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Ivan Chermayeff: The Art of Design

Over a career spanning six decades, Ivan Chermayeff’s multi-media approach to creativity produced an important body of graphic design, advertising and book art, as well as collage, sculptural installations and painting.  Considered one of the foremost graphic designers of his generation, Chermayeff co-founded Brownjohn, Chermayeff & Geismar in 1957 with Tom Giesmar and Robert Brownjohn. In 1959, Brownjohn left the firm and it became known as Chermayeff & Geismar (now Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv). The firm was known for its sleek, modern corporate logo designs and trademarks, and was one of the first to use abstraction and bold colors to convey corporate identity. Corporate logos for Mobil Oil, Chase Manhattan Bank and New York University were some of their earliest successes. In 1974, Chermayeff designed the large red steel sidewalk sculpture in front of 9 West 57 Street that marks its entrance and has become an icon of midtown Manhattan. Another iconic Chermayeff & Geisar logo is NBC’s Peacock which they were asked to smarten up in 1986, modernizing the old version by reducing the number of feathers and reorienting its profile.

Early in his career, Chermayeff worked as a designer of book jackets and album covers for Columbia Records. He continued to design and illustrate books throughout his career, receiving  gold medals from the American Institute of Graphic Arts and the Society of Illustrators. Chermayeff loved lettering in all forms, incorporating letters and words into his graphic work, as well as into his fine art practice. He was a talented collagist who used found objects, letters and words to create witty assemblages of abstract shapes and figurative images.

Influenced by the Bauhaus philosophy of utilitarian order, Iavn Chermayeff developed his own unique approach to modernist graphic design. His design work simplified information into easily recognizable symbols by streamling the visual process. His work in collage followed the same path of gathering information in the form of found items and combining them to create a new image. Chermayeff loved the process of making collage, saying “collages make it possible for everything to be something else.”  In the end, that is the basic tenet of advertising as well.

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