Art + Life

A New Archive have designed a handsome new catalogue to accompany the current Eduardo Paolozzi exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery. Co-founder Thomas Swann talks us through their creative process and the rationale behind the design decisions that brought the book to life...

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How did the project come about, and what was the brief?
Daniel F. Herrmann, curator of the Whitechapel Gallery’s Eduardo Paolozzi exhibition, got in contact and proposed that we do the catalogue for the show, having become familiar with the studio’s work through The White Review and Fitzcarraldo Editions publications. In terms of a brief, this was a book that evolved through a series of discussions about what it fundamentally needed to be: highly readable, visually exciting, and a design that would work for hardback and soft cover editions. The project then developed quite naturally from initial tests to final product.

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What design challenges did the project present?
The design challenges were partly those that we choose to take on regularly in our work: how to create something which will stand the test of time in terms of design, while creating a book which you would actually wish to read and which displays the content in a sympathetic manner. Specific to this book, we had to create something that would  work as an academic’s reference book, while simultaneously feel engaging and accessible to a more generalised audience. This is something I think we’ve achieved simply through a use of scale: the book is big enough to display images in detail, small enough to maintain a pleasurable reading experience. We have a lot of mid-century art catalogues in the studio, and what we particularly wanted to embody is something of their intelligent, typographically astute and common-sense approach to the catalogue ‘genre’, an approach which we felt suited Paolozzi’s oeuvre.

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Can you explain the rationale behind the treatment of images throughout the book, and the black backgrounds in particular?
In terms of images, we wanted to create a clear division between the illustrations for the essays and the pictorial plates in order to give the book a sense of changing rhythm—alternate moments for concentrated reading and for looking in detail at the art-works themselves. As for the black backgrounds, this has both prosaic function as well as providing visual interest. Paolozzi created a lot of wonderful prints throughout his career but these presented us with an obstacle: how to feature each print series without the extent of the book increasing impractically, and how to give them a sense of unity as a series. The black backgrounds are a feature we’ve used in other projects and it felt an appropriate solution here, they convey an archival aesthetic while providing a device that acts like a set of parentheses for enclosing the works visually within a series.

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Tell us about the paper and production choices you made—and how did you differentiate between the hard- and softcover editions?
True to the mid-century references for this book, we kept materials simple: a matte cream coated sheet for the interior which works well for both reading and image reproduction, high quality uncoated papers for the cover. We used the same kind of paper across the soft cover, dust jacket, hardback and belly-band in order to keep a unity between the two versions of the books.

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What influenced your choice of typography and the layout of text within the book?
We looked at the rationalist catalogue designs of the 60s and 70s in particular. This book was an attempt at embodying something of this humane modernism. As typical in 60s and 70s design, there’s a clear grid structure but it never takes precedence over the content—deviation from the rules are encouraged where appropriate. The ragged line ending and italic quotations provide vitality to the spreads whilst placing the illustration’s caption directly under the images is something we see a lot in mid-century art books; we found it aided the usability of the book while softening the grid-based nature of the book’s mise-en-page.

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What are you working on next?
We’re currently working towards the launch of a skin, hair and body-care range we’ve created the identity for, we’re also working on the art direction for a fashion label across this spring and summer season, and finalising another catalogue on Chinese art for the CASS Sculpture Foundation.

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A New Archive was founded in 2016 by Ray O’Meara, Thomas Swann and Gabriella Voyias to consult, design and direct projects across the art, fashion and publishing sectors.