Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Fortunato Depero's Role in Typographic Expansion

Fortunato Depero was born in Fondo, Italy on March 30, 1892 and died on November 29, 1960. He was a talented painter, stage designer, illustrator, artist, and writer who played a key role in advancing the uses of typography. This typographic expansion is exemplified conceptually from his book Depero Futurista (1927), in advertising by his Vogue covers (1929, 1930), and formally by a poster titled Subway (1929).

Depero was part of the Futurist movement, driven by passionate loathing of political and artistic traditions. The Futurists had a great love of speed, technology, war, and violence. They loved technological triumphs of humanity, like cars, planes, and the industrial town, over nature. Futurism was in high contrast to the gushing sentimentalism of Romanticism. Futurists explored every art medium; Depero had his hands in many of them, including painting, sculpture, literature, costume design, and typography. In terms of typography, Futurism broke the symmetry and tradition of the printed page by using multiple colors, typefaces, and text orientations. Maurizio Scudiero said in the Italian Futurist Book that “Futurism was perhaps the first movement in the history of art to be engineered and managed like a business…it introduced the use of the manifesto as a public means to advertise its artistic philosophy, and also as a polemic weapon against the academic and conservative world.”

Depero’s work was similar to that of F.T. Marinetti, leader of the Futurist movement and one of Depero’s biggest influences. He appropriated Marinetti’s idea that “One must destroy syntax and scatter nouns at random…One must abolish the adjective, abolish the adverb…one should deliberately confound the object with the image that it evokes…abolish even punctuation.”(Hollis, 38) Both Marinetti and Depero would use multiple colors of ink along with as many typefaces as they deemed necessary in a single work.

Another primary influence on Depero and his work was the Futurist painter Giacamo Balla. The two met in 1914 when Depero frequented the Sprovieri gallery in Rome. Later that year they teamed up and wrote The Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe, a manifesto for the revolution of everyday life. They proclaimed: “We Futurists, Balla and Depero, seek to realize this total fusion in order to reconstruct the universe making it more joyful, in other words by a complete re-creation.”

Depero Futurista, 1927

One of Depero’s most famous works is Depero Futurista (1927), known as the first object-book. It is an 80-page catalogue of advertising designs with stiff front and back covers (three copies were actually made with tin plate covers) bound by two metal bolts. The use of the metal bolts was an appropriation of industrialization and the first of its kind. Depero used no respect for the traditional rules of layout, and instead used multi-colored text in new rather than traditional typefaces. The text was printed on different kinds of paper in various type sizes and widths, making the text suddenly become image.

Pages from Depero Futurista 1927

Depero’s 1929 poster titled Subway is an homage to the underground transportation system. It is distinctive in the way that it uses text to make shapes that are further emphasized by diverse black lines. The multiple orientations of the text aid the poster in its sense of chaotic organization.

Subway poster 1929

Depero’s magazine designs, specifically the Vogue covers from 1929 and 1930, are examples of how he incorporated Futurist design into advertising as a means for extending the movement’s ideas. In his 1932 manifesto, The Art of Advertising, Depero says, “The art of the future will be powerfully advertising art.” (Heller, 157) The manifesto called for advertising to reflect a new enthusiasm for “our glories, our men, our products.” These ideas of power, dominance, exaggeration, and serious issues were the some of the qualities that linked Futurism with Fascism. Although Depero did not consider himself to be a Fascist, he believed that Fascism could achieve a society ruled by and with the artists’ cooperations.

Vogue Magazine covers 1929 and 1930

Depero arranged words in a way that would enhance their meaning. The strength was in the simplicity. Some of his work, like the Vogue covers, uses cut outs with black and white or color reversals that embrace the more childlike element of Futurism. These characteristics, along with the use of flat colors, made his work easily reproducible in the print media through newspapers, posters, etc. This was Depero’s aim: to advertise Futurism and its ideas to the mass public. Depero once said that “The influence of the Futurist style in every medium and creative area of publicity is evident, decisively and categorically-I see it on every street corner, on every space reserved for advertising…my dynamic colours, my crystalline and mechanical style, my flora, fauna and metallic, geometric and imaginative human beings are widely imitated and exploited-I am delighted.” (Hollis, 40)

In The Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe , Balla and Depero explain the purpose of the Futurist Toys. They were meant to cause the child to laugh spontaneously, stimulate his impulses, sharpen his senses, and prepare him with courage for war and violence. “We will give skeleton and flesh to the invisible, the impalpable, the imponderable and the imperceptible. We will find abstract equivalents for every form and element in the universe, and then we will combine them according to the caprice of our inspiration, creating plastic complexes which we will set in motion” (Balla, Depero). In reaction to the first of theses plastic complexes, Marinetti praised the action-art of Futurism for bringing real and present emotion to art. “Before us, art consisted of memory, anguished re-evocation of a lost Object (happiness, love, landscape), and therefore nostalgia, immobility, pain, distance. With Futurism art has become action-art, that is, energy of will, optimism, aggression, possession, penetration, joy, brutal reality in art…the new reality created with the abstract elements of the universe.” These were the ideas that drove Depero. He believed that every action and emotion that was experienced was a possible means for discovery. (Balla, Depero)

It is unlikely that Futurism will “dominate the sensibility of many centuries to come”(Balla, Depero) as Depero once imagined, but the movement was influential to its followers. The Dadaist typographical innovations were one kind of work that was influenced by Depero and his fellow Futurists. Depero set the precedent for the Dadaist’s variation in type font and size, asymmetrical layout, use of diagonals and white space, and emphasis on contrasting elements. The effects of his dynamic use of color, form, and typography can still be seen in much design today.

I approached my menu redesign using what I thought were the most interesting and distinctive characteristics of Depero’s work. The lack of an obvious page orientation is carried on from Depero’s work to my menu, forcing the reader to rotate each page in order to read all of the text. I also stayed with one modern typeface, Helvetica, throughout the entire menu, but set it in many sizes and line weights. I used purely black and white because I wanted to focus on how the text can create visual images and shapes without the detergence of color. The original Roux drink menu has been transformed from being a happily Cajun page into chaotically organized, interesting to read book that is hopefully exploding with dynamism.

Redesigned Roux menu pages


Balla, Giacomo, and Fortunato Depero. "Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe." Manifesto, 11 Mar. 1915. Futurism: Manifestos and Other Resources. Ed. Kim Scarborough. 14 June 2002. 31 Mar. 2008 . Path: Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe.

Coen, Ester. "Depero, Fortunato." Grove Art Online. 2007. Oxford University
Press. 31 Mar. 2008 index.html?authstatuscode=202>.

Heller, Steven. "Fortunato Depero: Cheering Up the Universe." Graphic Design
History. Ed. Steven Heller and Georgette Ballance. Allworth
Communications, Inc., 2001. 153-158. 31 Mar. 2008

Hollis, Richard. Graphic Design: A Concise History. 1994. New York: Thames &
Hudson, 2002.

Landy, Marcia. Fascism in Film. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986.

Scudiero, Maurizio. The Italian Futurist Book. September 8/10/14, 2000

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