Book List of the Week

Designers Who Read Letter and Image

March 23, 2015

French graphic designer (Robert) Massin’s Letter and Image (La Lettre et l’Image)—a survey of letterforms and type from pre-history to the presentwas first published 45 years ago, in 1970. Known for his experimentation with typography and layout, Massin (b. 1925) is also recognized as a scholar of graphic design history. Letter and Image makes the book lists of design critic Rick Poynor, graphic designer Paula Scher, and others.

Selection of spreads (courtesy of Optos Books) from Eugêne Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano designed by (Robert) Massin. Graphic designer Warren Lehrer describes Massin's design: “Massin’s layouts of Ionesco’s turned-upside-down scenarios throb with energy, change with the nature of the dialogue, and reflect the whispers, shouts, revelations, and simultaneous talking that take place on stage. Sentences bend around the corner of a napkin, words wobble and warp between the lips of a man and woman who come to realize that they are married to each other, and hell breaks loose in a layered argument that careens across the page at different angles—all done decades before Adobe software and Apple computers became tools of the trade.”


Letter and Image Robert Massin

An extensively illustrated survey of the role of type in culture from pre-history through the 1960s. French graphic designer and writer Robert Massin (b. 1925) is one of the key figures in the development of postwar graphic design. He served as art director for the preeminent French publisher Gallimard, devising its well-known Folio collection.

— Graphic designer and visual literature pioneer Warren Lehrer comments on Letter and Image:

“This comprehensive, profusely illustrated overview of how letters and images have intermingled in art and literature through history and around the world is still the best book ever made on the origins of what I’m calling visual literature. It chronicles the history of how letters and images were pretty much one and the same early on. Though they were separated into distinct fields (art and writing), the impulse to bring them back together continued as evidenced in letterforms intertwined with humans, foliage, and animals; pattern poetry, figured verse, calligrams, shaped poetry and prose; the use of letters in fine art; and modernist movements up to concrete poetry and other text-art of the 1960s.”

— Visual culture critic Rick Poynor says: “Massin’s anthology of letterforms as images, illustrated with more than 1,000 historical examples, is a phenomenal feat of visual research. First published in 1970, this cornucopia of peculiar characters has few peers to this day.”

 — Graphic designer Tom Geismar (Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv) notes that the book contains “many rare examples.”

On 2 other designers’ Book Lists.

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