Théo Ballmer

Theo Ballmer is known as one of the heroes of Modernist design.  His posters of the 1920s and ‘30s are famous, leaving his work as a photographer, lettering designer, teacher and jobbing typographer almost unrecorded. The shortest accounts of his career mention that he was a student at the Bauhaus.  In fact, when he went to the Bauhaus he was already an established designer.

Théo Ballmer

 

Théo Ballmer



Born in Basel, and apprenticed as a lithographic draughtsman in that city, Ballmer received part of his training at the Zurich Kunstgewerbeschule, where one of his teachers was Ernst Keller, the ‘father of Swiss graphic design.’ 

 

Théo Ballmer

Ballmer’s sketchbooks at the age of seventeen reveal him as astonishingly precocious and aware of the avant-garde.  Drawings show the influence of George Grosz; an exercise in organizing different elements in a given space has hints of Mondrian, another of Kandinsky.

 

Théo Ballmer

In 1926 Ballmer began work as graphic designer for one of Basel’s largest pharmaceutical companies, Hoffmann-La Roche.  Here he employed Modernist ingredients – flat areas of colour and geometrical lettering drawn with ruler and compasses on a grid – which remained a continuing speciality and part of a personal style.  The earliest published example of this lettering is in the design of a shop-window display of watches, made in collaboration with the architects Ernst Mumenthaler and Otto Meier, partners in a leading progressive architectural practice.  Mumenthaler’s posters have lettering indistinguishable from Ballmer’s – and were most likely executed by Ballmer.  Connections to avant-garde movements – aesthetic and political – were to run through Ballmer’s career until the late 1930s.

 

RECOMMENDED READING

 

 Swiss Graphic Design: The Origins and Growth of an International Style

Swiss Graphic Design: The Origins and Growth of an International Style, 1920-1965//ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=historygraphi-20&l=am2&o=1&a=0300106769
Swiss graphic design and the Swiss Style are crucial elements in the history of modernism. During the 1920s and 30s, skills traditionally associated with Swiss industry, particularly pharmaceuticals and mechanical engineering, were matched by those of the countrys graphic designers, who produced their advertising and technical literature. These pioneering graphic artists saw design as part of industrial production and searched for anonymous, objective visual communication. They chose photographic images rather than illustration, and typefaces that were industrial-looking rather than those designed for books.
 
Written by noted design authority Richard Hollis, this lavishly illustrated volume looks at the uniquely clear graphic language developed by such Swiss designers as Theo Ballmer, Max Bill, Adrian Frutiger, Karl Gerstner,Armin Hoffman, Ernst Keller, Herbert Matter, Josef Mller-Brockmann, and Jan Tschichold. The style of these artists received worldwide admiration for its formal discipline: images and text were organized by geometrical grids. Adopted internationally, the grid and sans serif typefaces such as Helvetica became the classic emblems of Swiss graphic design.
 
Showcasing design work across a range of media, including posters, magazines, exhibition displays, brochures, advertisements, books, and film, this essential book shows how many of the Swiss designers modernist elements remain an indispensable part of todays graphic language.
2018 History Graphic Design

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