Erik Nitsche (1908 – 1998) was born and studied in Switzerland before moving to the U.S. in 1934. His worked helped change the face of graphic design in the United States.
His designs were beautifully “clean”, balanced compositions with brilliant use of colour, geometry and elegant typography. Amongst his most recognisable and memorable work is a series of posters for General Dynamics where he was artistic director 1955-1960.
Due to the sensitive nature of the subjects he designed for at General Dynamics (national security, atomic energy, weapons, aircraft etc) he had to develop a sophisticated abstract visual language in which he conveyed the corporate mission of General Dynamics without depicting any of their products. In some designs by Nitsche you can see the influence of the work of artist Paul Klee who was a family friend during Eriks’ formative years.
Nitsche’s futurist “Atomic” design style was also very influential, and often copied by other designers in the 1950s.
Swann Auction Galleries in New York have an auction coming up on March 1, which features a collection of Erik Nitsche’s General Dynamics posters, from the collection of Gail Chisolm (1954-2017). Featured below is a selection from Swann Galleries catalogue. Click HERE to see the whole catalogue.
You can also view a fascinating visual archive of designs by Erik Nitsche on Flickr which includes some superb album cover designs for Decca HERE . There is also a comprehensive biographical article on Nitsche on THIS website
ERIK NITSCHE (1908-1998) GENERAL DYNAMICS / CANADAIR LIMITED. Circa 1960.
ERIK NITSCHE (1908-1998) GENERAL DYNAMICS / ATOMS FOR PEACE. 1955.
ERIK NITSCHE (1908-1998) GENERAL DYNAMICS / NUCLEAR FUSION. 1958.
The Penrose Annual of 1956 has a feature article entitled “American Graphic Design” by Peter Selz & Robert Kosta. It is quite a comprehensive story of the history of American graphic design from the early 20th century until when it was written for the 1956 publication.
The article outlines the strong influence on graphic design of painting, architecture and the Bauhaus in earlier part of the 20th Century. It also outlines the possible dangers emerging such as:
“One danger felt by many designers stems for an approach to graphic design in terms of visual form in themselves, without regards for their meaning. This leads easily to cut and dried formula layouts with the substitution of a new set of cliches”
The whole article is a fascinating read, as are all of these in-depth articles in the Penrose Annuals. The articles are well worth studying for those interesting in the history and development of graphic design, emerging technologies of this time, and the development of our overall visual language during the 20th Century.
Magazine Cover by W. H. Allner
Magazine Cover by W. H. Allner
The Penrose Annual of 1956 contains a significant article discussing the role printing and graphic design play (other than for stamps) in promoting the services of the British Postal system. The public relations department of the Post Office commissioned a number of talented designers including Eckersley, Lewitt-Him, Henrion, Reiss and many more the results of which “have been some bright and pleasant decorations for dull monochromatic post offices as dreary as all but the most modern post offices themselves”.
Here is a selection of images from the article, written by Misha Black O.B.E.
James Fitton, R.A, British Post Office
Paul Piech was an important mid 20th century graphic artist who is best known for the Lino prints, posters and books from his private press set up in 1959, the “Taurus Press” in the U.K.
In the Penrose Annual of 1976 is a beautifully illustrated, in depth article on the private press of Paul Piech written by Kenneth Hardacre. Hardacre writes:
“His books broke all the rules of setting, spacing and layout. They gave the impression of having been printed on any paper that came to hand…Their typefaces were often unusual and hardly ever suited to their texts. The very ink on the paper seems restless. Piech’s books make you feel uncomfortable and that is why they exist – their aim is to disturb. They all have a power that is to be found above all in the profusion of linocuts and woodcuts that pour through their pages. Paul Piech expresses his pity with a knife. He handles his medium with compelling force, until the lino itself seems to cry out, expressing his horror at man’s inhumanity to man”
(For the purposes of this Penrose article the images were screen printed onto brown, textured card – but most posters you will see by Piech have a white background – and he often used bright bold colours in his posters)
Paul Piech, “Peter Cooper” Poster (584 x 915mm)
The techniques used by Piech give an immediacy and urgency to his work, which suits the often political message of it. Harcare writes:
“Piech rarely uses type in his posters, their message lies as much in the urgency of the hand cut lettering as in the text itself – an urgency demonstrated in and even strengthened by the occasional mis-spellings. For Piech cuts his lettering very quickly, he blocks in areas, plans the lines, and counts off the characters; but there is no preliminary design of the letter shapes. He never cuts around a drawn letter – he creates the letter in the act of cutting. Thus his letters are alive as the faces he cuts.”