The Daily Heller: Martin Kaye Put the ‘K’ in Punk Type

Posted inThe Daily Heller
Thumbnail for The Daily Heller: Martin Kaye Put the ‘K’ in Punk Type

There are many designers who embody the times and movements in which they practiced. Martin Kaye was one such. … So how come I've never heard of him before?

I was recently introduced to his work through Andrew Krivine, punk ephemera maven and author of Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die: Punk & Post-Punk Graphics 1976–1986.

I cannot say I am a fan of the work, but punk was difficult on my eyes and ears in general. Yet the hard-edged vernacular visual intensity that define Kaye's raw approach and the period overall represent an historical black hole that Krivine has ably been filling with his book and exhibitions. Kaye's posters are almost entirely typography-based, but the quality of the screenprinting is excellent and many of his posters included "some of the most beautiful, subtle color transitions I have ever seen," says Krivine.

Born in 1932 in London, Kaye was well-known for work made for Paradiso in Amsterdam from 1972 until 1983. Kaye's studio was in the basement of the club. He printed posters while artist were performing right above him—including Iggy Pop, The Police, Blondie, John Cale, the Stranglers and many others. Elven-hundred of these posters appear in the Stichting Martin Kaye Alphabet Index & Library collection managed by Affichemuseum in Hoorn, The Netherlands. Quoting a former assistant, Krivine states, "he was always smoking and had those gross nicotine-stained fingers. … He had no interest in bathing, just a rather filthy, grumpy guy." This description seems to underscore his nature as a hoarder who created a catalog of 60,000 typefaces—many that look unwashed.

His posters were known for flat and split fountain silkscreen color, and his type work included unique complete alphabets. His only book, Facade AlphaBets et Cetera, published in 1985 (some pages appear below), is the singular document of his typographic proclivities. Krivine loaned me his copy, in which it is noted: "He hand-cut the designs in 'red film,' a method by which screenprint templates would be made. The intricacy of his designs and skill would astound anyone seeing him at work, the results of which would shine out from poster stands all over Amsterdam."

Kaye was murdered during a robbery in 1989.