Friday, 28 October 2011

Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman

Hendrik Nicolaaas Werkman, or also known as N.H. Werkman was born on the 29th April 1882, is known for being a Dutch artist, typographer and printer. He is another great example in the creative use of typography in the 1920s - 1930s, his style was different to that of Piet Zwart and Paul Schuitema although he took on the board the basic principles and foundations of their ideas. The same is applied to groups such as De Stijl, and the Constructivist style etc. He was like Zwart very much in the meaning that he gathered influence from many sources but never became religiously involved with their style and beliefs.

In 1896 he visited his first Van Gogh exhibition which profoundly influenced him, in which he decided to pursue an artistic lifestyle. Four years later, he managed to get employment at the publisher-printer in Sappemeer Borgesiuslaan TJ. Little did he know, this would be the beginning of lifetime of a creative endeavours. He did however work as a journalist from 1903 to 1907 at The New Groningsche. 

He started a printing and publishing house in Groningen, which reached the status of most successful around the period towards the end of World War One in 1917 in which time he had around twenty employees. By 1923 however he had a finical crisis with the company and it was forced into liquidation, this didn’t dishearten him however as he then started a small workshop in the third and fourth floor of a warehouse. It is said that he actually preferred this more ‘free’ way of working and in this scenario he created some of best works. 

He not only had hid own printing studio but he was also a part of De Ploeg (The Plough), which were a group of Dutch artists and designers. He made prints, invitations and catalogues for them whilst he was there. Though in 1923 to 1926, he decided to create his own avant-garde magazine called ‘The Next Call’ which featured the works of the up-and-coming styles such as the experimental use of typography such as collaging. He was extraordinarily overjoyed with his magazine and thus he sent it off to many avant-garde publishers around the globe, it boosted his confidence greatly. The magazine gave him the freedom to try new techniques such as using printing blocks, stamping and stencilling, to achieve individual designs which he is now most famous for.

The Next Call 1923-1926

He designed all of the covers for his magazine during the three years that he was publishing it. He used the techniques that he had learned and experimented with them to create various unique designs. One of his most famous methods was creating images with stamping letters. This is one of his designs for his magazine ‘The Next Call’ unfortunately however I don’t know the dates for the design but it is somewhere in the region of 1923-1926. I think that this design is really magnificent, I love the simple set up of the design, perfectly shaped into the grid to make a really nice harmonious design. The numbers take up the majority of the page, around 4/5th’s and is set in this decorative serif typeface, one that wouldn’t be used in block text due to the amount of decorative proportions. It fits the page so well and the variations between thick and thin make for interesting characters, and don’t bore. The contrast between this and the sans serif typeface on the right hand-side is wonderful. The sans serif being colour in red to give it some life and the black the and compliment each other in a way that they can sit comfortably next to each other. The type has a lot of letter-spacing and kerning pulling it together to create this clean, compact and modern style. Both the styles of type complement each other wonderfully without detracting to much from each other. The block in the bottom right really completes the peace, it acts almost as a huge full stop finishing the design. It fit neatly into the grid-like style of the page and strengthens the relationship between the numbers and the title. I like the style of these early works, instead of having perfectly clean designs its nice to see the almost ruggedness of the page, the authenticity of it. I think it gives off a great effect and can harmonise with the design. The block for example has that trait, it is sometimes refreshing to see it this way.

The Next Call 1923-1926

Most of the designs that I am going to be looking at are his covers for his magazine. Partly because it is quite difficult in finding many of his other works, that are suitable to be used anyway, but the other reason is because I think these are some great examples of his work and of typography. This design is quite a simple and minimalistic one at that, but it doesn’t lessen the quality and appeal of the work. As an example, you can see where he has printed the rectangles using blocks and shapes, and then inputted the type afterwards. Piet Zwart was quite an influence on Werkman, and so were others like El Lissitzky, in the way that he used a flat and geometric approach to his works, very architectural in the way it was processed. The way that this is set out is very similar, with using the flat, geometric lines to construct the page. It navigates us around the page, but also completes the design. As I suppose we could easily navigate from block to block reading the type, but this way it makes it more of a flowing transition rather then glitchy movements, besides it makes a nice contrast between rustic and modern, speaking for the printed shapes. The typography is rather humble, being set in lowercase with a soft sans serif font. Unlike having a simple, straight edged sans serif he chose to use one which has a quaint personality and a soft edge fitting in with the harmless and friendly coloured blocks. With it being black it means it is easily legible and matches the colour coordination of the lines which subliminally might make it easier for us to jump straight to the text. It feels quite like a Theo Van Doesburg design with the free-form compositions using shapes and geometric painting. One thing i like about the typography is the way it is set; the type it sat normally, then sideways and upside-down. It is all entertaining and alluring, and with the words being mostly set centred in the blocks, the ‘call’, being set to the left of the C (or right depending on which way you look at it), appears quirky and possibly mischievous deterring from the rest of its group. Overall I think this is a great piece of his and it shows where has used the styles that influenced him and moulded it to suite himself.

The Next Call 1926

The designs for 'The Next Call’ magazines all display his style rather quite well, his experimentation with new ideas and influences are shown which all developed into a really diverse typographical format. His intentions seem like he was taking the fundamental beliefs from each major typographer/groups at the time almost to form some sort of ‘super-typographer’! But on a more serious note it is what he more or less did and his style was fairly unique because of it. This cover was made in 1926, this is the only one that sure of the date, and possibly the last issue as it has a large red number 9 on the front, which was the last issue he made. The free-form composition is still there, keeping a refreshing and playful cover without being too silly and absurd and again using the method by using shapes and letting the type move fluently without constraint. From first glance this is probably the only one that seems to be that it has no order or structure but has been placed optically for what looks the best. This is one of my favourites from the series of covers he made. As the blue shapes stand uniformed in the centre whilst the ‘9’ sits bold and justified right next to it. Creating that lovely blend of colouring, the relationship between the two colours evokes a nice exciting atmosphere which then the type doesn’t really have to be too extravagant. It curls around the design, in a simple but eloquent manner whilst set in a sophisticated but simple typeface. The juxtaposition within the design works sympathetically the refined black type doesn’t prove too much to bear, where the ‘9’ has that elegance to it with its smooth serifs and lovely counters which is emphasised by being set in red, drawing attention. All the elements have a personality that compliments the next. It is really just another good example of Werkman, showing another variation of the same techniques and style that has been conveyed in the previous designs. You can see his transformation from the first where it was purely a typographical solution but then it changed into making more of an image with the things he’d learned. Bringing all the elements together to make something different from what had been seen before. Photograms and photography were becoming the way forward at this point with Piet Zwart and Paul Schuitema, while Werkman was taking a different route all together.

Composition with Letters J and O 1928

During 1928 he produced this piece of typography called ‘Composition with Letters J and O’. Here has started to create imagery with type by printing it on top itself numerous times at different angles to create the piece. It is an expanded and more experimental version of what he had previously done and you can see how his influences builded on him to create something which is very intriguing and unique. The use of the geometric shapes free-flowing in the design is very much a Theo van Doesburg style whereas the flat design and typographical experimentation could come from his Constructivist or Piet Zwart interest. It is a wonderful design, it is powerful, captivating and has an abstract impression. I find that taking two letterforms and playing around with them to create such a charming piece of art is extraordinary. The curves of the ‘J’ at the top really are enthralling and appear so delicate and tranquil they almost look like two high rise buildings or a pair of ladders, yet it doesn’t just look like the two ‘J’s that he took and rotated, instead they have been transformed into something more. The ‘0’s are act as pods that are joined onto the end of the ‘J’s or of geometric shapes scattered around with a futuristic sort of inkling. It adds some more spice to the design, emphasising that typography doesn’t have to plain blocks of text, or even doesn’t have to be legible or readable like Schuitema’s and Zwarts; it can do much more then create advertisements, logos, brochures, it can be an evocative piece of art. I can’t really describe it much more, he has just taken standard type, rearranged them and manipulated their use into something different. It is the result of the artistic use of the printing technique that he had developed over the previous years with ‘The Next Call’.

Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman

Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman, an innovator in typographic design, was one the major protagonists in taking typography to the unknown, to places where people would have never thought about going; breaking the norm. His typographical art was something to inspire many generations to come and you could say the likes of David Carson was one of those inspired. On March 13 1945, he was captured by the German Gestapo. He was later shot by a firing squad on April 10 1945, three days before his town of Groningen was emancipated. 

Memorial for the ten shot on April 10 1945

No comments:

Post a Comment