Spring 2023

Reputations: Peter Knapp

‘I redesigned the Elle logotype as I thought it was too small. I wanted its letters to sit with the head of the cover model by enlarging the letter-spacing. Of all the things I’ve done, this is the one thing that was never changed.’ Interview by Serge Ricco [EXTRACT]

Photographer, graphic designer, painter, film-maker and art director Peter Knapp was born in 1931 in Bäretswil in the canton of Zürich, where he spent his childhood. While still at school he discovered photography and from 1947 he entered the graphic arts section of Zürich School of Applied Arts where he took photography courses. The school’s director was the notable ex-Bauhaus teacher and colourist, Johannes Itten and he ran it according to Bauhaus principles. However Knapp dreamed of becoming a painter and in 1951 left for Paris where he studied at the Beaux-Arts de Paris and Académie Julian. He found employment as a graphic designer working at Paul Marquet’s studio, and he redesigned the logo for an imprint of the publishers Gallimard.

In 1953, renowned magazine editor Hélène Lazareff hired him to work on the visual identity of Nouveau Femina magazine. At 24, Knapp was invited to become the art director of the Galeries Lafayette department stores with responsibility for their posters and advertisements …

Serge Ricco: What has stayed with you from your education in Zürich?

Peter Knapp: Before art school, I had wanted to draw and I had taken lessons with a master landscape artist. He had taught me to look at nature and helped me develop a certain sense of beauty. Beauty was a cherry tree in blossom in the spring or a first snow on the mountain. What was going on in nature became a subject. That was where I found beauty. My revolution was to discover abstraction when I started art school in Zürich. Concrete painting was starting to dominate the world. Mondrian had only recently moved to this total geometric abstraction – which is after all the basis of a page layout. The idea was to create a sort of furniture in which you insert drawers – choosing the quantity and their dimensions. But actually I’d discovered that quite a bit before art school …

Serge Ricco, creative director, Ricco&co, Paris

Read the full version in Eye no. 104 vol. 26, 2023

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.