‘Merry Christmas’ Direction, Paul Rand, 1938- 19

The designer Paul Rand was heavily influenced by Le Corbusier’s underlying philosophy in his work and how he liked to use simple technology in a way that was unique and different. Each cover that he designed was heavily influenced by the current happenings of the times with a particular theme or point of view.

During the time these covers were made, America was facing the devastating effects of the Second World War. This meant that there was a lot of contrasting propaganda that had to be done using a variety of artistic techniques in order to get their message across. Paul Rand was one of the first American commercial artist to try and use the Swiss Style of a graphic design that emphasised clearness and readability using a mathematical grid.

For this cover labelled ‘Merry Christmas’, Paul Rand used the imagery of a typical Christmas present in order to portray his theme of war. He decided to substitute a typical gift wrap ribbon with barbed wire as a visual pun to what was happening during the 1940s and how war had plagued natural society. Paul Rand did this to try and stay away from well known propaganda of that time and wanted to create a piece that was both art and a message.

I also like how the designer stayed away from the typical graphic design techniques by taking a photograph of the barbed wire using a concentrated light on a white background instead of just using an already existing image or drawing. This not only created a more dramatic shadow suitable for the theme of the cover but also makes the image appear more real as if it was an actual gift, instantly capturing the viewers attention. Paul Rand managed to perfectly capture the oppression of those times by using mnemonic symbols such as the barbed wire and red hole-punched circles to symbolise blood splatters in a way that was new and different at that time.

These covers for the magazine allowed Rand to develop from a boy wonder to creative force. It was Marguerite Tjader Harris (then art director of Apparel Arts and Esquire) that published and edited the magazine ‘Direction’ with the hopes for it to be a bi-monthly, anti-fascist cultural magazine. Harris didn’t have the funds yet so all he could reward Rand with was creative freedom to do whatever he wanted with the covers. This was perfectly alright for Rand and soon after he was paid in Le Corusier’s watercolours and felt like he was better off.

For his covers Paul Rand was heavily influenced by artists such as Picasso, Theo van Doesberg and Fernand Leger, along with with other magazines such as Verve and Minotaure. He used his influences and managed to change them to create his own personal style by the manipulation of form and ideas. Overall, Rand managed to include his own humour and metaphors in his work without overcomplicating his designs. It is because of this that each Paul Rand cover is considered a piece of art in its own unique and individual way due to the difference of mood and subject matter. Overall Rand was able to showcase his extreme knowledge of design authorship and the current generation by using his sense of the artistic and geopolitical upheaval in the world for his own advantage, resulting in timeless works of art documenting life at that time.

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