Stefan Sagmiester

February 24, 2009

STEFAN SAGMEISTER (1962-) is among today’s most important graphic designers. Born in Austria, he now lives and works in New York. His long-standing collaborators include the AIGA and musicians, David Byrne and Lou Reed.

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When Stefan Sagmeister was invited to design the poster for an AIGA lecture he was giving on the campus at Cranbrook near Detroit, he asked his assistant to carve the details on to his torso with an X-acto knife and photographed the result. Sunning himself on a beach the following summer, Sagmeister noticed traces of the poster text rising in pink as his flesh tanned.

Now a graphic icon of the 1990s, that 1999 AIGA Detroit poster typifies Stefan Sagmeister’s style. Striking to the point of sensationalism and humorous but in such an unsettling way that it’s nearly, but not quite unacceptable, his work mixes sexuality with wit and a whiff of the sinister. Sagmeister’s technique is often simple to the point of banality: from slashing D-I-Y text into his own skin for the AIGA Detroit poster, to spelling out words with roughly cut strips of white cloth for a 1999 brochure for his girlfriend, the fashion designer, Anni Kuan. The strength of his work lies in his ability to conceptualise: to come up with potent, original, stunningly appropriate ideas.

Born in Bregenz, a quiet town in the Austrian Alps, in 1962, Sagmeister studied engineering after high school, but switched to graphic design after working on illustrations and lay-outs for Alphorn, a left-wing magazine. The first of his D-I-Y graphic exercises was a poster publicising Alphorn’s Anarchy issue for which he persuaded fellow students to lie down in the playground in the shape of the letter A and photographed them from the school roof.

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