NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 46/47

Reference - II

Christian Chruxin: Master Of The Serial

Jens Mueller

Since the beginning of the 20th century, when in many countries books were introduced into the lives of the middle class and the working class, the medium of the serial became a reflection of society. Sooner or later, every topic and interest of the people was translated into non-fiction books and novels, from sophisticated scientific treatises to light entertainment. Apart from the visual spirit of the times, which always has had an unmistakable influence on graphic design, each sector of the book market has developed its own rules in terms of typography, color and visual language. In the field of political books, the visual rules of the respective political direction additionally had a significant influence on the aesthetics. 

At the end of the 1960s, a strong left-wing movement emerged in Central Europe, which became visible in the student protests of 1968. A young generation demanded liberal values and a new openness in various social matters. The new movement quickly found a concise visual language in the protest posters of the student-run design workshop “Atelier Populaire” in Paris. Posters and leaflets using handmade lettering and eye-catching drawings — mostly in red — were produced quickly and without expert knowledge. This process led to solutions that were the ultimate visual opposite of the perfectly produced advertising posters of the mainstream. Books published in the context of this movement also had a corresponding style and an unmistakable appearance due to their amateur way of production. This included manuscripts that were multiplied from typewriter-pages, added with handwritten headlines and cut-out photos from newspapers.
When the student protests swept to Berlin, graphic designer Christian Chruxin (1937–2013) had already been in town for a couple of years. He had studied for two years at the famous Werkkunstschule in Kassel, one of the leading European schools for graphic design at its time, and then moved to Berlin in 1960 where he finished his studies a year later. The year 1961 marks not only the division of the city into a Western and an Eastern part separated by the Berlin Wall and its death strip (kept until 1989). For Chruxin it was the beginning of his graphic designer career, which found its first highlight in a collaboration with independent publisher Wolfgang Fietkau. In 1961 Fietkau started a book series titled Schritte (steps) to distribute texts by progressive artists and writers such as Max Bense, Franz Mon and Ferdinand Kriwet. Chruxin came up with a unique typographical concept: the front of the book lists the bibliographical information in order using the same font size; capital letters and hyphens are deliberately omitted; title and numbering of the series are reproduced in a varying special color. On the back cover he played with this text block by mirroring, rotation, overlaying, or cutting. Not uncommon in innovative works, the designs initially encountered strong rejection from some of the readers. However, the concept proved its merits and after almost 60 years the series is still in the publisher’s catalogue.
In the course of the 1960s, Chruxin developed into a specialist for serial book covers. With his work for politically left-wing publishers such as Neue Kritik or Edition Voltaire, he gave this sector of the book market a professional face. He used Akzidenz Grotesk or Helvetica, worked with reduction and graphically strong illustrations and photographs. His work was in a way contrary to the aesthetics that had prevailed in this field until then. Chruxin gave revolutionary texts from all over the world an almost “clean” professional packaging — and in doing so made them accessible to a wider readership.
His most widespread and comprehensive book series was produced between 1972 and 1982 for the Frankfurt-based publishing house Rowohlt. Under the title “das neue buch” (the new book), numerous German first editions by authors who have in the meantime become part of the international literary canon such as Tom Wolfe, Elfriede Jelinek, Philip Roth and André Breton were published. Chruxin’s two-colour design combined experiment and elegance. The concise magenta colored frame contains reduced almost Swiss-Style-like typography, but at the same time he used unusual drawings or the medium of photomontage which he particularly favored and for which he constantly collected interesting photographs and objects. Another characteristic of the series is that in many cases the flap text appears on the front cover of the book, which makes the the short descriptions part of the literary experience rather than a marketing vehicle.
With his works, Christian Chruxin shaped the look alternative book market in German-speaking countries for more than three decades. His affinity for the constructive and the conceptual in design made him a master of the serial. The fields of literature he worked were sometimes far from the so-called mainstream. Maybe this is the reason why his design work — even in Germany — is still only known to a small circle. It is long overdue to look at his works anew, because Chruxin is without doubt one of the most interesting personalities in the design history of post-war German.

Jens Mueller

Born in Koblenz/Germany, 1982. Apprenticeship in advertising agency and printery. Diploma and Master-Degree in graphic design from University of Applied Sciences Dusseldorf. Since 2007 Designer of stamps for German Ministry of Finance. 2009-2012 partner of Müller Weiland design studio. 2013 Winner of international design 'Kieler Woche', with Karen Weiland. Since 2009 editor of A5 book series about graphic design history. Since 2012 Creative Director of optik design studio in Düsseldorf. Winner of national and international design awards. Author of several articles and books on graphic design history.


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