April Greiman is a pioneer/progenitor of contemporary or Postmodern graphic design—not as a stylist (although Greiman's touch is unmistakable) but as form-giver and progressive thinker. The era-defining 1987 Pacific Wave exhibition and catalog positioned her within a stylistic milieu of futuristic creators, and her work signaled the advent of an even more significant visual language. A student of the late Swiss "new typography" master Wolfgang Weingart, Greiman identified with the Modernist formula until 1984, when the Macintosh was introduced. Most graphic designers were reluctant to engage in the computer’s potential, but Greiman took the commanding leap by combining digital media, video collage, photography and type. Her mixed media work was labeled "New Wave" in the design press, but it also fell into an indefinable niche. “She had been rocking the Modernist boat for a few years when she undertook a major assault upon the design community's sensibilities and preconceptions of what constitutes design … in an issue of Design Quarterly,” the AIGA wrote in 1998 upon awarding her the institute's Lifetime Medal of Achievement. As the subject and designer of the poster/magazine Design Quarterly #133 (DQ#133, "Does it Make Sense?"), the publication was an opportunity not only to present her digital work, “but to ask a larger question of the work and the medium: Does it make sense? Reading Wittgenstein on the topic, she identified with his conclusion: ‘It makes sense if you give it sense.’” Her influence in multimedia design has had far-reaching implications.
Forty years after digital design's launch, Greiman still explores new frontiers. Made In Space is her Los Angeles–based design practice. The provocative title goes further out into futurist dimensions—it is a blending of technology, science, word and image, with color and space providing design consultancy for identity, architectural branding and color. Her projects range from signage and exhibitions to the development of color and materials palettes, three-dimensional work and various art commissions.
Meanwhile, her new book—artifact—WhiteSpace: April Greiman Photography, reveals Greiman's continuum of eclectic discoveries. It is neither monograph nor portfolio, but rather, using the book as a launchpad, she examines how visual and verbal language continues to evolve throughout her practice. As I unwrapped, held and slowly perused the volume, a variety of questions emerged.
As long as I've known your work, you've been on that razor edge between communication and expression.
Are you asking about the fine line that some may believe distinguishes graphic communication from artistic expression? My primary interest has always been to inhabit the line, where matter meets light.
Among the first to go digital, you blazed trails. How does WhiteSpace expand the continuum of design in your terms?
Not sure if I’ve intentionally expanded this continuum, but my work has always been the way I could satisfy my insatiable curiosities about the things I am unfamiliar with—ideas, events or objects in space. My approach is fundamentally conceptual, then various modes of technology are utilized to assist me in trying to align a particular concept I am exploring or expressing what I ‘see’ in my mind’s eye.
The technology augments my imagination. It is not necessarily to be taken literally. (Although tools such as video actually might produce a certain "look," like any tools might. It may create more of a physical and emotional nature that affects one's perception and response to what I’ve created.) The character of an object in space, along with its color and texture, can affect one’s mood and health, I believe. And don’t forget, color is space and space is color! Oh, and light is color, color is light!
WhiteSpace: April Greiman Photography is an object, a sensual object in the form of a book, with photography and texts, experienced in various ways, over time. Open up the covers and flaps—then go to a double-page photograph and see how it creates a new "landscape," a kind of movie that happens. Or open up a translucent text page, overlap with an image and see how an in-between space might be present.
WhiteSpace is a title with meaning. Your work has never been about emptiness. You've filled up your spaces with image, color and concept. Why is your new book called WhiteSpace?
I’ve filled up my images with space, rather than the reverse. I’ve not thought much about emptiness, but always appreciate "nothingness" (no-thingness).
For those who have yet to see it, the book is a curious mix of complexity and simplicity. It is a tactile work filled with musings in words (by women you admire) and pictures (34 digital photos that you have taken). What is the reason for creating this printed artifact in the digital age you helped inaugurate?The reason is simple—it just had to be done, existing in the atmosphere, out in the ether, and public eye. We are culturally all about the object, while I’m focused and conscious of the field or space that it occupies and creates. The exploration of space, in 2D, 3D, 4D and currently augmented reality, is something that is ongoing in my trajectory of personal and often professional projects since the '80s.
Empty/full/open/closed/foreground/background/in between or liminal—like the text I wrote (vertically oriented typography throughout the book, spaces between, liminal moments of memory, in between object and field). So, perhaps I am interested in simplicity, but just on the other side of complexity.
From the POV of color, this book exudes a calming stillness. The colors are not dull but they are muted. The landscapes are mostly empty—not white, but spacious.
Calming spaciousness is more what I see. Not to be super scientific (hehe), but when you put all colors together, don’t they make white?
I know you have a penchant for the desert. The book to me i
s designed as an homage to the desert, with all the text pages suggesting the topology of sand and rock. Is that a reasonable interpretation?
The book is about space and light—natural space—color, texture and implied materiality. The photos are from Arizona, California, India, Texas and Wyoming. It is true, however, that I moved from New York after I discovered the deserts of the West. The attraction to the desert is a medium for space and light, color and texture.
Why did you select the designers you did, women from all over the world, to write for and to your photographs? What were you hoping they would add?
The women contributors chosen are designers, architects, artists, a poet, a museum curator and former director. I figured that the context of their diverse responses to the word whitespace would be quite wonderful, insightful and rich. I should also say that the brief in the first part of the book states they were not aware of each other, nor even one of my photographs, or text. They were not tasked to write something ‘to’ my photographs; that would’ve been too boring. I chose each of them for their sense of trust, creative mojo, mindful qualities. Pretty simple stuff, complex responses, albeit no more than 350 words each.
Do you see this as benchmark in your career? Is this the place you always wanted to be?
What’s a benchmark? I’ve always been shooting photographs since my undergrad education, finding it one of the most rewarding and spontaneous creative things I can do. I shoot everyday; guess I’m addicted!
Have you achieved what you want as an artist/designer/photographer?
Simply stated, I was and remain interested in exploring WhiteSpace. It is a zone of creation where everything (something) and nothing (no-thing) exists, in the invisible. It is not a representation of anything in particular. It is not a monograph of work. It is the inevitable outcome of my creative process, with a parallel intention of exploring a book perceived as a 2D object, yet existentially, as a sensuous 4D object experienced at variable speeds over time.
Did I succeed? Who knows.
WhiteSpace is available at aprilgreiman.com.