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Biblio File

Alvin Lustig


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.


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Hello, Ryan, Going to my

Hello, Ryan, Going to my bookshelf for something else this morning, I took down my copy of Alfred Young Fisher's 'The Ghost in the Underblows' and once again admired the decorations by Alvin Lustig. That led me to the Internet re: Lustig, and I found your blog. I grew up in Los Angeles and was very immersed in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright as I trained for my career in architecture. Though I moved to Canada in 1970, my love of his work has never diminished. Thus I recognized what I thought was his influence in Lustig's designs for that book when I discovered it in the 1970's in a shop here in Vancouver. I had my suspicions, but until today, I never had them confirmed that he actually studied, if briefly, with Wright. This is exciting to learn! I possess copy No. 196 of the 300 that were printed. The dust jacket was gone when I bought it for (wait for it) $3.50. I have always thought that the book was exceptional. I admit that I have never read the poem and I understand your reluctance to attempt to summarize it, now that I have read the introductory essay by Lawrence Clark Powell. I may now attempt eventually to tackle it. Anyway, thanks for the new bit of knowledge! I think I'll keep my eyes open for further examples of Lustig's work now. Best wishes, Paul

Ryan, The Carter library did

Ryan, The Carter library did a focused exhibition on Lustig a few years ago, and the centerpiece was our copy of "The Ghost in the Underblows." It was really a handsome exhibition that featured, among other things, a copy of the Seagram building promotional brochure loaned by Lustig's widow, Elaine Lustig Cohen. Lustig designed much of the signage in the building as I understand it--though the actual designs were executed by his wife as I understand it. The exhibition also highlighted the first known illustration that Lustig did, the cover of the May 1933 issue of Touring Topics.

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