18 May 2019

News

Obituary

Quentin Fiore (1920–2019)

Text: Jörg Stürzebecher

On 1 May, the New York Times reported the death of a graphic artist who had designed a great deal, but who will be remembered above all for a few paperbacks, one of which even owes its success to a misspelled title. We are talking, of course, about Quentin Fiore, and the four books that he designed, partly in collaboration with the copywriter and editor Jerome Agel, for cheap mass editions in about four years from 1967. Together, they form something like a microcosm of a new beginning in the Western world around 1968 – with mass consumption, wars in Southeast Asia, civil rights movements, political revolts, and the moon landing, which has its 50th anniversary this year.



 

With his combinations of pictorial and textual elements, using various fonts, comics, caricatures and images, with cut-outs, photo sequences and much more, Quentin Fiore developed the essay into something of a surprising ‘picture book’. This all took place subversively within the system, because Fiore did not publish with marginal publishers, but bang in the middle of the system, with Bantam, one of the big American paperback publishers.

He had learned from the abstract artist Hans Hofmann and the realistic/cynical draughtsman George Grosz. Fiore brought together their antagonistic positions in commercial art. The studio of the designer Lester Beall, where Fiore sometimes worked, offered him the first space to do this. In 1967, Fiore became widely known with his visualisation of Marshall McLuhan’s theories about communication. In Fiore’s hands an A replaced the E of the original concept of message. The play on words guaranteed success. “The Medium is the Massage”, along with other legendary book designs by Fiore first appeared in Bantam books. They greeted you on page one with a cheerful “Good Morning!” and there followed a combination of photos, almost blank pages, speech bubbles and close-ups, quoting Lewis Carroll and John Dewey, the latter in mirror writing. A year later “War and Peace in the Global Village” followed, once again with McLuhan and Agel. In 1970 Richard Buckminster Fuller’s “I Seem To Be a Verb” was published as a book you could read forwards and backwards. Jerry Rubin’s “Do It”, a manifesto of American youth and student protests, appeared in Germany in 1971 and 1977 and had some influence on the Sponti movement. Fiore thus secured his place in the history of design and communication, and according to Katharine Q. Seelye’s obituary in the New York Times, he then returned to more traditional commissions and designs.

Apart from his designs, Fiore’s legacy includes the fact that although Marshall McLuhan found and invented the term Global Village, it is thanks to Fiore that the idea spread as it did, in a way that continues to make it familiar to digital natives. This alone is no mean achievement.

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