NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

Member of International Council of Design ico-D

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Neshan 38


Graphis; Seventy-Three Years Of Visual Literacy

Roshanak Keyghobadi

“I would define intellectual elegance as a mind that is continually refining itself with education and knowledge.”
– Massimo Vignelli1

Graphis publications have been an integral part of the design world and have contributed to its visual and intellectual elegance since 1944 when Walter Herdeg and Walter Amstutz printed the first issue of Graphis magazine in Switzerland.  In 1986, Herdeg was awarded the AIGA Medal2 for his exceptional achievements and contributions to the field of design and visual communication.  That same year, B. Martin Pedersen bought the Graphis Company and later moved it to New York City. He continued publishing the magazine (as well as annuals and books) to promote the best works in graphic design, advertising, photography and art/illustration. Pedersen was awarded the AIGA Medal3 in 2003 for his outstanding accomplishments in design. 

As Steven Heller states, “Upon Graphis magazine’s publication, Herdeg stuffed a dozen copies of the first issue into each diplomatic pouch that left his landlocked country for Swiss embassies abroad, hoping that, like the proverbial note in a bottle, they would reach friendly and responsive hands.4” Since then, Graphis publications have been continually reaching the hands of designers and artists around the globe and have maintained their high level of artistic value and taste. 

    For instance, in the first years after the 1979 Revolution and while at war with Iraq (1980–1988), Iran had restricted relationships with the “outside world.”  Consequently, artists and designers had limited exchange and access to materials, tools and visual information during that time. From 1980 to 1983, Iranian universities were closed down and underwent a Cultural Revolution with the mission to bring academia inline with revolutionary values.  In 1985, I was a newly admitted student at the School of Fine Arts at Tehran University-after the universities reopened. Our college’s library held a collection of Graphis magazines and annuals, which became an essential part of my aesthetic education and introduced me to the realm of international art and design. I can imagine that at the same time, many of my fellow students (and individuals around the world) exploring and discovering their own visual voices and seeking sources of inspiration and knowledge were reading and looking at Graphis with enthusiasm. 

    Since the beginning, Graphis magazine was a reliable source of visual art and design literacy. It has not only covered a wide range of global topics of interest (such as Medieval Yugoslav Frescos, Eskimo Carvings, Japanese Matchboxes, Russian War Posters, Spanish Calligraphic Art, Pottery of Islam, Mexican Design Motifs, Egyptian Painting, Norwegian Tapestry, Indian Playing Cards, Iranian Illuminated Manuscript of the XIII Century5, etc.), but also has focused on a vast variety of visual themes (such as Maps, Masks, Flags, Wrapping-Papers, Children’s Paintings, Religious Images, Penmanship, Postage Stamps, Car Design, Subway Graphics, etc.)  Additionally through the years it has featured works of artists such as Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Paul Rand, Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, A.M. Cassandre, Leo Lionni, Saul Bass, Norman Rockwell, Herb Lubalin, Milton Glaser, Maurice Sendak, Seymour Chwast, Michael Bierut, Louise Fili, Tibor Kalman, Chuck Close, Hannah Hoch and Ardeshir Mohassess6.

Renowned writers such as Tom Wolfe, Henry Geldzahler, Pete Hamill, Kurt Anderson, Paola Antonelli, Rita D. Jacobs, and Max Bill have created editorials and photographers such as Richard Avedon, Lord Snowdon, Albert Watson and numerous others have contributed portrait photography for Graphis under Pedersen’s leadership. In 2015 Graphis published Social and Political Protest Posters- a presentation of contemporary problems such as war, violence, the environment, disasters and human rights through the visual lenses of esteemed designers. This publication also includes putative statements of several leading historic figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and General Eisenhower. 

The mission statement of Graphis describes that they are “committed to presenting and promoting the work of exceptional talent.” Every year professionals and students are invited to submit their finest work; upon selection by the jurors they are granted Platinum, Gold and Silver awards. Pedersen believes that “Awards provide a gauge...they are also pats on the back…it is such a difficult industry to achieve good work in; anyone who has managed deserves to be lauded.7” He mentions that great talent like Stefan Sagmeister has emerged and been discovered on Graphis pages8.

One of the main questions that many art and design publications face in contemporary times is whether there is still an interest in print-based magazines and periodicals, or whether they should all become digital?  Pedersen believes what is technologically happening in the field of design today is a spectacular and extraordinary evolution; new ideas and creativity are necessary requirements in staying alive in the business. Therefore, Graphis publishes (both in print and digitally): annuals (posters, design, advertising, photography, annual reports, new talent) and non-annuals (corporate identity/branding, logo/letterhead design, packaging and product design). The last issue of Graphis magazine was published in 2005 (issue 355), but there are plans for its republication with a new form and content in the near future.  As Pedersen emphasizes, “what makes Graphis magnificent is the work that gets in there…the work that is produced today is as extraordinary and surprising now as it was in the past. Graphis is a lasting visual historic reference of emerging and established visual talent.”

 1 Debbie Millman (2007) How to Think Like a Graphic Designer. Allworth Press.  p. 216.
 2 AIGA (The American Institute of Graphic Arts) 1986 Medal.
 3 AIGA (The American Institute of Graphic Arts) 2003 Medal.
 5 Henri Masse (1948), An Iranian Illuminated Manuscript of the XIII Century. Issue #21.
 6 Ardeshir Mohasses (1938-2008) was an Iranian illustrator and cartoonist and was featured twice in Graphis – once in issue #156 (1971) by Stanley Mason and then in issue #243 (1986) by Ali Banuazizi.
 8 B. Martin Pedersen (2017) Interviewed by Roshanak Keyghobadi.

Roshanak Keyghobadi

holds a doctoral degree in Art and Art Education from Columbia University, New York and her MFA and BFA are both in Graphic Design. She has taught visual communication at State University of New York for several years. Roshanak writes about Iranian contemporary art and artists with special focus on design and typography and her essays have appeared in a number of publications including AIGA’s VOICE as well as Design Observer and her artworks have been exhibited internationally. In addition you can read more of her wittings on the artCircle blog.

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