Winter 2004

Remembering Berlewi

Letter from Johanna Lohse James

The subject of Eric Kindel’s article ‘Worlds of moiré’ (Eye no. 52 vol. 13) is of great interest and importance for graphic design and the art of the twentieth century.

I would like to bring to your attention the name of the Polish graphic designer and artist Henryk Berlewi. In his article ‘Functional Design of the Twenties in Poland’ in the magazine Neue Grafik (no. 9, March 1961), written at the invitation of my father Richard Paul Lohse, one of the editors, Berlewi shows his paintings and graphic work from 1922-24, Mechano-Faktur, where one can see white rectangles with black dots or the reverse.

In caption 13 (page 7), Berlewi writes: ‘The black dots on the white ground have a great power of vibration . . . The optical illusion of movement created by these black dots gives the image a kinetic quality . . .’ In caption 15 he continues: ‘Mechano-Faktur – the Principles of Contrast – 1923. Certain mechanical, prefabricated elements (circles, undulating forms and parallel bars) have been arranged in an orderly, rectangular design which is dominated by a rhythmical movement towards the infinitely great and the infinitely small, while changes in volume are produced by the alternation between black and white. At that time, all this constituted a revolution in plastic and graphic design. A new vocabulary deriving from modern mechanisation had been evolved. It was the various principles of Mechano-Faktur, representing as they did an endless scale of mechanical values which many years later served as the inspiration for the introduction of the screen in commercial design.’

For the preparation of the Neue Grafik article my father and I travelled to Paris and visited Berlewi, who lived at that time together with his mother in appalling conditions – ground floor, under a porch, one or two dark rooms.

I remember several discussions between my father and Berlewi concerning the invention of halftone sheets. Berlewi was convinced that he was the inventor and intended to sue the American company, whose name I can’t remember. The work of Roy Lichtenstein was also discussed in this respect.

Berlewi was obviously not aware in 1960-61, when he wrote the article, that Amerikanische Rasterfolien (American halftone sheets) were used in Max Dalang’s agency in Zürich as early as 1931 (publicity for its own firm in Schweizer Reklame no. 2, 1931, by Anton Stankowski) and by Trommer & Lohse (both ex-Dalang) for a firm selling lamps, Emil Thoma, Zürich, in Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 2 October 1932.
I would not like to think that Berlewi has been forgotten. His art and graphic design were important steps in the development of moiré.


First published in Eye no. 54 vol. 14 2004


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