28 October 2009

April Greiman And Post-modernism Essay

Looking at April Greiman’s work it is easy to spot her as a contemporary designer. Greiman was instrumental in bringing in the style “New Wave” to the States. This style was a rebellious approach to compositions and type forms. Disregarding the practiced disciplines “New Wave” experimented with spacing, type weight, and angular type changing the way we viewed not only the words we read but how we read them and viewed the space they sit in. Throughout her work Greiman has pushed the boundaries of how we view type and composition, but the Swiss influences are often evident. Armin Hofmann, a tutor of Greiman was also one of the leading figures to develop the “Swiss Style” in the 1950’s. This was a style of typography that focused on cleanliness, legibility and objectivity. This was a great influence on Greiman, this method of viewing type and it’s space was the starting point Greiman used to move further, stretching the boundaries of view points to the point that it would become “New Wave” as we know it today. In the mid 80’s Greiman was able to take these ideals further with the introduction of the Macintosh (Mac) computer to design world. She was one of the first to embrace the new design tool leading the way for many more designers and acting as an icon for female designers across the globe.

The 1970’s saw Greiman graduate from the Kansas City Arts Institute before studying in Switzerland at the Allgemeine Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel. By 1975 she was working with Emilio Ambasz in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, before swiftly trading coast to open up her own graphic design studio “Made In Space, Inc.” by the end of ’76. Through out this time heavy oppressions seemed to lie over America. The Vietnam War was only just coming to an end and as it did Nixon’s “Watergate Scandal “ was just beginning to surface, the people were starting to feel disillusioned by their government and its propaganda. Work forces began to revolt and the 70’s saw many strikes across a variety of businesses. The people of America were fed up with the conditions they had been told to live with and decided to make a stand. In a graphic sense Greiman could be said to have made this stand in her own way through contemporary, fresh and rebellious type forms that threw away old methods and made a stand on open mindedness and new ways of thinking.

The anger of the 70’s ebbed into the consumerist 80’s and brought with it a return to economic growth. The “War on Drugs” had accelerated and the general attitude of society was changing. People had more of an inward attitude based on materialistic goods and self-image. These persuasions were helped by the advertising industry utilizing TV and movie stats of the time to advertise “must have” products in a way not seen since the 20’s, selling happiness at a price. I don’t see Greiman’s work as a reflection on this aspect of her surrounding culture at that time, but rather focuses more on the concepts behind the individual piece while reflecting the excitement surrounding the new digital media available to the design industry. It wasn’t until the 80’s that we really started to see women becoming more accepted and present within the work place. Concepts such as addressing women as Ms instead of Miss or Mrs were brought forward in the search for gender equality and as a stand against conventional views attached to the status of their title. This attitude towards gender (also referred to as post-modern feminism) is a strong example of post-modern ideals pushing through, as women were once again making a stand against the traditions of society in order to gain equality and their own individual identity. Greiman could be considered an icon in this respect especially to the women of this time; boldly tackling the challenges of the existing industry while embracing the new often quicker and more openly than most around her, producing prolifically and building up her own studio from the ground she never let society or situation oppress her and has followed her ideas and intuition throughout her working life, becoming a pioneer in her field.

From the commission of the 1984 Olympic Games poster in 1981 through to the work she produced for the Walter Art Center travelling exhibition 1989 Greiman had produced many ground breaking contemporary pieces not least of which was inspired by the arrival of the Mac. Greiman had been experimenting with ways of producing her work years before the mac’s arrival. Even from the beginning she was a pioneer in influencing people to experiment with their equipment and by trying to utilize the latest technology as her latest design tool. These examples were created by a couple of years before we were gifted the mac. They are experimental pages created using an analog computer, synthesizers, and live video input. Today these images could be easily reproduced on a Macintosh but to see the amount of creativity and thought that went into producing these experiments is inspiring. April Greiman has studied and worked through the postmodernism age, and while gaining from the reproducibility of art work also seemed to work under the postmodernism ideal of image consumerism and as explained (Appignanesi : 1995 p 49) reproducing products that would replace a space of reality with a hyper reality

When you look at an early piece of Greiman’s work (pre Mac) you immediately notice her familiar bold style. As well as using a variety of tools to create her work you will also see a midst the seemingly chaotic layout, a mix of style within her work. A mix of Art Deco and Art&Craft or Ornamental Pattern making come to mind. Bringing different styles of design together this way is otherwise known as “Radical Eclecticism”, a common theme in a lot of post-modern design. In other similar works Greiman often included photography (provided by associate Jayme Odgers). Situated within her work it added a sense of surrealism and another element to her style of “Radical Eclecticism”. As you can see in her work for wet magazine (1979), Greiman was already comfortable with pushing the boundaries of design. Throughout her work she has always challenged aspects such as space and linearity, and seems to have always held this post-modern view of their being no true structure to design and that there is no set path; the way forward is experimentation

(Post Mac) Looking at the poster “does it make sense?” 1986 you can see it as another example of “Radical Eclecticism” from April Greiman. The mixes in style in this piece stretch from Neolithic style illustrations to contemporary photography, digital manipulation and crossing fields’ incorporates scientific diagrams within the composition. I like this piece, as it’s a collection of elements relating to man, from the beginning of our time to present. Segments and ideas are pulled apart and pieced back together in an abstract way (a process and technique Greiman often used in a lot of her work), and then we’re asked, “does it make sense?”. Although she had used pixilation in her design long before the Mac came along the new technology definitely helped make this process easier to produce. It is in works such as this one that you can appreciate the economical value of the Macintosh as a design tool. There was fewer amounts of paper and waste at the end of experimentation processes as the design world were working towards manipulating light instead of matter. “Globally, Culturally and economically we are all moving from working with matter to working with light. With the Macintosh we’re manipulating light” (Farrelly : 1998 p8). This comment paints Greiman as an “Economical Post-modernist” of her decade, focusing on not only how or what she is producing but also how it would affect the world and the people around her. This is not the attitude of society that jumps to mind when I think of the 80’s, it stands as an example of Greiman’s open mindedness and spirituality, something that is evident in her life as well as work. It was shortly after producing this piece that in 1987 Greiman rightly won the National Endowment for the Arts grant for computer graphic studies and within the same year was also awarded a Hallmark Fellowship.

April Greiman, Design Quarterly N.o.133, Poster, 1986

By the beginning of the 90’s Greiman was working with “Sci-Arc” a Californian Institute of Architecture established around the 1970’s. Up until meeting Greiman the institute had not discovered their own graphic identity. This was a major commitment on Greiman’s part; she adopted the position and with her own style created their fixed identity as you see it today. The logo itself pulls at a post-modern attitude towards form. The name stretched and twisted, not only does away the with conventional ideas held around type but also, as it appears as a 3D object we are reminded of a flat piece of wood or metal that has been twisted before being captured for the image. This gave it another quality with its concept as the institute it was designed for study and develops the manipulation of such materials. Greiman to this day is a prolific designer, always looking for the new and unexplored regions of design and it’s processes and still displaying that Greiman energy and post-modern spirit within her work.

Book Refrance:

“No More Rules. Graphic Design And Post-moderism”

Rick Prynor

2003/Yale University Press


“Introducing Postmoderism”

Richard Appignanesi

1995/Tien Wah Press


“April Greiman. Floating Ideas Through Time And Space”

Liz Farrelly

1998/Thames and Hudson Ltd. London


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