Profiles in Black&White: Herbert Bayer

In Article, Black and White Photography, Photo Print Collector, Photographer on September 24, 2013 at 12:16 pm

“My work seen in its totality is a statement about the integration of the contemporary artist into an industrial society.”

-Herbert Bayer

Self-Portrait, 1932, Herbert Bayer

Self-Portrait, 1932, Herbert Bayer

The vast majority of artists that are profiled here dabbled in a multitude of mediums. Ultimately, however, they considered themselves to be photographers at the end of the day. This was not true in the case of Herbert Bayer; he actually considered himself a painter at heart. But Bayer’s vast tool set impaired any reductive labeling past the broad title of “artist”. Along with painting and graphic design, he sculpted, designed environmental and building architecture, designed interiors and photographed. Not to mention a plethora of fun with font types and the alphabet itself. His cohabitation of the worlds of fine and applied arts was uncommonly seamless.

Born in 1900, the Austrian-born Bayer was taken under the wing of artist Georg Schmidthammer at nineteen, following a stint in the Austro-Hungarian military. After leaving Schmidthammer to study at the Darmstadt Artist’ Colony, Bayer became enamored with Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus Manifesto. Here Bayer was under the watchful eyes of teachers such as Wassily Kadinsky and Paul Klee for four years until Gropius appointed Bayer director of printing and advertising. It was at this time, in 1925, that he started exploring camera work. Under Bayer’s control, Bauhaus publications had a brusque, succinct visual element and adopted an all-lowercase usage of sans serif font. Three years later, he left Bauhaus to become art director of Vogue’s Berlin office.

Being the personification of eclecticism that he was, photography became an effective asset in his mixed media creations. In the piece “Metamorphosis,” from 1936, Bayer’s use of photomontage overlays dynamic three-dimensional geometric shapes looking out on to verdant, cloudy horizon. As an advertising director, photomontage often aided him in his commercial use of avant-garde imagery.

Metamorphosis, 1936. Herbert Bayer

Metamorphosis, 1936. Herbert Bayer

After arriving in New York as a refugee from Nazi Germany in 1948, Bayer would create memorable ad campaigns such as 1945’s “Great Ideas of Western Men.” CEO Walter Paepcke, an important patron of Bayer in the latter half of his life, led the campaign’s publisher, Container Corporation of America. At Paepcke’s behest, Bayer would move to Aspen, where he supervised both the design of the Aspen Institute’s architecture and program graphics. While here, Bayer also gave birth to the “earth art” movement, starting with his walled ring of grass that was festooned on the Aspen Institute’s campus.

In 1974, moved once more, this time to California. Until his death in 1985, much of his artwork from this period would continue incorporate the environment. During his 85-year life, Bayer’s works were displayed in over a 100 exhibitions. Numerous accolades were bestowed upon him, such as the Culture Prize of the German Society for Photography and the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art. As the Art and Design Consultant for his friend Robert O. Anderson’s Atlantic Richfield Company, he would also help cultivate the largest corporate art collection in the world.

Bayer’s work can be seen in numerous places all over the world, but example of said work can be found: Herbert Bayer

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