time unknown in Italy. When it was made over new it needed to get back to its position of leadership. A commercial publicity house would have had few developmental connections and this would have been reflected under the heads of quality of work, service and drawing power, and the competition could have talked along just the same lines. Needing to find my directions in the advertising world and among technicians and graphists, that is, in a category of people with specialized training, I suggested that I be allowed a certain latitude in which to manipulate a bit, so as to dig into the typographic business and prepare an entirely new language based on experimental graphics. Here was the problem: What was this new typography to be? How could I visualize the new scripts as regards speed and reading time? What should the form and design of the letters be like? What should this new symbolic language be? Alteration of vision as seeking and as expressive comment? How to define the boundaries between signs and space? How to create and then refer to my symbols? How to conduct studies on tensions and on graphic induction? This kind of graphics taught me freedom and courage; it also aided the experimentation of other graphists. I obtained the “Golden Palms” for the quality and originality of my work and it brought Alfieri and Lacroix very great prestige.”
Later, in 1984, he pointed out: “typography was born to be read through the stripping of the sign from its visual form, encoding the letters, and extracting their meaning. The written word, in this case, is not remembered as an image but it remains only a word that is understood as an idea. The same is true of the typeface for a page in a book or newspaper, where the voids and the solids of the letters, the justification or length of the line, the body or size of the font, the interlining or the space between the lines, the margins of the page, combine to provide those basic ingredients that make reading easy and inviting. But my professional interests, aesthetic and creative, have always been directed, experimentally, towards a typography of highly visual appeal in favor of communication in an environment saturated with signs, such as, for example, in the advertising sector, where the sentences are designated to be short and consistent, sometimes assuming the role of figuration.”
Grignani also wrote the copy, creating a contrapuntal relation between the words and the visual images; the reference to the futurist “paroliberismo” (“words-in-freedom”) is evident, but it is not limited to the creation of more or less experimental images, establishing instead a real poetic dialogue:
|“Millions of prints from the Alfieri & Lacroix superprint: to hold in your hands, to devour with your eyes, to keep in collections, to remember forever, to talk to everyone about”|
|“Typolytozincography is a neologism only for Alfieri & Lacroix; it means a complete cycle of the graphical activity. Alfieri & Lacroix was the first in Italy to make the coloured clichè, now, in technological century it is still the first as regards to method, organization, equipment and quality of printing”|
|“Continuous changing enveloping geometry, translated physically into its dynamic existence and by print quality. Image that comes out of perfect machines driven by new techniques. Everyone knows that it is a print of Alfieri and Lacroix typolytozincography.”|
|“Seeing beyond is linked to the experimental mind of the man; it is therefore evident that there is a super sign reality that graphics enhance and make fantastic, as fantastic as the print quality of Alfieri & Lacroix.”|
|“The Italian graphic designers know the history of the sixty-five years of A&L: a tree with large branches, a symbol of its mechanical power and its organization. Today, A&L, proud of its past but sensitive to new aesthetic and visual problems, chooses its graphics advertising with a formula cited among the most daring.”|
|“bump, break, huge, rubble, nightmare, collapse, black, stormy, heavy, ooh! useless, wall, horrid, roar, disaster, structure, escape, gasp, load, boulder, ruin, GRAPHICS CREATE EMOTION”|
|“Folded, embossed, striped, moiré, stretched, calendered, satin, glossy, coated, monolucid, dressed, half-fine, laid, triple glued, watermarked, canvas, parchment, colored, gilded, silvered paper, for printing quality of Alfieri and Lacroix.”|
|“Yesterday Optical Art was born and that was announced by the American magazine LIFE on December 28th. In this space, every month and for years, Alfieri & Lacroix proposes visual problems in a very suitable area: graphics. Alfieri & Lacroix is lively and modern, associating communication problems with the most rational and complete organization for quality printing.”|
|“We ask modern graphics for kinetic forces on the verge of fading the image, where the eye draws on a more exciting visual material. We ask the reproductive medium for the accuracy of the zincographic textures, the printing, for a fluid inking and a silky application of the color. We ask Alfieri & Lacroix about its quality.”|
|“The future of typography is in the future of the man and we know no rest; seventy years of life, development, organization, equipment, updating, level, research. Yesterday, today, tomorrow: Alfieri & Lacroix, with the new, the best, the safety, the guarantee, the quality, the support for the solution of every graphic problem.”|
|“Blow the signs on the cottons on the silks. The capsule at the apogee dizzies over the abyss. They swell the maths on the ribbons of light years. Neutrons boil in polymatic cities. Dreams with a hundred zeros make the wheels of engines – abstruse verses saved if well printed”|
|“This too is an allusive, imaginative, emotional, evocative symbolic tale: The beauty of typography lies in its becoming in the relations of sign and space in its exactness imprinted in its rhythmic colors an orderly and safe work in the Alfieri and Lacroix rotary presses.”|
|“The sign was born with man, first scratched on the walls of the cave, now printed at unexpected speeds on precious papers, tiny or gigantic, and enriched by the suggestion of colors. To express its subtle language, advertising graphics find powerful help in modern typography. A large graphic body ensures lasting effectiveness to your propaganda message through sharp, elegant characters and images reproduced with fidelity.”|
|“The fate of a bad print is irremediably sealed. In the advertising field, an efficient idea and a happy setting for the artistic part are not enough. These elements are subordinate to the graphic realization, because a badly executed print irritates the sight and alienates the sympathy. The vast availability of an expert and powerfully updated graphic complex ensures that precision of results which, through the clear elegance of the characters and the fidelity of the colors, will make your propaganda message appreciated and remembered.”|
|“He said!!! and the loaves multiplied … Signs, writings, images were printed and multiplied to thousands, from Alfieri & Lacroix presses to millions from Alfieri & Lacroix presses typolytozincography in Milan”|
|“Advertising communication is grafted on sensory experiences lived and cataloged along the life span of an individual and formal traces interfere with each other based on their similarity, sometimes the structural ambiguity of certain graphic signs used as reactive can generate infinite interpretations, but an exact simple living reality is the quality in the printing of Alfieri and Lacroix.”|
|“order, logic, disposition, duty, harmony, location, coordination, measure, system, symmetry, rule, method – quality constitution, talent, form, grade, value, prerogative, requirement, worth, essential peculiarity in the printing of Alfieri & Lacroix typolytozincography in Milan”|
|“AT THIS POINT ARE WE STILL ARTISTS? CREATIVITY AND TECHNIQUE TAKE OVER TO MODIFY THE MEDIA, THE INVESTIGATIONS, THE SENSATIONS – ALIVE TYPOGRAPHY APPROACHES THESE PROBLEMS AND SOLVES THEM LIKE ALFIERI AND LACROIX SOLVES TECHNICAL PRINTING PROBLEMS TO ALWAYS GIVE QUALITY”|
|“Critics look with four eyes, the Alfieri & Lacroix print does not fear ten: perfect, silky, full, precise, lively, right, true, intense, technical, modern.”|
|“the graphic man – now the man walks on the lines, darting on the arrows, flutters with a tie in circles, admires textured paintings, types, offers geometry and knows the quality of printing by Alfieri & Lacroix”|
|“violent, lacerated typography, typography of changes, of protest, visual, persuasive, sign typography, quality typography Alfieri Lacroix typolytozincography in Milan”|
|“Modern graphics have always tried to propose the plastic dimension in every visual organization. On the sheet, the illusory of the third dimension enhances the physical touchability of things, the images projected within the eye take on material qualities, and, with the virtual movement, the figural influences are emphasized in the unconscious of man. So does the exact and constant printing of the signs, of the colors spread in their tissue structures, velvety or shiny, the discomfort of relationships in the iterative typographic sign. This is the print in Alfieri & Lacroix quality.”|
|“Man organizes in the vortex of his world unified entities called visual images. In graphics, these visual units are signs that guide us in the graphic space. Print quality is a correlative problem and the most prestigious emblem on the Alfieri & Lacroix flag”|
|“It seems that the introduction of the liberty memory is causing modern graphics to tremble. We observe the vigor, the freedom of invention that are manifested in these characters; can we forget, now, that graphics are above all a visual spectacle? – Your problems, with Alfieri & Lacroix for the future of graphics”|
|“The print quality offers the inductive physical value to the observation of the sign, the desirable and the persuasive to the language, style and peculiarity to the proposer. Alfieri & Lacroix only prints quality. – inductive power.”|
|“New technical and psychological procedures are being introduced into the new graphic language so that the eye, already excited by shapes and images of the world around it, is able to capture a sign. The dynamic and tensive component with its visual absorption charges the sign of apparent motion. This problem of graphic creativity needs a great reproductive quality: Alfieri & Lacroix!”|
|“Millennia of civilization have produced these signs. Today they regulate the whole life of man and for advertising they constitute the notes of a very high song. Fast and powerful machines have been built to spread their effectiveness more and more, which you too can assure your propaganda messages, entrusting their realization to a graphic organization with long experience and powerfully updated. Alfieri & Lacroix.”|
|“the fear of abstract emotion – how much beauty in the limpid and pure sign that we recreate from the usual image. graphics invents a new space and a new time, loves the absolute idea, the figurative emblem. we seek the truth, behind the facade of things worn out by words and the indifferent lazy eye”|
more A&L ads (amongst the 163 produced in 27 years) in the Gallery…
[pics and original italian texts from AIAP / CDPG Centro di Documentazione sul Progetto Grafico, courtesy of Lorenzo Grazzani]