The Promiscuity of Images

Ettore Sottsass, 1946

And now, to swing to the other end of the Bauhaus philosophy, I recently found this piece designed by Ettore Sottsass in 1946. Typically, when Sottsass comes up in conversation (and yes, I'm that groovy and cosmopolitan, it happens all the time) I think about the Memphis design movement or the 1969 Olivetti Valentine typewriter. Sottsass designed this portfolio soon after being released from a Yugoslavian concentration camp and moving to Milan. 

Ettore Sottsass, 1946

It's clear from this that his approach rejected the minimal and functional Bauhaus. He not only disregards a grid or sense of order, his use of imagery is promiscuous at the least. Victorian clip art, modernist photography, and hand-made forms compete with pieces of typography and magazine clippings. While it doesn't rely on melting clocks, the piece is related to the Surrealist movement, happening at the same time. The elements exist as disparate symbols in the unconscious, pieces of everyday life that combine in a dream.

I've had a special admiration for Sottsass since I learned that he took 1,780 photographs on a short trip to South America, and for years photographed every hotel room in which he had slept with a woman. He also wanted to publish a book consisting of pictures of walls. I would buy a book of photos of walls.


Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/ He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.

Color My World

Last Monday, I was talking with Clive Piercy about teaching. We both agreed that the most difficult aspect was assuming a student knows something when they don’t. For example, when I talk about PMS, I assume that the class knows I’m talking about ink, not a biological issue. I have learned the hard way this is not the case. I now carefully explain that it is a production issue and I’m not treading on territory where I have no experience. The same is true about certain artists and designers. “You don’t know who Norman Rockwell is? Are you kidding?”

Joan Miro is one of those artists I assume everyone knows. Doesn’t everyone have a parent or intellectual relative who owns a Miro poster? As I’ve recently learned, I might as well have been discussing astronomy to a housecat. Of course, there was a point when I didn’t know Miro either. Once I discovered his work, a new world of shape, scale, color, and spontaneity opened for me.

Here’s Joan Miro in an offensively short description: Joan Miro was a Spanish artist born in 1893. He didn’t align himself with any specific movement, although his work has clear connections to Surrealism and Cubism. He rejected conventional painting and embraced the non-representational. Miro worked in multiple media: printmaking, painting, collage, objects, and sculpture. His bold color usage influenced the development of Color Field painting. His non-objective imagery evolved the Abstract Expressionists. After Miro died in 1983, his work continued to grow in popularity. Today most therapist offices have a Miro poster.

Freestyle Swimming

I’m a pushover when it comes to biomorphic shapes. There’s something about a kidney shaped coffee table or a boomerang shaped desk that is miraculous to me. I have a swimming pool shaped like a rectangle with a bulge. If I could build a new pool, it would definitely be kidney shaped. Thomas Church’s design of the Donnell Garden, “El Novillero”, in Sonoma is a perfect example. He designed the garden and pool in 1948. This was right after the war, and the California economy was booming. As part of the idea of “California Living” Church created a space that merged indoor and outdoor, and created places to entertain, relax, and swim.

To be more analytical, the biomorphic forms incorporated forms from surrealism. Adaline Kent (1900-1957) created the sculpture in the center. She was a member of the group the West Coast Surrealists. The sculpture serves as a tiny island (for drinks I assume), and a focal point in the pool. The pool is remarkable, and spawned the thousands of kidney shaped pools across the country. Why they went out of style and people now prefer the fake rock and waterfall pools is beyond me.