From Iceland — On graphic design and Iceland

On graphic design and Iceland

Published November 5, 2004

On graphic design and Iceland

The first floor of the exhibition “Graphic design In Iceland,” currently in Hafnarhúsið, is mostly dedicated to the early days of the craft, about a century ago, when the typography pioneers in the country designed all sort of packaging, posters and labels to satisfy the growing industrial market.

I found particularly interesting the designs of the Icelandic króna and the first stamps after Independence from Denmark. One of the stamp-designs is by the famous Icelandic modernist Kjarval, which I found strikingly different from the rest, and could easily have been made today. In the logo section, there was a large number of familiar designs. Reading the names of the creators, I came across the same people over and over again. Snæfríður, the curator, said that many of the designers become specialized in some area of design. Some just do logos, for example.

On the second floor there is mainly new work, from TV advertisements and video-work to computer-generated prints. A film about the history of advertisements in Iceland is projected at three different locations and at different paces. The pieces are also divided into periods, as is apparent from the styles in question. Graphic design is a huge field, and trying to show everything, one inevitably runs the risk of globalizing too much.

At the entrance I found the promotional poster-brouchure, which is written by Goddur- both in Icelandic and English. Goddur studied multi-media at Emily Carr’s college in Canada, one of the best art schools in the world. The intro is a summary from the era of manuscripts to Gutenberg and on to Bauhaus and the present day of computer technology. This is informative enough for beginners, but reminds me a bit of my Phaidon Encyclopedia of Art.

I have often been asked why I came to study graphic design in Iceland of all places in the world. One of the reasons is because I like the simplicity and the union with nature in the Nordic countries. Icelanders are very well-educated: with the help of the Student Loan System as well as their talents, they graduate from the most prestigious schools in the world. And what is remarkable is that they come back here to work in their homeland, bringing new creative blood into the country.

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