NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 44

Face to Face

Power And Passion; Face To Face With Fons Hickmann

Majid Abbasi

Traditionally, design for music has been embedded in Germany, and some well-known designers like Holger Matthies, Günter Rambow, Pierre Mendell, and so forth have extensively put effort in this field. As a designer of a different generation, what are the distinctive features of your work compared to theirs?
Well, first of all, we have to give credit to Heinz Edelmann for his wonderful designs in the Beatles movie ‘Yellow Submarine,’ and of course Klaus Voormann for ‘Revolver’ — not to mention all of Kraftwerk’s iconic album covers. Obviously, everything that we create in the arts harkens back to an artistic tradition, if not a counter concept. Forging something new is our ultimate goal. But it’s worth taking a look back on what has already been created to realize why you now need to take a different approach. This is where someone like the filmmaker Quentin Tarantino springs to mind. Before he even begins working on a film, he holes up for days on end, and watches every film in that genre that has already been made, all day and all night — and yet he still manages to produce work that is totally unlike anything else out there.

You were born, graduated and teach in Germany, and also teach in Austria. Both countries are known for having a strong musical background; people regard music as a top priority there. Your works are sort of visual music. Could you describe how music affected your work?
I like the word ‘affected,’ but I love the word ‘infected’ even more. I would say that I’m ‘infected’ with the power and passion of music. It speaks to both my heart and my mind. It doesn’t matter what style of music I’m listening to. There are only a few styles of music that I really can’t stand, like Bavarian folk music or throat singing. In fact, it’s possible to find something breathtaking about any style of music, something that finds a way of directly touching your soul. Music is magic, and I like to think that I harness its power in my work.
The Greek musician, Teodor Currentzis has been one of the artists you had common projects with, among which I can highlight Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte. I myself have just been recently introduced to his works through your cover designs and listening to his performances, I was really amazed! He’s been addressed as a new phenomenon in classical music. How well do you know him and his performances that you managed to do such great designing for him?
I first met Teodor in Berlin in 2014. He had organized a private concert, and his record label arranged a meeting for us to get to know one another. His first question to me was, “So what do you want to drink?” We got a bottle of red wine and a packet of cigarettes, went outside, and talked about everything under the sun. To tell you the truth, we kept going around in circles, and we ended up talking highfalutin nonsense. But we got along, and sometimes that has nothing to do with what you say. We just clicked, and the rest is history.

Posters of the 2007 and 2008 seasons of Bayerischen Staatsorchester (Bavarian State Orchestra) have been designed with two totally different formats: one is the orchestra plan with all of the musical instruments that have been brought together, and the other is the landscape with a 90-degree rotation. Why have you designed them so differently? And where did the idea come from?
(Laughs) – Not everything is different, we chose the same font. We wanted only one constant in our corporate design for the State Orchestra, and that was the font. Everything else would change each year. I think that corporate design constantly has to change, as it has to reflect how life changes.

The posters and programs of the RIAS Kammerchor Berlin (Chamber choir) concerts opened an innovative door of musical visualization through color, rhythm, and texture. Time is not a principle for you — I mean you don’t care if it’s the 16th century Claudio Monteverdi or the 20th century Benjamin Britten! Tell us more about the original idea, design process and execution phase of the works.
The first thing that you need to know about the corporate design for RIAS is that it is based on a mathematical concept called the Fibonacci sequence. If you take a look at the logo, you’ll notice that the spaces between the lines change. The golden ratio, which follows from the Fibonacci sequence, has always played a major role in art and design in the composition of space. It also underpins many musical compositions that the chamber choir performs. We wanted to contrast this mathematical formula, which defines the logo and determines the proportions on the media we design, with chaos theory. Both of these phenomena can also be found in nature, such as in plant structures, or in the movement of water. Chaos finds its expression in the colors that run into each other on the posters. Order and chaos are inseparable contradictions in life.
I became familiar with your works many years ago with three amazing posters for music events, namely Messiah Oratorio (Handel), St. Matthew Passion (J.S.Bach) and Missa da Requiem (Verdi). These posters have a clear deconstructive and different approach toward music and clear signs of bitter events of our world could be tracked in them. Has the tragic events happening around us left any effect on your posters? Please tell us these tragic stories behind each of the posters.
I used photographs by the war photographer Wolfgang Bellwinkel for this series, which he took at the time of the war in what was then known as Yugoslavia. These stills conceal an unbelievable tragedy. In their beauty, they serve as a reminder that something unbelievably terrible and devastating has happened. The poster for ‘Requiem’ portrays an old, crinkled picture of a commander-in-chief, whose face has been superimposed with tears in the guise of typography; another depicts a field of flowers with a warning sign that says ‘Mine,’ indicating that you would die if you were to set foot in this beautiful meadow. If you listen to the music and lyrics by Bach, Verdi, and Handel, you can experience this same sense of human tragedy in each verse.

Graphic design for you is a mean of creating a visual shock to the audience! Apart from offering visual solutions in your works, it seems that you intend to break all the rules. Is it so?
You got me.

Following graduating from photography and communication design at the Düsseldorf University of Applied Arts, you began studying in majors such as media and philosophy. Indeed, Germany is home to philosophy, music, and language — but how has learning about these fields contributed to your unique style of designing?
Yeah, I studied many different things, some at the same time, but at different universities. I ended up majoring in visual communication. To say that I work as a graphic designer would be a gross generalization. All aspects of my life flow into each other — I would have also liked to study science, sports, or music, but I just didn’t have a knack for those things. Universities are an important place, but there are other places that are more important. And there’s always more out there that you don’t know, compared to what you do know. I don’t separate my work from my private life; I channel everything in my surroundings into my work.

Lastly, you are among those German designers who came to Tehran and had an exhibition following the invitation of Iranian Graphic Design Society (IGDS). What did you think, and how much do you know about graphic design in Iran?
Sadly, that was my first and only visit to Tehran. What really surprised me was that all the ideas that we have in the West about Iran stood in stark contrast to what I experienced first-hand: Iranians are an open, welcoming, intelligent people who yearn for freedom. Theirs is a rich culture, and they have a great respect for intellectualism. Over the course of my travels throughout the world, I’ve been reminded time and time again that people across the globe are essentially the same in their dreams, in their fears, and in their uniqueness.

Thank you Fons, for your time.

Majid Abbasi

is design director of Studio Abbasi active in the international community, based in Tehran and Toronto. He leads a variety of design projects for start-ups, non-profits and educational organizations worldwide. Majid actively contributes to the international design scene as an instructor, jury member, curator and writer. He has been editor-in-chief of Neshan, the leading Iranian graphic design magazine since 2010. Majid has been members of Iranian Graphic Designers Society (IGDS) since 1998 and Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) since 2009.

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