Philippe Apeloig: ‘My generation represents the hope of a new life’ pt2

Published:  February 10, 2014
Bonnie Abbott

Soon to arrive in Australia for the AGIdeas Look Upstairs design forum, Philippe Apeloig is a French graphic designer of manifold talent, known for his hundreds of posters for art and cultural institutions, such as the  Musée d’Orsay, the Louvre (where he was also art director for 5 years) the Theatre du Châtelet, and the Fête du Livre, most of which feature his logotypes or typographic experimentations with form and arrangement.

desktop interviewed Apeloig about the meticulous process of his work (see: desktop Philippe Apeloig: I feel closer to the invisible than to the visable) in part one, and here talks us through his retrospective currently on at Musée Les Arts Décoratifs and the influence of his Jewish heritage on his career.

Typorama at Musée Les Arts Décoratifs.

Typorama at Musée Les Arts Décoratifs.

You currently have an exhibition of your work at Musée Les Arts Décoratifs. Steve Heller said of this show, “The last time I saw a gaggle of teenage art students sitting quietly on the floor in a museum gallery intently making sketches of posters hanging on a wall, as though they were drawing from classical plaster casts or painted masterworks, was … never!” How does this response from the audience make you feel?

Of course I am struck by the numbers of visitors, especially young people, art students, who have been sketching in the galleries, and taking notes from labels and wall panels, as Steven Heller noticed. It is touching to see that students are taking examples from my work. It means a lot for me that I can pass my knowledge. From the early beginning of the project, it was one of the main purpose of putting together the material for the exhibition. I wanted to make graphic design and typography accessible to a wide public audience. I was searching for something really pedagogical, and this is why I show my design process. There are the preliminary sketches of some posters and the twelve animations that show, step by step, the creation of logos, from the first idea to the final design. The exhibition’s inner structure reflects my method of working as developed with my team.

Typorama at Musée Les Arts Décoratifs.

Typorama at Musée Les Arts Décoratifs.

The Typorama show also contains autobiographical elements. How have factors of your life determined the way you treat type and image?

I wanted to introduce an autobiographical context to give the keys for the people (the readers and the exhibition visitors) to understand my roots, where my family came from and how it has influenced me. My personal background built my desire to become an artist.

I am a grandchild of jewish immigrants from Poland. During World War II and the antisemitic persecutions, my mother and her parents were hidden in a small village located in the centre of France. My father was hidden in Brittany. The part of the family who stayed in Poland were deported and died in extermination camps. I grew up with the strong feeling of the unpredictable luck to be born and to be alive. These experiences built a strong desire in me to repair something that I have not lived myself but that is a part of my flesh.

I was aware that my generation represents the hope of a new life for my family and I wanted to honour their thought, all the great protection that they gave to me. To engage myself into art was a gesture to give to the life is beauty and its endless hope. Ones will say that it is about resiliency. The beginning of the Typorama exhibition is about that.

Typorama at Musée Les Arts Décoratifs.

I wanted to connect my personal history with some extracts from movies that are important to me and that have a symbolic impact to me. The pram on the staircase in Battleship Potemkin shows life – life that resists annihilation. Another staircase, in Otto e mezzo unites the living and the dead, all the characters who have shaped the existence of the main protagonist coming together are in a circular dance of life. Hope, belief and conviction are what enable the three children with the guitar in Orfeu Negro to make the sun rise. Pina Bausch, who knows a whole lot about resilience, choreographed a dance of life, sheer jubilation by tracing a diagonal of love on which women and men harmonise their gestures. The tightrope walker Philippe Petit draws a line in space above the void. Graphic tension at its height, with no fall-out.

Typorama at Musée Les Arts Décoratifs.

Typorama at Musée Les Arts Décoratifs.

Is there a method or attitude to type design that you feel is particularly ‘Apeloig’?

For me, typography is the very essence of design, the balance between light and shadow. Midway between technique and art, functional and poetic, it is a precise and yet arbitrary practice. Typography is alive when it is a bit awkward and fragile. I like it to be experimental; in fact, I need it to be so in order to create. Even if the number of glyphs are limited, I care that there is an infinity of combination for shapes. My early alphabets were basic, based on a grid system and playful. Gradually I developed this combination of forms to be my elegant and effective signature, continuing to refine and enhance it. Modularity became a structural framework for me and a source of pictorial elements. My fonts are irrational and unpredictable.

Typorama is at the Musée des Arts décoratifs, 107, rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris. It is curatored by Amélie Gastaud (Curator of the Advertising Department) and Yannick James (Studio Philippe Apeloig). 

Photos of the exhibition © Prisca Martaguet

Philippe Apeloig will appear at Look Upstairs design forum on the 3rd of April. You can buy one and three day passes to the event:

One Response

  1. absolutely my favourite typographer, so thanks for the feature. if only his exhibition could come to australia!

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