If you could begin your career working for Charles and Ray Eames or Hans and Florence Knoll, which power couple would you choose? In the case of Swiss-born graphic designer Herbert Matter (1907–1984), his answer was “both.” He also worked for Le Corbusier in Paris, and was close friends with Alexander Calder, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. “Herbert’s background is fascinating and enviable,” said design-legend Paul Rand. “He was surrounded by good graphics and learned from the best.”
Matter immigrated to the U.S. in 1936 and worked as a photographer for Harper’s Bazaar and Saks Fifth Avenue. He joined the Eameses in 1943, and three years later, the Knolls scooped him up and put him in charge of all visual communications for their growing company. From 1946 to 1966, Matter created advertisements, catalogs and logos, as well as many memorable photos for Knoll.
Here is just a small sampling of the masterful, magical work that Herbert Matter created for Knoll.
Herbert Matter is a magician.
To satisfy the needs of industry, that’s what you have to be.
Industry is a tough taskmaster.
Art is tougher.
Industry plus Art, almost impossible.
Some artists have done the impossible.
Herbert Matter, for example.
His work of ’32 could have been done in ’72 or even ’82.
It has that timeless, unerring quality one recognizes instinctively.
It speaks to all tongues, with one tongue.
It is uncomplicated, to the point, familiar, and yet unexpected.
Something brought to light, an image, a surprise, an analogy.
It is believable, as it is unbelievable.
It always has an idea, the one you almost thought of.
It may be formal or anecdotal, full of sentiment, but not sentimental.
It is commercial; it is contemplative.
It enhances the quality of life.
It is Art.
Paul Rand wrote these words about his friend Herbert Matter for a 1977 Yale exhibition catalog.