The poster in the featured pic above (70 x 100 cm format) was commissioned by Franco Grignani to Heinz Waibl (1931-2020) for his “Comunicazione Sperimentale TYPE” exhibition at the Quanta Gallery in Milan in 1984 (50 years of aesthetic photography experience), as he didn’t want to design the poster for his own exhibition. Since Grignani wrote a sort of “programmatic speech”, they decided together to leave the full text on the poster.
Franco Grignani and Heinz Waibl had met at the Salto brothers’ bookstore in via Santo Spirito in Milan, which in the 1950s was a real gathering place to stay updated on art, graphic and industrial design. In 1974 Heinz Waibl was proposed by Franco Grignani as a member of the prestigious AGI-Alliance Graphique Internationale. For Heinz Waibl, Grignani wrote in 1988 the essay “The poster artist began” (“Cominciarono i cartellonisti”) about the origins and development of modern graphics.
Type. The typography in the optical filter.
It is crucial to immediately distinguish the different areas of typography that have arisen from specific applications, in order to avoid forcing this immense matter to a circumscribed and limiting judgment.
First of all, 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.
For some time now, letterpress has lost its “mechanical periodicity” because it is conditioned by the photo-composition which regulates the alphabetic distances with irregular micro-visual tricks that are not perceived by the human eye, and these optical freedoms have also influenced the macro-signs to alter the spatial forces when they make you feel the “differences” that chase each other in the area of the reading field, increasing the formal tension and the intensity of the meaning of the word.
Over the last few years, there has been a flourishing of new alphabets no longer subject to the veto on the difficulty of reading because through our continuous experiences of new graphical elements, logos, signs, free graphic expressions, the eye has acquired a greater interpretative speed in reading.
When in 1964 I designed the “Magnetic” font for the first time, inspired by the IBM numbers, printed with magnetic inks, I was doubtful about its lack of legibility (although I had used them for the cover of “Pubblicità in Italia 1964-1965”) but in 1966 these characters were taken up in America, transferred to photocomposition and immediately applied to the futuristic titling of thousands of publications.
My personal research, which had gradually been developed since 1953 in this sector, was the projection of alphabetic signs through optical filters, to obtain the sensation of “dramatic distance”. With these techniques, the sign becomes “physical” not for the matter but by the charge of thrusts and counter-thrusts that make the human eye see through emotion and stress that create traumatic values and steal the gaze, making one feel a perceptive discomfort expressed in anxiety.
This research was not driven by the need for innovation at all costs, but an analysis of the situation of typographical reading influenced by the mechanical speed of the means of locomotion, or by the interference of transparent surfaces in architectures, or by the recovery of forms reflected in curved and mirror surfaces.
Anyone who analyzes the future of written communication can hardly fail to be dismayed by the enormous, irrational, emphatic consumption of symbols. Avalanches of signs, images, and illustrations absorb about 70% of the space in the mass media, taking away the exercise of control over the processes of memory and accustoming our minds to superficial observation.
The operational area of advertising is becoming increasingly extensive and the creative effort of specialists is now not capable of producing enough to differentiate two similar products. In this world of images, which is reaching hypertrophic values, the search for new physical and constructional sign values is essential.
Even modern graphic design, because of its extreme simplification, risks a unification of the signs that inevitably leads to similarity. It has been written that in the future the image will replace the written word, too, but today it can be said that typography can be the subject and can replace figuration when it applies dynamic anthropometric expressiveness to remember the human body with its sinuosity.
In the 19th century, typography entered advertising as a support for the figuration and occupied the space left free; now typography is a violent image in terms of color and three-dimensionality, with the function of stopping the reader-pedestrian or the motorist in the city’s traffic channels. Today cities have two architectures, one physical and the other made up of printed words and neons; perhaps, speaking of perspective is improper, we need to speak of a projective or “imaginative tension” where men live their day and night life in the channels of the street flow.
The graphic designer, dealing with these problems, relies on a scientic-visual culture: he investigates the space around him, which reveals itself as a radial expansion.
Until a few years ago, modern graphic design was administered on modules, seeking order, harmony of composition, resulting in a static concept. Now, however, it is not looking for balance, stability, but a field of visual stimuli in a continuous transformation that reinvigorates the possibility and quality of its sign from time to time.
What is distortion if not the infiltration of an “experimental” spirit towards the search for altered, decomposed, abstract, and logically autonomous elements? What is tension, if not reading on the physical arc of the sign of the elements of the fourth psychophysical dimension, an alkaloid for the reading of virtual movements that increase the intensity of meaning? …
Type is a selection of examples, some already applied, others in reserve, of everything that can be obtained by seeing “beyond” the gaze, a troubled but free, inventive, paradoxical, inexplicable, and very rational effort, a show of ideas that nourish the imagination.
These experiments, published in all the graphic magazines, have, in the end, influenced other graphics in other countries as well.
It seems appropriate to me now to show them here to indicate a culture of vision open to the intellectual improvement of all graphics that want to be called modern.
Franco Grignani, March 15, 1984
Quanta, via Fatebenefratelli 15, 20121 Milan
[featured pic and original italian text from: AIAP / CDPG Centro di Documentazione sul Progetto Grafico, courtesy of Lorenzo Grazzani]