04 July 2007
Oded Ezer

Oded Ezer

Above: Works by Guy Saggee, Ofer Kahana, Yanek Iontef, Yehuda Hofshi, Emanuel Rappaport, Habib Khoury, Tatiana Luxemburg, Inbal Baron, Jewboy.

The state of Israel is 59 years old. Territory: 22,072 square kilometers. Official languages: Hebrew and Arabic. Total number of citizens: 7.1 million. 76% are Jews, 24% are Arabs (Muslims, Christians, and others). 40% of the population lives in the center of the state. 8% are ultra orthodox, 48% are religious and 44% are non-religious. Average salary per year: NIS 84,000 (about US$ 20,000). Capital city: Jerusalem. Biggest trade center: Tel Aviv. Main schools for design: Bezalel Academy (102 years), Shenkar College (37 years), Vitzo College (32 years) and HIT (38 years). Number of tertiary education students studying design, architecture and fine arts in the last academic year: 2,876.

There is no way to evaluate the creation and development of contemporary Israeli graphic design without taking social, political, economical and cultural conditions into consideration. Israel, a country that has only recently started to recover economically, seen a dramatic growth in the quality and importance of graphic, typographic, and interactive design. One point worth noting is the number of design and Hebrew typography conferences organized recently and also the number of design portals established on the Internet, that respond to the growing interest of design students and professionals in Israeli graphic design, typography and illustration. Another remarkable event is the foundation (2006) of the Israel Community of Designers (ICD), a new professional body of leading Israeli designers, whose aim is to promote an understanding of the design process as well as to represent the professional community towards government and industry. Some of the following examples are taken from the first exhibition of this body, taking place these days in Tel-Aviv under the title: "Designed in Israel 07".

Influenced by Art Nouveau, the 1980's New wave, Arabic motifs and Japanese minimalism - high profile contemporary Israeli graphic designers take a bit from everywhere. The modern 20th century European principles - including the German Bauhaus and Russian constructivism - that traditionally ruled Israeli graphic design are being replaced now by a new design elite that freely adopts not only methods of pre-modernist movements, but also elements from traditional Jewish typography, Islamic geometrical patterns and calligraphy, far-eastern color palettes and compositions, and even chaotic ornamental shapes, to create a new homogeneous style - different from the graphic style that has been seen in Israeli design up till now. The early years of the millennium also saw the first generation of Israeli designers who accept presence of the Israeli state as an existing fact; the first generation that put its effort not into eclectic surviving, but into searching for new visual languages that will reflect the reality instead of hiding it; a new generation that, as a contradiction to the traditional Zionist conception, does not hesitate to communicate with old Jewish visual references, or even religious ones.

On their CD cover for an Israeli rap artist (2005), designers Nati Ohayon and Dani Megrelishvili created an icon from traditional Hebrew letters from the 19th century that are usually used for religious or conservative designs, in order to "respect the Hebrew language, which is more visible in the old style letters". They accompanied the icon with a more 'trendy' logo that echoes British 1980s' typographic style.

While type designer Yanek Iontef takes 14th century European Hebrew manuscripts as his source of inspiration for his self-designed foundry's logo (2003), designer and illustrator Guy Saggee 'borrows' Hebrew Art Nouveau letters for the headlines of the Israeli Digital Art Center publications, connecting the timeless theme and the contemporary digital medium, accompanied by multilingual text in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Inbal Baron, an Israeli designer who lives and works in Berlin, mixes Frankrühlya Hebrew font (a 2004 homage to the 1908 Rafael Frank's Frank-Rühl typeface) with the Fette Fraktur (originaly issued by the C.E. Weber foundry in Germany in 1875) associated with the Black Lettering of the Middle Ages, In her book The Urban Dialogue Concept (2006), which deals with personal and sometimes sentimental interpretations of both Tel Aviv and Berlin.

A strong feeling of the 1900 Jugendstil (especially Ephraim Moshe Lilien and Aubery Beardsley's) springs to mind when looking at Doron Edut's record design for Fortisacharof (2003), a popular Israeli rock duo. Combining simple clip art elements, he created intuitive, bizarre silhouettes of animals and insect parts, accompanied by text in Frank-R hl. As a result of the rise of the Jewish immigrants from Islamic countries as a significant political force in the late 70's, a process of legitimacy to Arabic ("oriental") cultural and visual aspects gradually occurred, reaching new peaks in Israeli design these days. The post-war European foundations of the early years of Israeli design is being enriched with patterns, colors and compositions that are characteristic to traditional Muslim designs.

In another poster series by Guy Saggee, Build - Rebuild - Resist (2006), designed to act as a propaganda tool calling people to join the activity of a non-violent, direct-action group (originally established to oppose and resist Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories), he draws Palestinian workers, replacing the myth of the Zionist builders of the early Israeli state. The Islamic patterns in the background contain illustrated scenes from construction sites.

Geometrical Islamic shapes are also used as visual metaphors in Amir Chasson's works. In his poster (2004) celebrating the 56th Independence Day of the state of Israel, he decided it is more important to show that it is also the 56th birthday of the war for independence of the Palestinian People. He did so by using Arabic numerals and creating a geometrical pattern from a Palestinian postcard showing the "suicide bomber" Nidal Farhat who was killed in a booby trap explosion. In his next poster, celebrating the 58th Independence Day of the state of Israel (2006), Chasson presented photographed letters from sewage system covers that cross-reference the then-painful issue of the date-rape drug GHB.

A more poetic angle is demonstrated in Yehuda Hofshi's precise typographic choices for the catalogue designed for an Iranian-born artist Farida, entitled Before and After the Rose (2006). Taking into consideration the inner rhythm of her typical patterns, Hofshi accompanied the work on the cover with three Hebrew and Latin complementary typefaces - Zvi Narkis's Narkis Classic, Hermann Zapf's Zapfino and Eric Gill's Gill Sans - to create a delicate typographic line that combines different attitudes into a harmonious integration.

A sincere attempt to create a local style with Middle Eastern references and Polish/French design methods (influenced by Henryk Tomaszewski and Gerard Paris-Clavel's work) is seen in Ofer Kahana's work as part of a group of activists, visual artists, industrial and graphic designers working with human rights organizations aiming to achieve equal citizenship rights for Palestinians, and for economic and social justice in Israeli society. In his work Black Stain (2005), he uses a coffee stain on an Islamic pattern (reproduced according to a Palestinian guide book for creating architectonic patterns), in order to tackle the October 2000 riots, when the Israeli police killed 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel. In an earlier work, Who Gets Hurt? (2004), designed for a conference celebrating five years'anniversary of the decision of the High Court of Justice against torture in Israel, he presents low budget, one color printed posters with a word or a phrase typed on them introducing the audience to the polemic character of torture; the visitors of the conference were invited to write their reactions on the posters themselves.

On the other hand, the young Russian immigration of recent years brought a new ornamental and even sentimental aesthetics, contrasting to the modern Russian constructivism of the early 20th century, which has influenced the Israeli design up until now.

In her design for the cover of Romeo and Juliet: Biochemistry of love (2004), Tatyana Luxembourg integrates the somehow 'romantic'Drogolin typeface from mid-19th century for the main headline with Yanek Iontef's Meargen (a Hebrew version of Erik Spiekermann and Ole Schafer's ITC Officina Sans) for the subtitles. She combines them with analytic, detailed, scientific-like illustrations influenced by her love to traditional Russian technique called Gjel and to textile patterns; reflecting on the variety of topics in this unique, new version of the well-known story of William Shakespeare.

Finally, we cannot ignore the influence and contribution of the Internet as a medium which delivers the techniques and styles from far-Eastern or north-European countries to Israeli contemporary design. Examples of this are seen in book cover designs of Israeli fiction novels (2005) by underground designer Jewboy (aka Yaron Shin). As his sources of inspiration, he names not only free-style street art, but also Ukiyo-e prints techniques and fragments of old Japanese wrapping papers originating in the metropolitan culture of Edo (Tokyo), technical or scientific drawings, and contemporary Scandinavian record sleeve designs, "with their cold 'sex appeal'", as he explains. Although choosing Chayim typeface (a grotesque typeface designed by Ya'akov Chayim Levit in 1933) as his starting point for the title of the books, he converts the matter-of-fact nature of these letters to a naive, even childish, message - by drawing their outlines in a fake-3D-like, immature effect.

While Bezalel academy, the senior institute and one of the two most influential design schools in Israel (the other one is the Shenkar college), promotes a conservative campaign in order to reinforce the status of Israeli graphic design influenced by 20th-century, modern European design, there are slight, almost un-noticeable yet significant changes in local contemporary visual language that are beginning to take place. Young Israeli designers that share a daring and enquiring nature, do not recoil from a diverse, emotional, intuitive, rich in substance design that reflects the visual and cultural environment that surrounds them.

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About Oded Ezer
Oded Ezer is a graphic designer, type designer, lecturer, and a typographic experimentalist based in Tel Aviv, Israel.

About TYPO
TYPO is a unique magazine. The name TYPO gives away the main focus of the magazine typography, which is discussed from different points of view and with connection to other fields such as architecture, photography, social science, and aesthetics. It introduces, in a very lively and readable manner, all outstanding individuals of typography and their work. Each issue is organized into clearly distinguished sections that cover main theme, significant people in the industry, interesting projects and events, exotic photo-essays and many others.

TYPO is a member of the Icograda Design Media Network.

Israel Community of Designers (ICD)
The original establishment of the organisation can be traced back to 1971. Recently the name was changed to Israel Community of Designers with the inclusion of a significant number of graphic designers. ICD is a Professional member of Icograda.

This week's Feature appeared originally in TYPO.25. It is reprinted with the permission of the author.