How did the project start?
Hauser & Wirth Publishers approached us to design a catalog for the exhibition of works by Calder at Hauser & Wirth Somerset. The book aimed to capture the spirit of Calder’s work but also to reflect the exhibition, which featured both indoor and outdoor sculptures, paintings and less well-known domestic objects by the artist. The setting of the show was an important focus, with the countryside location of Durslade Farm in Somerset echoing Calder’s farmhouse studio in Connecticut. We wanted to create something that was both friendly and accessible, something that could potentially be the first art book that someone might buy for themselves.
You have designed books dedicated to a range of artists including Arshile Gorky, Pablo Picasso and Alina Szapocznikow. Can you tell us about how you approached working on this project for Alexander Calder?
In our wider practice, we continually ask ourselves: ‘What is the essence of this artist’s work?’ Calder is widely known for his mobiles and use of bright colors. However, we also realized the importance of the context around his sculptures. It was only when Calder moved to the rural town of Roxbury in 1933, that the artist was inspired to build his first sculptures for the outdoors. At Hauser & Wirth Somerset, there was this direct connection to the original setting in which Calder created these iconic pieces. We wanted to reflect these aspects in the choices of layout, typefaces and materials.
Questions of sequence and pace, scale and materials are similar to the tools curators use in three-dimensional space.
How do you approach the task of reflecting an exhibition in a book?
A book functions much like an exhibition. We have infinite possibilities for creating meaning. Questions of sequence and pace, scale and materials are similar to the tools curators use in three-dimensional space. Playing with these elements allowed us to connect to the experience in the gallery, notably the rural outdoor location and the vast scale of the show. For instance, the plates are arranged so the reader can navigate around the grounds of Durslade Farm, and then step inside the galleries to view the paintings, sculptures and smaller objects.
The cover features a distinctive cutout that reveals a simple colored shape. How did this design develop in response to Calder’s work?
When we were experimenting with ideas for the cover, the cut-out design resonated most. It creates a physical manifestation of color as a free-standing or suspended object, as experienced in Calder’s mobiles. We could have easily printed the shape, but that would have simply ‘frozen’ it. Instead, the negative space has a weightlessness that creates a moving experience of color and form. By simply picking up and opening the book, you get a sense of movement in the shape and variation in the color that reflects mobiles such as ‘Guava’ (1955).
How did you respond to Calder in the materiality of the book?
The title, ‘From the Stony River to the Sky’ (in fact, Calder’s name translated into/from Celtic), is very poetic and evokes ideas of balance and tension, lightness and density. The texture of the cover paper is reminiscent of the color and feel of stones you might find in a river bed. The suspended warm yellow shape—recalling a mobile or the sun—brings an energy that activates the cover. The duality between balance and tension is something that is reflected throughout the material experience of the book. For instance, when you open it in the middle, you land on the two inner covers which are two blocks of color—natural green and yellow—again recalling the opposition between the mobile axis and stasis. Without any intervention, the color remains pure: there are no words, no images, just paper saturated with pigment.
What typography is featured in the book and how did you arrive at this selection?
Seeing archival images of Calder in his Roxbury home and studio inspired us. These show the artist surrounded by collections of rough, raw metal objects—in contrast to the weightless, poetic mobiles—and are a reminder of the elementary materials present in his working process. Girott by Radim Pesko conjured some of these elements. A subtractive typeface characterized by its compressed shapes, Girott is based on metal display typefaces and has a very industrial quality.
On the cover, bold and large-scale, this very functional typeface works in stabilizing and balancing the energy of the organic rounded yellow form. On the back cover, the typography is stacked like a stabile. Foil blocking letters introduces a subtle contrast between the glossy, deep black surface of the foil and the rough grey board. Inside, we chose Girott for titles, and Practice by François Rappo (Optimo) for the text. This typeface recalls elegant Renaissance type, but with an added sharpness and precision. Its balance offers high legibility and simplicity.
We were inspired by Calder’s use of form and color and imagined a meeting of two planes without any words, a moment where pure color and form collide.
What was the guiding principle for the text layout?
The layout builds on the idea of the axis. The spine is a book’s natural axis that grounds the page and directs the layout. We expanded on this idea designing a grid that introduces a second vertical axis around which the title, text and folio swing like a mobile. The layout is framed and grounded by this line, which is not always in the same place, thus offering a sense of movement throughout the texts.
Underneath the soft cover are two distinct yet connected books. Why did you choose this format?
The two books are organized by content. The first contains essays by Susan Braeuer Dam and Jessica Holmes along with selected illustrations, while the second part comprises the exhibition plates. We liked the idea of giving these two natural things in a book—text and images—each their own room inside the same house.
Once we decided to work in these two distinct parts, the interest shifted to their joining point. Informed by Calder’s use of form and color and imagined a meeting of two planes without any words, a moment where pure color and form collide. The two colors were taken directly from the paintings and sculptures in the exhibition.
Can you tell us about the process of implementing and realizing your design as a finished book?
We worked closely with the book’s editor Stefan Zebrowski-Rubin and production manager Nadine Engler, exchanging ideas from very early on in the process. As the link between the atelier and the printer, Nadine was instrumental in the development and production of the catalog. She shares our fanatical obsession with the details. Together, we found a special binding solution where the two books were attached to the cover but not to each other. Each book uses Otabind process, which allows the book to open well.
We hold tightly onto projects until all aspects are resolved, and Nadine was always ready to help whenever we had concerns. We love working with her and her team because they are so understanding of what we are trying to do and come up with solutions to help us reach our goal. With their expert knowledge and our concept, we were able to deliver something that was unusual, yet produced to a very high standard.
Why is book publishing as important as ever today?
A well-designed book ignites curiosity, it speaks to you, challenges you. A book is also a legacy that remains after the show. It builds on it, travels further and lasts longer. It gives an insight into an artist’s world and provides the audience with space and time to reflect on the works and the exhibition. An original and well-produced book—with its unique ‘language’, materials, printing and binding—respects the reader and rewards them for their time with intellectual, visual and tactile pleasure. It is something you want to keep in your library as a tool for inspiration, stimulation and a door to the mind of someone who is not present. Hauser & Wirth Publishers understand the importance of books as objects, and this is why we relish working with them. Each book we work on has a different angle: we want them to have character and strive to create unique objects that are inspired by their subject matter, reflect their content playfully and offer thoughtful and reflective experiences of artists’ work.
Sonya Dyakova (b. 1975) is an art director and graphic designer, and founder of Atelier Dyakova, a multi-disciplinary, award winning visual communication agency based in London.
Published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, ‘Alexander Calder: From the Stony River to the Sky’ vividly illustrates this ambitious presentation and features essays by Susan Braeuer Dam and Jessica Holmes.