The Daily Heller: “Good Design Has No Victims”

Posted inThe Daily Heller

Until mid-2021, I did not know the art and design (or the warmhearted and singularly generous character) of Rick Griffith, the author of today’s headline. Therefore, I did not know about the expressive mission he took on using his letterpress practice as a tool for producing philosophically rooted graphic design and typography that co-mingle image, text and life’s existential concerns with unbridled passions. Moreover, I had never laid eyes on the man. When I finally did it seemed I was standing (sitting on Zoom, as it were) before a great sage preparing to share wisdom from his judicial bench. You see, when Rick Zooms he does so sitting behind a printer’s table, surrounded by the machines and materials that from the 15th century on have altered the way humans have communicated. If this sounds a bit hyperbolic, or even mystical, I assure you that Rick Griffith is quite down to earth, centered and centering, as anyone can attest who watched as he planned and hosted the past two AIGA national conferences.

I was introduced to Rick when he agreed to contribute to PRINT. We had decided to have new, novel and courageously experimental voices appear in our rotation of essays and news. My colleague Debbie Millman suggested Rick should be recruited. On our preliminary Zoom meeting, I was at sea but nonetheless smitten by his erudition on the spot. He had created a wealth of graphic/textual material that fit snugly into the loose niche that I call the designer as author + entrepreneur. Through his work he was speaking out on issues of race and culture. He had been exploring the nuances of visual and verbal language(s) for decades, only I was either too insulated in the echo chamber of New York (where Rick had lived and worked for a decade; he’s now alternately in Denver and Lisbon) or the victim of self-confounding myopic vision to have been aware of his eye-opening wisdom. But Rick’s a designer I wish I knew when I was formulating my various and sundry ideas about design as a viable and worthy life practice. In Rick’s words and deeds I see pragmatic yet idealistic possibilities—in other words, I see a leader.

If this post rambles a bit, I admit to being under the influence of a very powerful anesthetic for surgery I had early last week. Only now, six days later, is the fog beginning to lift somewhat and when I awoke from my zombie-like state, there was a package waiting for me from MATTER, the studio/experiment Rick founded in 1999. When Rick and I were beginning to get to know each other, I was plowing through layers of pain that ultimately culminated in last week’s surgery. When I recently put myself together, I did not want to waste anymore self-indulgent time, so my first email was to him. I asked him to tell me more about MATTER.

“MATTER,” he explained, “is where I work on projects like BLACK ASTRONAUT RESEARCH PROJECT (BLARP) or the various things I make, like EVERYTHING IS COMPLICATED, a collection of print, collages and manifesti.

“MATTER is currently also a bookstore in Denver, and we are working on our extension north of Lisbon in Portugal. We have two points of interest broadly stated, fiction and nonfiction works written for and by Black, Queer and Women intellectuals.”

I requested permission to show a few of his pieces here. The following are excerpts from “All the Black Bodies,” a portion of the 86 collages, a compilation of over 20+ years of collaging that represent his cultural journey and underscore his motto: MAKE. THINGS. BE RELEVANT.

All the Black Bodies, 2023
Cover of an edited version at 71 Collages.
Letraset Collages from 2003, screenprinted 26 x 40″. 10 Plates with programmed colors and unprogrammed positions and interactions. Inspired by Kasimir Malevich and his essay “The Non-Objective World.”
Left: Daily collage from 2018, packing tape, letterpress excerpt, NYT excerpt. (5 x 7″).
Right: For questions not asked. Letterpress and collage, 2016 (18 x 24″).
Beat the Whites with the Same Red Wedge series, 2016–2019 (originals 8 x 12″). Inspired by the seminal work of El Lissitzky, which was labeled Bolshevik propaganda. “My work uses the Red Circle as a symbol of the Afro—which in 1973 was called a sign of Black militancy, even in Ebony Magazine. All collage images are from one single issue of Ebony (August 1973). The Work is a meditation on Marxist theories and the Black class struggle over a century.”
Two daily collages from travel across Europe (Netherlands) from 2016.
Daily mixed media collages from 2015 and 2017, assembled in the zine “All the Black Bodies,” 2023.
“Printing and live collage—the common colors (red and peach) are letterpress-printed from sessions in multiple settings in advance and the collage manipulation is an individual piece, though there are editions of prints over time that all eventually become individual works. I have many of these, which I made for the 2021 MCA Denver exhibit.”
Daily collages from 2022. “I like these because they illustrate both the simple and the noisier possibilities in my collages, white space is hard to program.”
“I still try to make work that reflects the provocation that design has been for me, particularly in areas of education, awareness and ethics. Awareness is really shorthand for awareness of our positionality as a massive labor force, created for just over half a century—thriving at all possible intersections of media, art and computer science. All I ask is that Good Design Has No Victims.
Posted inThe Daily Heller