Posters By The Gross

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Richard Niessen of Holland’s Niessen and de Vries is a master poster designer. His posters were recently displayed in an exhibition ‘A Hermetic Compendium of Typographic Masonry,’ which has given birth to a book, the topic of my conversation with him today.

Le Havre-03
Le Havre-04

What triggered this volume?I was asked to do an exhibition for Une Saison Graphique, a graphic design festival in Le Havre, France. After a long long design process, I came up with the idea of a traveling exhibition consisting of 26 posters (an alphabet) and 108 wooden sticks (3 constellations of 26 [again: alphabet] + 10 [numbers] = 36). The exhibition is amazing; you can look at it endlessly, every angle gives you a new perspective. To accompany the exhibition I made this ‘catalog.’

Le Havre-06

There are 26 serigraphs—how did you determine how to present them?I reprinted the 26 silkscreen prints in offset, using eight Pantone colors and the original color separations. On the backside there is an alphabet as well, lines forming letters, and in these lines (a link to the streets in my previous exhibition ‘TM-City’) there are my sources.

Your posters have a vital kinetic quality. Typographically, what do you want to impart to a viewer?I would like the viewer to get lost in the work, to be disorientated, and then slowly find the way, like a puzzle; they will collect bits of information and put it together, to decipher the building bricks, realizing they can build it the way they want. So I am not the ‘all-knowing’ designer, sorting out everything for the viewer; I am just as puzzled.


There is also an “anti-design” aspect to the work, clearly rooted in the history of design but at the same time rebelling against it. Would you agree with that assessment?Hmm, I am not sure what you mean. Maybe the randomness of the work? Yes, I like it that it is actually not designed as a static end-result, but like a snapshot, one moment in a sequence. It could have been completely different. Of course that’s not completely true, but that’s the kind of balance it should have.

Where do you position yourself and your work in the continuum of design?I am a big admirer of Eduardo Paolozzi, Ettore Sottsas and, closer to home, my former teacher Bas Oudt. I took the term ‘Typographic Masonry’ from Th. Wijdeveld, a dutch architect designer of the ’20s. More contemporary, I think Metahaven and Moniker are doing really interesting things, and I am intrigued by the work of Will Holder. I realize that sounds like almost everything …


Don’t Miss the Poster Design AwardsHammerpress, one of the most influential letterpress shops in the world, won the HOW Poster Design Awards back in 2009. Do you have what it takes to win? Enter by Nov. 3 to find out.


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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →