whimsically condemned

Jesee Marinoff Reyes ( Jesse Marinoff Reyes Design )

The Condemned of Altona (cover and spine-treatment)
Alfred A. Knopf, 1961
Design, Illustration + Typography: Paul Rand (1914-1996)

Chantry:not bad. if this 'rand' fella keeps it up, he may have a career. i just hope he doesn't sell out this cool style for the big corporate bucks, ya know? clever kid, nonetheless...

In most cases allowing a designer to redraw the company colophon (in this case the Borzoi dog logo for Knopf) in scribble would be a little frowned upon (less so then than now), but in this case it was Rand who happened to design the modern mark for the publisher—back in 1945. Rand, of course, became a bigtime corporate designer (not my favorite amongst his catalog raisonne) but I do admit his earlier, Modernist approach was much nicer and more interesting than his later logo work (all things being equal, his late work was still better than most corporate branding at the time of his death) which had a sense of illustrative whimsicality or zen simplicity that got leached-out as he became more (self?) serious about it. The “early-period” work include the ABC television logo (1962), Esquire magazine’s “Esky” (Esquire Man) mark (1938), Smith Kline & French Laboratories (1945), Westinghouse (1960), and United Parcel Service (1961—vastly superior to their redesign from a few years back). I do like 1972′s IBM mark and 1985′s Yale University Press colophon—but at the same time his late-work includes Enron (1996), NEXT computers (1986), and Accent Software (1994). BLECH! Sorry, worshippers of all things Rand. But I digress…

When I mention Rand’s sense of “illustrative whimsicality,” it is a thought that colors his work especially on book covers— Rand excelled at this, likely because at the time he began working on covers in 1944 the field was somewhat wide open and the ability to stretch the form with a relatively light touch (for him) was more readily accomplished. Modernism was still a new concept in book packaging and you could count on one hand the designers who were doing something that was less the standard of the day and more innovative as actual design, as well as less driven by painted illustration and more design-driven in form—of course, the master of this was Alvin Lustig (1915-1955). Even when you include emigré European designers like George Salter (1897-1967), whose American book design work became more subdued and “tasteful” than his “hipper” (and wilder) European work of the 1920s and 1930s, more a modern extension of the traditional book arts than a Modernist rethinking of the medium. Rand’s contributions to the medium were to the contrary, aggressively yet appropriately Modern—a cover or jacket needn’t be slavishly literal (as most covers of the time generally were), but rather convey mood or interpret content allegorically.

Color, shapes, and how lettering was presented, could evoke the cues to the viewer without resorting to the paint-by-numbers approach common then. Yes, one could reference a McKnight Kauffer or the occasional incursion into book design by master poster designers like Jean Carlu, but spend some time around enough extant 1940s and 1950s book jackets and you’ll know what I’m talking about. What is a wonder is how the work of Lustig and Rand end up looking more contemporary than most contemporary book design does today (whereas even the wonderful Salter’s work of the 1940s-1960s looks more embedded in that era comparatively). Steven Heller has written that as avatars of the modern in book packaging, Rand and Lustig were, as like-minded competitors, in a dead heat. With all due respect to my subject today, I have to give that horse race to Lustig—but in the scheme of things the two were the Pillars of Hercules in book design from whom we can still learn much and still be inspired by without sentiment and without being fooled by name-brand bona fides.
…..Nope, it’s all him. I see what you mean though, but Steinweiss was always more mannered with his scrawl, and Rand almost “inappropriately” gestural and spontaneous. Now, Nathan Gluck on the other hand…!…I still had my analytic hat on. I get it. Actually, I was having a similar conversation with someone about Frank Frazetta. I think the big difference between us and the old guys, is the old guys (mostly) pretended “originality” (whatever that is) whereas “we” tend to be more obvious about acknowledging our influences….It’s one of my all-time faves of his work. Of course, everytime I look at the cover, the title reads “The Condemned of ALTOONA” (my in-laws are from Altoona, PA).

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