Herbert Bayer (1900 – 1985) American multi-disciplined designer

Herbert Bayer (1900 – 1985) was an American; painter, photographer, architect, designer, and sculptor. His unspecialised approach to art and design reflected his Bauhaus training emphasizing basic principles of visual communication. He emerged as a veritable one-person band of modernism, able to address problems of form in practically any medium. 

Education

Born in Haag, in the mountains of Austria, he worked as an apprentice architect and graphic designer in Linz and Darmstadt before arriving at the Bauhaus in 1921. For two years there he studied painting with Kandinsky, as well as typography. From 1925 to 1928 he headed the typography and graphic design studio at the school. 

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Biography

For the next ten years, he worked on commercial design and personal artistic projects in Berlin. In 1938 he moved to New York and six years later became an American citizen. 

For twenty years, beginning in 1945, he masterminded Container Corporation of America’s innovative design program, including its Great Ideas of Western Man series, which commissioned works from well-known artists. 

Universal Typeface - Herbert Bayer
Universal Typeface – Herbert Bayer

In 1946, Bayer moved to Aspen, Colorado, to develop a recreation and culture centre. He served as consultant and architect to the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies. He founded the International Design Conference held there. 

He died near Santa Barbara, California, in Montecito, where he had lived in his last years. 

Varied Output

Ranging from commercial typography to murals, from exhibition design to environmental art, and from buildings to drawings, Bayer’s extremely varied output defies simple generalizations. His work as a typographer, graphic designer, and photographer strongly influenced the development of modern advertising.

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Nevertheless, the fine arts were always at the heart of his enterprise, and he never ceased to think of himself as a painter. Geometric abstractions predominated in his paintings of the 1920s and 1930s. At the same time, later he investigated a variety of more personal modes, including colouristic studies and works based on landscape. 

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Photography

After he left the Bauhaus in 1928, he started taking his own photos. However, when he was a teacher at the school, it was a good place for the New Vision photography that his close friend László Moholy-Nagy was so passionate about promoting through his students and the Bauhaus book Malerei, Photographie, Film (Painting, photography, film). Most of Bayer’s photographs were taken between 1928 and 1938 when he was a commercial artist in Berlin.

They show his wide range as an artist, with graphic views of buildings and carefully made montages. His photographs, particularly those from his years in Europe, stand among his most vivid contributions to the fine arts. Many reflect the period’s avant-garde search for identifiably modern angles of vision in straight photography, while his photomontages surrealistically manipulate reality, often with whimsical irony.

The Sgraffito Mural by Bauhaus artist Herbert Bayer outside the Koch Building at the Aspen Meadows Resort.
The Sgraffito Mural by Bauhaus artist Herbert Bayer outside the Koch Building at the Aspen Meadows Resort.

Emigrated to the United States

Upon Alfred H. Barr Jr.’s request, Bayer immigrated to the United States in 1938 with the goal of implementing his theories of display in the setup of the MoMA exhibition Bauhaus: 1919–28 (1938). When planning the exhibition Road to Victory (1942), which would pave the way for Edward Steichen’s groundbreaking approach to photography display, Bayer worked closely with Steichen, the young department head of photography, to establish this function. For the balance of his career, Bayer worked as a graphic designer in America.

Sources

Herbert Bayer. Oxford Reference. Retrieved 25 Jan. 2021

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