The Daily Heller: Norman Ives’ Abstract Typography

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Norman Ives: Constructions & Reconstructions by John T. Hill (featuring foreword by me, along with essays by friends, former students, scholars and colleagues, Josef Albers, Julie Curtis, Leslie Katz, R. Roger Remington, Christopher Pullman, Nathan Garland, Leonard Stokes and Eugenia Joyce Fayens), is a chronicle of the spirit and genius of a master artist and accomplished graphic designer. This book introduces rarely seen treasures, showcasing the brilliant variety and vitality of his work. It fully defines Ives’ signature use of letterform fragments that were “the lyrical strokes of his abstract constructions and reconstructions.” The book (published by powerHouse Books) is an key addition to the library of Midcentury Moderns.

Ives (1923–1978) began his studies at Wesleyan University. In 1950, he enrolled in a graduate art program at Yale University, becoming a member of the first class to reflect Josef Albers’ tectonic restructuring. After graduating, Ives joined the design department faculty.

There he was attracted to graphic design, and made works that balanced his passion for form with the need to reach a broader audience. His elegant symbols are the most notable examples of that balance. Ives’ eight-foot square painting, Number 3- L, was selected for the 1967 Whitney Annual Exhibition of American Artists. That same year, Mildred Constantine was curator of an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art titled 3 graphic designers, featuring the work of Norman Ives, Massimo Vignelli and Almir Mavignier.

Ives’ work anticipates the type-as-art movement popularized by Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculptures. Type-related art has since become ubiquitous in painting and sculpture, as well as other massive architectural “type works.” Ives’ work fits squarely into this genre, and has roots in the early 20th-century Modern movement.

Ives was a rare artist who was recognized for his innovative work in design. However, his vision extended well beyond the field of graphic design. His paintings and collages are collected by major museums: The 1967 Whitney Annual exhibition of American painting, the Guggenheim Museum, Yale University Art Gallery and various other institutions.

As co-publisher of this book, the Norman S. Ives Foundation’s mission is to preserve and promote the legacy of Ives. Various publications and exhibitions are planned. More information on and special prepublication offer of the book through the Ives Foundation can be found here.

Ives with his teacher and friend, Mr. Albers.