A Talk in YU’s Print Shop
Wednesday, May 11, 6pm, Free
When Karel Martens began studying art in Holland in the late 1950s, “graphic design” did not exist as its own course of study. Today he is widely recognized as one of the most independent teachers of that very discipline. In 1998, he co-founded Werkplaats Typografie, a two-year post-graduate course in graphic design in Arnhem, the Netherlands. The school functions both as a training site and a studio where professional commissions are executed for a varied clientele. Students and teachers work together with real deadlines, consequences, and euros on the line. Students must learn early to weigh their own desires and ideas, god help us, against those of the client and the most soberizing court of all–money, means, and time. With such circumstances, it is easy to imagine how a student can shift focus from thinking of herself as a purveyor of aesthetics to someone who solves problems and addresses the economy and politics of how images are produced and circulated.
The idea to start Werkplaats Typografie came from problems Martens found in existing models of design education in the Netherlands. He notes that “A little bit of what I’m regretting now in design education is that it’s design, design, design, the students always look in magazines, look at how other designers are doing it—it’s incestuous…students often see inspiration in copying things, not in the energy of the work or the mentality behind the design but the flavor of it and the superficial nature of the occupation.”
The work of Karel Martens occupies an intriguing place in the present European art-and-design landscape. Martens can be placed in the tradition of Dutch modernism—in the line of figures such as Piet Zwart, H.N. Werkman, Willem Sandberg. Yet he maintains some distance from the main developments of our time: from both the practices of routinized modernism and of the facile reactions against this. His work is both personal and experimental. At the same time, it is publicly answerable. Over the now 50 years of his practice, Martens has been prolific as a designer of books. He has also made contributions in a wide range of design commissions, including stamps, coins, signs on buildings. Intimately connected with this design work has been his practice as an artist. This started with geometric and kinetic constructions, and was later developed in work with the very material of paper. Martens own work seems humble, even when it is public and large.
This talk is organized by Scott Ponik who is designing a public architectural commission with Martens for Yale Union. With this in mind, I assume the talk will casually wander towards similar architectural experiences.
Thanks to Kassie Westmoreland, the Martin family, and our members.
“D K M weekend production” (2016) by Karel Martens and Diederik Martens