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teaching 1


Style and Subversion 1970 – 1990 Exhibition
Victoria and Albert Museum, London,

2011 – 2012

essay from catalog / a way of looking at things / April Greiman / assist by Eric Martin

In postmodern work of the 1970s and mid to late-‘80s there was huge diversity, with no one unifying philosophy as far as I can remember. In fact, that was half the point. Some work was political, some decorative, some Punk, some academic, etc. I think I overlap with this broad trend only to the extent that my work in that period was “hybrid,” a quality common to all my activities since, in ever-wider contexts. 

My academic training in the early ‘70s at the Basel Allgemeine Kunstgewerbeschule was in the controlled yet playful tradition (thank you Wolfgang Weingart) of classic Swiss graphic design. I entered the school both to study typography, and to go into textile design. Armin Hoffman — director of my both my class and the graphic design program at the school — said I had to work in his program first before I could work in textiles, so I focused on typography. Working with handset type forces you to communicate an idea by the way you handle the lettering itself, without any other illustrative material — it becomes its own narrative. In retrospect, I can see how easily this experience sponsored a way of seeing type — and in fact everything — as an object in space. Type as a building, type as a landscape, type in a landscape with other ‘objects.’ 

Cut: to my move to Los Angeles and the discovery of a natural landscape that I felt I could call ‘home,’ the desert, the place that opened my mind to space and time at a completely new scale. In my early collaboration in LA with Jayme Odgers (as Visual Energy, from 1978–81) we worked with traditional photographic and typographic art and literally, physically, layered it into a single image pasted up as in traditional collage, airbrushing out the edge conditions, and then re-photographing that — which became the final art. In combination with Jayme’s original photography, there was a lot of using pre-printed images, illustrations — often with the offset lithography dot-screen ‘look’ — then enlarging them, pasting them up, collaging them together. We also utilized a fair amount of appropriation: “cut the turnip out of the printed seed pack and paste that onto the Spacemat art,” and so on. Original photography combined with painting and typography — the elements interacting, seemingly spontaneously, to create a space of their own. 

As my own work evolved, I began to move away from the traditional cut and paste, two-dimensional collage process into different paradigms for creating space. My exposure to videography — real space/time — as head of the program in Visual Communication at CalArts led to commissions in this medium, as in early TV spots for Esprit, Lifetime Television, US West, etc. In the Pacific Wave poster (ca. 1985), for example, which I produced with a 512k version of the first Macintosh computer, I began to explore digital space, both literally and conceptually, zooming into an image of a wave to reveal the information as pixels, which became like snowballs. I was interested in revealing the DNA of the technology “in the wave,” micro to macro, expressed in spatial relationships and visual hierarchies. In a sense, this is an echo of my earlier interest in textile design, now transformed into the pure textures of technology. This interest was also reflected in the re-naming of my business “Greimanski Labs: a purely scientific approach” — a tongue in cheek characterization of my experimental approach. 

In conventional “pasteup” I would have begun with a sketching phase, perhaps a mockup of the individual elements printed from photos or sketched from real objects. However, when I began to work with the computer I soon found that everything became much more intuitive, more about process and accidental discovery, since the digital medium enables intuition to extend much further into the design process. I might, for example, shoot a high-quality still photo of a video off a tv monitor, then layer that into a half-finished digital composition to see what the image then became. A design is simply a moment — a freeze-frame — in a continuing process. I quickly learned to enjoy not having to preconceive the form that my projects might take, jumping into a void and exploring until something unexpected began to emerge. I developed a floating, yet three-dimensionally gridded visual approach in which static and dynamic X,Y and Z coordinates were at play. There was always an implicit structure that found a point of equilibrium between intuition and conscious choice. I think intuition is the most powerful form of intelligence.  

Similarly, working with the Quantel Paintbox in the early ‘80s (a sophisticated high-resolution digital image composer designed for broadcast television, video production and the motion picture industry), I was never interested in what it was supposedly good at: the seamless combination of images. I was always interested in the texture of the technology behind it. If I was using video, the video texture became part of the content of the image; if I was using the computer, the pixel texture became part of the content of the image. I want everything to “be” its medium. The being is the meaning, the meaning the being.

My personal design history has been one ever-evolving synergy with the rapid evolution of technology. That is, my design process has always been in an elaborate state of transformation, from two-dimensional design to motion graphics to design for the Internet, to, more recently, an opening out to architectural and environmental issues. In fact, for some time now my work has been more to do with the real environment than with graphic design as such, though I still have the same underlying concerns. 

I’ve been teaching at SciArc (The Southern California School of Architecture) for nearly 20 years. I continue to appreciate and produce graphic work, but for me the big issues are now found in architecture and the environment. The transition from tiles and tapestries to environmental graphics to large-scale work in real space has been essentially effortless, since, in a sense, the approach is the same in architecture as in all my design. Now, when I do produce a purely graphic design solution, it reflects the influence of this experience. The web site for Roto Architects ( is a case in point. Even the company's identifying logotype is a subtly moving object in a real space, like the perception of a building in a landscape, coexisting with other typographic elements in a common “site.”  

Conversely, my large (8200 sq ft) mural project on Wilshire Boulevard for a mixed-use transportation hub takes a hybrid media technique that I might have used in a 2-dimensional composition, and translates it into a real space — two juxtaposed walls of a video image produced on the computer and applied to the wall surfaces by conventional sign painters. The viewer is invited to travel through a graphic space that defines an actual space: “transmedia,” as I call it! 

If there has been a constant in my journey, whatever the medium or context, it is a desire to create space as I define it: a field of energy, an interplay of elements in a dynamic balance between discipline and play, material and immaterial — all captured in a single, simultaneous moment in time-space.

teaching 2

Some Rules and Hints

for Students and Teachers or Anybody Else

John Cage


Find a place you trust, and then, try trusting it for a while.


General duties of a student:
Pull everything out of your teacher.
Pull everything out of your fellow students.


General duties of a teacher:
Pull everything out of your students.


Consider everything as an experiment.


Be self disciplined. This means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. 
To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.


Follow the leader. Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail. There is only make.


The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something.
It is the people who do all the work all the time who eventually catch on to things.
You can fool the fans — but not the players.


Do not try to create and analyze at the same time. They are different processes.


Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It is lighter than you think.


We are breaking all the rules, even our own rules, and how do we do that?
By leaving plenty of room for x qualities.


Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes.
Read everything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully and often.
Save everything. It may come in handy later.

teaching 3

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

teaching 4

Old Zen Adage

you should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day-
unless you're too busy;
then you should sit for an hour.

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