THE MASTER'S VIEW
One afternoon back in 1991, finishing up a few things before going home, sitting at a Pentagram desk in London (for many, a place unknown; for some, an icon of design; for me a unique site), my brand new job, the printer by my side started spitting out sheets of paper, one after the other without a halt. I raised my head to see who was still there and saw Diana.
Surprised to find only text on them, I took the first one and read it through. "The Santa Trinita bridge in Florence, dynamited during the last war, was reconstructed from photographs and Ammannati's original drawings. One difficulty was that the curves of the arches didn't conform to standard geometry. Some speculated that they were catenary curves, the shapes produced by the loop of a chain, others that they derived from the shape of a violin. Finally someone suggested they were drawn freehand by someone brighter than Ammannati. They were right. When Cosimo I commissioned the bridge, he was also talking with Michelangelo on other matters. The
original design of the triple curves can be found carved in the Medici tombs on Michelangelos's Sarcophagi of Night and Day, Twilight and Dawn."
The effect of Alan's work cannot be measured. Many generations of graphic designers around the globe could consider, even if it sounds irreverent, that the influence of his thinking exceeds that of his graphic works. Or, maybe, they are a part of the same view. I had the joy of working with (for) him surrounded by the mystic of a company where innovative values, methodology, and productive manner form a paradigm largely imitated, but never equalled.
His book, "The Art of looking Sideways" is a real haemorrhage of precious stories, quotes and unique images taken from mankind's (and his') visual memory and it is a treasure not to be lost. The delicious, nonconformist, iconoclastic words and style create labyrinths and paths that merge with the contents in such a way that interaction is continuous and surprising. Each page is a different world. A reveal. Every page could be the last and we would close the book with a smile. Yet there is always another, even more exciting than the previous one.
We have always dreamt of this book. It really seems this work has been around for ever, not just now. Being timeless, plural, and with an enormous and generous vision becomes a milestone of design and its long history. (Could it also be a milestone in the history of every book?). This book had to exist.
- It's a book. I have been working on it for twenty years - he said that afternoon, surprising me from behind with an unusual smile. I already knew about the book but pretended not to. He grasped his pages and turned back to his daily routine of dry Martini with peanuts at 7pm, when everybody had gone home.
Years of hard work, search, analysis, compilations, trips, references, treasons, stories, memories, fantasies and thoughts give way to this book with the most delicate and human sense of humour. A book lightened by a smile of genuine wisdom, that of somebody who has learnt everything from deep practice and tells it with the asceticism and the greatness of great folks. He mentions every day stuff, things that less sagacious views would have missed. As a street encyclopaedia he is saying, as Macedonio Fernandez once said "not everything is wakefulness when eyes are
It is not a history of design, not even close. Nor an essay on semiotics. Nor a book on the theory of shapes. Nor a random encyclopaedia. It is nothing that could be explained in editorial terms. It is a book for designers, scientists, housewives, doctors, astronauts, children and adults, a book for everybody. You just need an open mind and to sit back and experience the difference between seeing and looking. As Jeremy Myerson says on his review, "I think Alan wrote this book for me". I believe we all feel the same. We all sense we had something to do with this piece of work,
something that involves us, because it involves everybody. And everything. We all believe it has been dedicated to us.
Alan says, "This book is about many things that I have never been taught".
All the charming and erudite information that Alan shares with us appears in a time, says Steven Heller, when voluminous books explain what design is. This is design. The curious view of a master that reminds us in a simple way the joy of living with images. Beyond words.
That afternoon, about fifteen years ago, at 8pm, as usual, he stood up with his piles of papers, notes and a cigarette as an appendix and went to his Notting Hill home, a few steps away from Pentagram. It was an unimportant moment for everybody. However, I felt I was living a historic moment (in my story). In his book, some fifteen lines in 7 points helvetica on page 146 tell the story of the bridge I saw come out of that printer. That page represents something that came to life in me because of Alan and it is stuck to the master's smiling look for ever.
On 21 September 2006, heaven (or hell) became an interesting place. He wouldn't have wanted us to mourn but to use that energy in doing better work and rejoicing even more.
Alan, to me, was already immortal even before I met him over 20 years ago. Still, to know that I won't be able to visit him or to gaze for the first time one of his new jobs overwhelms me with sorrow.
I was so fortunate.
About Lorenzo Shakespear
Lorenzo Shakespear is graphic designer from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The Art of Looking Sideways is a primer in visual intelligence, an exploration of the workings of the eye, the hand, the brain and the imagination. It is an inexhaustible mine of anecdotes, quotations, images, curious facts and useless information, oddities, serious science, jokes, memories all concerned with the interplay between the verbal and the visual, and the limitless resources of the human mind. Loosely arranged in 72 'chapters', all this material is presented in a wonderfully inventive series of pages that are themselves masterly demonstrations of the expressive use of type, space, colour and imagery.
This book does not set out to teach lessons, but it is full of wisdom and insights collected from all over the world. Describing himself as a 'visual jackdaw', master designer Alan Fletcher has distilled a lifetime of experience and reflection into a brilliantly witty and inimitable exploration of such subjects as perception, colour, pattern, proportion, paradox, illusion, language, alphabets, words, letters, ideas, creativity, culture, style, aesthetics and value.
The Art of Looking Sideways is the ultimate guide to visual awareness, a magical compilation that will entertain and inspire all those who enjoy the interplay between word and image, and who relish the odd and the unexpected.