5.27.16 / Roy Kuhlman: Modern Before His Time
One of my dreams was to art direct Grove Press‘ magazine, Evergreen Review, which I did for a rather short time. What I learned from the experience was I also wanted to design book covers like Grove’s genius-in-residence, Roy Kuhlman. That I never did. But I had the chance to meet him when I arranged to have him interviewed by Rick Poynor at one of the SVA Modernism & Eclecticism design history conferences. I don’t know how many in the audience appreciated Kuhlman’s brand of abstract expressionism and modernist typography, but I knew there was a timelessness about his myriad designs.
As the bio on roykuhlman.com states, “Kuhlman’s designs for Grove influenced generations of designers and transformed paperback book cover design. Steven Heller states that Kuhlman’s work ‘achieved a vibrancy that was not common at that period.’
“Originally trained as a fine artist, Kuhlman was primarily motivated by the experience of creating art and the appreciation of beauty and form. This generally superseded any dictates made by the client. As a result, he developed a reputation for being uncompromising and even difficult to work with. However, his work relationship with [Grove owner Barney] Rosset lasted two decades, no doubt largely due to Rosset’s respect for freedom of expression and his tolerance of eccentricity.”
Now, Kuhlman’s daughter Arden Riordan has opened the first part of a large collection of his remarkable work online. It is not yet complete and does not include all the useful analysis, but it is a gift for those, like me, who have long wanted to see everything, or as much as can be seen, of his Grove Press and other work.
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is the co-founder and the co-chair of the MFA Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts. He writes the Visuals column for the New York Times Book Review and the Graphic Content blog for T-Style. He is the author, coauthor, and/or editor of more than 120 books on design and popular culture, including the recent book Born Modern: The Life and Design of Alvin Lustig (Chronicle).