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A few days ago, I remembered that I liked Design Observer—a collective blog that occasionally includes posts from the great Steven Heller. Anyway, there was a post or a link or some other worm hole a few months ago that led to a Flickr page of book covers designed by Alvin Lustig for New Directions in the late 1940’s. Clean, with one or two colors, interesting use of typography or hand lettering, and abstracted shapes, Lustig’s designs are a revelation and respite from the lazy use of the photographic image and rote text layout (a problem then as now).
However, since NYPL, like most libraries, does not extensively collect book jackets, my forays into the stacks were for naught. That is until I ran across Alfred Young Fisher’s The Ghost in the Underblows. A 304 page arch-modernist poem that I won’t or can’t summarize, The Ghost in the Underblows was designed by Lustig and printed at the Ward Ritchie Press in Los Angeles in 1940. Lustig’s design for the title page and the section breaks are quite beautiful given the two-color palette (red and black) he utilized and vastly different from his later work. Each is a small symphony, composed of metal slugs and other odds and ends from the print shop where the positioning and edges of the components become visible on close inspection. Yet moving back the designs resemble a Frank Lloyd Wright window constructed by Malevich.
All of the images from Ghost as well as other information on Lustig are available here, but a close examination with the object provides a real delight.