• Steven Heller

The Daily Heller: Spinal Tap

The fourth in a series of chapbooks, Design Brief, published occasionally by Katherine Small Gallery in an edition of 2,000 copies, is titled "Ootje Oxenaar Spines." Designed by Kat Ran Press' Michael Russem, it features a handful of the hundreds of redrawn book spines that Oxenaar created over a 50 year period.


Oxenaar (1929–2017), an eminent Dutch illustrator and graphic designer, is best known for his design of Dutch paper banknotes that were in circulation for over 20 years, before being supplanted by the Euro.


"With no apparent purpose, the redo of spines was an everyday, ordinary practice," writes Dawn Oxenaar Barrett in the foreword. "Using ink, watercolor, colored pencil and opaque white, Oxenaar made new spines by hand on the inside of the original printed jackets. … As a way to replace an annoying typeface of an ill-considered design," she adds, they were chosen "impulsively and reworked surreptitiously between design assignments." It was a pleasant respite, she adds, from the daily grind.


Other artists/designers have also repainted or reinterpreted existing book or record cover designs or by creating fakes and simulacra. So, "is it design?" Oxenaar asks in her text. "I'd say it isn't really fitting to call these works of design …" (my italics).


But does the distinction even matter? They are works of clever expression that look wonderful together and artful on the page, simply or the amusement of the designer.








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