Brief intro & Achievements
Paula Scher has accomplished a great many things in her career & is famed for her personal work on typographical maps. She has been a partner in the global design consultancy, Pentagram, since 1991 and has designed projects that can swing wildly from the corporate world of Citi Bank to a simple, little known concession stand in Central Park called Shake Shack, and again to personal projects such as painting politically driven representative maps from all over the world.
Having graduated from the Tyler School of Art in 1970, Paula began her career designing children’s books before moving on to design album covers for some of the era’s great musicians. The process of hand making & assembling the artwork using different medium, hand drawing the typography & presenting the design to each client was very formative & also very rewarding for her.
In a presentation to Offset in 2012 Paula recounts how she would spend a couple of weeks preparing a design for presentation to the artist.
“My art became making comps to present to recording artists at the record company. When I went in to present it to Charles Mingus it was just a painting as it was too expensive to make it. I would cut out something called Sellotac that was flat colour, & rub it down, draw the type by hand, draw the inline by hand & try to make it look as neat as I could before taking it to the artist for approval. It was an enormous amount of hand work which was wonderful. So when I went to work everyday a big pat of my work was making stuff with my hands”
Its obvious that Paula Scher has a love of typography that shows in almost everything she touches. She has had a passion for type since her early days where she recalls that it wasn’t easy finding different kinds of type, they weren’t always in a book, you had to go looking for them. She was also very influenced by the work of her father who was a photogrammetric engineer, so she spent a lot of time around maps & grew to love the details & the typefaces used.
After college Paula began designing for the music business becoming the senior art director at CBS records (now Sony) at the age of 26. She was responsible for the design and production of about 150 albums a year & learned how to work in nearly every style but was obsessed with period typography.
“A lot of the work I did was later referred to as ‘postmodernism’ but I didn’t know what that was at the time I did the work. I can trace almost every project I’ve worked on back to the music business”, says the artist.
In 1982 she began teaching in the New York School of visual Arts and continues to enjoy teaching.
“So much of my work is for theatre or dance or other forms of popular culture. even when I am designing identities for corporations, I seem to operate through the lens of the entertainment industry.” – Paula Scher.
Paula’s work isn’t just restricted to the music industry, though she has produced a prolific amount of that, she has worked in such a broad spectrum of fields. It could be said I suppose that she risked becoming a jack of all trades but I prefer to believe that she was so versatile as to be able to create quality work in any field she put her hand to.
In an interview with Eye magazine in 2013 she says:
“I don’t believe I’m a craftsman, anything I do where I think I make a break through, 5 minuets later someone comes along who’s gonna do it better than I did. I have to keep moving, I’m never gonna develop a craft well enough and that’s been true my whole life.”
It is often said that her work has been inspired by movements such as Russian Constructivism & Art Deco. While I can see these elements in some of her work I don’t believe it is limited to this. The images below definitely show the Art Deco & Constructivist elements but also very definite elements of the Arts & Crafts movements in the piece for Stravinsky by Leonard Bernstein, and of Swiss style in the poster for Swatch where she pretty much rips off or parodied Herbert Matter’s Swiss styled posters for the Swiss Tourist Board.
While Paula took a lot of criticism from some quarters for her “almost plagiaristic” version of this poster, some also believe that her dissenters simply lacked a sense of humour.
In her book, “Make It Bigger”, Paula refers to the fact that she rarely mentions the massive changes in technology over the past 40 years, she is more interested in people than in technology.
“I feel about computers the way I feel about cars: I need them, I drive them, I’m fond of them, but I don’t want to hang around & talk about them.”
A lot of her work can also be very politically motivated as in the case of her typographical map paintings. Paula would take all the information available to her on subjects such as the election voting patterns, results & other numbers & information, and created a map of the Florida region. She began making these maps as a personal project inspired by her fathers work & her love of typography, however, after they became noticed & desired they stopped being for love & became just another aspect of business which changed how she viewed the project.
Paula continues to create in all areas, for business, for art, municipal projects and also for not for profit organisations. She continues to be an educator & a student and doesn’t plan to stop pushing herself into new areas that test & stretch the mind.
Probably some of my favourite work from Paula Scher is her environmental Graphics such as those done for the 42nd Street Studios where she has taken all the information available to her, including the unwritten knowledge about things like the performers taking their stage positions from markings on the floor, and developed a style that wound all this into a signage system that I think embraces both the building & the people who visit it.
Make It Bigger – Paula Scher 2002, Princeton Architectural Press.
Interview. – http://www.eyemagazine.com/feature/article/reputations-paula-scher – First published in Eye no. 77 vol. 20.
Pentagram – http://www.pentagram.com/#/partners/109681