A reader as typographer:
Piet Gerards, graphic designer
by Mathieu Lommen
(Quaerendo, vol. 31/2, 2001)
Republished by kind permission of Brill Publishers, Leiden


In countries abroad, modern Dutch graphic design is primarily associated with multiformity and anarchism, with the posters and house styles of Studio Dumbar, Anthon Beeke and Hard Werken.1 But at the same time there is a group of book typographers active in the Netherlands who are just as much exploring the boundaries of the profession. The sober but powerful work of for instance Karel Martens, Walter Nikkels and Piet Gerards shows that innovation can be pursued without neglecting the reader. In this respect, Gerards (born 1950) manages, maybe more than anybody else, to implant the microtypographical subtleties of traditional book typography, as practised for instance by Harry N. Sierman, into a contemporary modernism. His works show a remarkable versatility which is probably also the result of the variety of commissions he accepts: from books of poetry to architecture books and annual reports.

Kunst en revolte was the title of the first book Gerards read on graphic design.2 It was in the early 70s when he bought this study on the ‘political placard and the French students’ revolt’. He was active in all kinds of leftist action groups and produced their printed matter, from posters to mimeographed pamphlets and little magazines. He must have strongly identified with the posters of the French student movement. He too executed his political posters in silk screen printing: a technique which makes it possible to work fast and at low cost. The French posters partly derive their directness from this simple production in one or two colours, often written spontaneously. Gerards thought his own hand writing was not powerful enough and used (mainly sans-serif) dry-transfer type.
Within the framework of the Vredesweek [Peace week] of 1972 he made a poster* which called for a demonstration past NATO bases in the south of the province of Limburg. The accompanying photograph was ‘screened’ by means of a net curtain. He then printed it on a home-made silk-screen printing press in red and black on newsprint.3 This anti-NATO poster, in fact one of the first of his graphic designs, turned out to be conspicuous enough to be included in Een teken aan de wand (1983), an album of posters on the recent Dutch political and social history.4 During these years Piet Gerards was a student of the course ‘monumentaal’ [Monumental design] of the Stadsacademie voor toegepaste kunsten [Municipal Academy for Applied Art] in Maastricht (now the Academy of Visual Arts). The training in this institution was conservative and prescribed a style which he characterizes as ‘post impressionist’. He recalls that he ‘tried to paint and to sketch ‘graphically’, perhaps even a little analytically’; outside the academy he made ‘socially committed figurative’ work. There was hardly any interest in contemporary art. He had to organize a students’ excursion to the Francis Bacon exhibition in Düsseldorf (1972) on his own initiative - almost a provocation in this hardly inspiring artistic climate. In 1973, when he entered upon his fourth year, the situation had become intolerable and he discontinued his studies. After one year of teaching at a secondary school for domestic science Gerards found a job in Vormingswerk Jong Volwassenen [Socio-cultural Education for Young Adults], which organized political and cultural activities for young working people. He himself produced printed matter like standard posters for film series and flyers. Initially, he felt like a fish in water in this environment.
In the late 70s Gerards exchanged his affiliation to the Pacifist-Socialist Party (PSP), in which he had been active since 1972, for anarchism. In 1978 he was one of the founders of the Coöperatieve vereniging Anarcho Artistieke Producties U.A. [Cooperative society Anarcho Artistic Productions, Liability Excluded] (A.A.P.), a layout-bureau annex printing and publishing house based in Heerlen and Maastricht geared to welfare work, third world shops, action groups and left-wing parties and organisations. The cooperative printed in silk-screen and offset, and supplied its goods at cost price for the good cause. Together with Sirkus ANA, A.A.P. (which means ‘monkey’ in Dutch) organized the much talked about cultural-political ‘happening’ Banaal which took place in the Kleine Comedie in Maastricht in November 1978. Gerards’s poster for Banaal is more typographical and more experimental than his earlier work: he seems to be exploring the limits of legibility. In the original design the information on the programme is in red and the information on the organisation is in black, alternately, set solid; the words break off unnaturally at the end of the lines. But this design was considered to be too extreme and subsequently a more legible compromise was reached, for which he also used rubber stamps, as he did more often in this period. Stamps were available in large sizes, in comparison with dry-transfer type they had a more direct and less ‘professional’ effect and they were not insignificant at the time considerably cheaper to use. He also occasionally used hornbook characters which were put on film and handset by him. Sirkus ANA, the co-organiser of Banaal, had been founded by Gerards with some friends and colleagues in 1977 out of annoyance with ‘the communist dominance in the social and cultural sector’. For this group of anarchists he designed the poster for the series of lectures ‘Anarchisme sieklus 1979’. It shows a balding, bespectacled head of a middle-aged man, as a graphic metaphor for the petty bourgeoisie; the forehead is marked with a bleeding letter ‘a’. The head and the stamped text have been vertically divided in two. Because the films had been supplied in two strips, Gerards hit upon the idea of exchanging the halves. A typical designer’s attitude, he says, in which coincidence is turned to advantage. In 1979 A.A.P. took over Kladdaradatsch,5 originally a Belgian magazine. It paid attention to political and cultural issues like the democratic opposition in China, the ‘nouvelle philosophie’, dada and avant-garde cinema. As an interviewer for Kladdaradatsch Gerards got acquainted with the anarchosyndicalist Arthur Lehning (1899-2000), the editor in chief of the ‘international review’ i10 in the twenties.6 They became friends: ‘In the person and the work of Arthur Lehning art and politics merge, which is unquestionably the reason why this anarchist crops up in my work so frequently’. Gerards and co-editor Henk Muller were responsible for the layout of Kladdaradatsch. The copy was typed out and the headlines were ‘set’ with dry-transfer type. Gerards was particularly interested in the covers, usually executed in red and black with bled-off illustrations in a lot of white. For the headline typeface he chose the Futura; he would frequently use this modernist sans-serif type of 1927 in the following years. The cover of the ninth and last issue (summer 1980) shows Gerards’s naked belly beside two piles of recently purchased books by among others Cortazar, Martchenko, Rimbeau, Vian, Joyce and Nabokov.
From 1980 he was only part-time engaged in the welfare work. Because he received more and more commissions for graphic work, he rented shop premises in Heerlen in that year and established himself as ‘Piet Gerards / AAP: screen printing and layout work’. His workshop contained a drawing table, an electronic Olivetti typewriter with various daisy wheels (Kent and Venezia were favourites), a simple photo-headliner, a professional screen printing installation, a proof press and a composing frame for hand- setting.7 In this way he was able to partly supervise the production of magazines, brochures and posters himself. His clients came from the field of education, welfare and action groups. The designs of these years, particularly those for Banaal and Kladdaradatsch, reveal his affinity with the historical avant-gardes. In the late 70s he became a passionate collector of publications in this field, like Pioneers of modern Typography (1969) by Herbert Spencer, El Lissitzky (1976, 2nd edn.) by Sophie Lissitzky Küppers, the facsimile of the magazine De Stijl and the anthology of i10.8 From then on i10, De Stijl, Lissitzky and other designers from Spencer’s monograph will regularly turn up in his work.9 Until about 1982 Gerards designed chiefly for the alternative circuit. His work from this period is not included in the 1992 and 1997 presentations of his bureau, although he does not dissociate himself from it.10 He looks upon these years as his training period; as a self-taught man he has mastered the trade on the job, which goes for many book designers.

Looking back, Gerards said in 1995: ‘My first graphic designs were leaflets for the welfare work I was engaged in at the time. Gradually this has shifted to making books. In my view this is only possible if you personally bury yourself in books every evening. Therefore, the best thing I like is to make books for one’s own bookcase’.11 With this aim he published in 1982, using A.A.P. as publisher’s name, the poem Europa by the Polish futurist Anatol Stern. He had spontaneously decided to publish it when he heard a recitation of a translation of the poem at a meeting organized by Sirkus ANA. In typographic respect Gerards followed the edition of 1929, designed by the Polish modernist Mieczyslaw Szczuka. He provided the poem - now newly translated, this time by Paul Westerneng - with preliminaries and back matter and a new cover, and executed this ‘facsimile’ in silk screen printing. For its lettering he used again the hornbook characters set to film. The cover consists of three lines in sans-serif lower case: at the top is the author’s name in black, at the bottom is the designer’s name in red and in the middle is the title with the characters alternately in red and black.* By the blending of the colours the design illustrates how much form and content are interwoven in Europa. It consists of a single gathering in a fold of grey paper that forms the fly-leaves, the whole is in black wrappers with a white book jacket. He still likes to indulge in such a play of colour. Undoubtedly Gerards has a weak spot for Europa: the framed poster for the presentation of the book is hanging on the wall in his workroom. In 1982 he took the initiative for the founding of Nuuks, a friends’ magazine whose seven editors were the only ‘subscribers’.12 For every issue of Nuuks (regional Kerkrade dialect for ‘nothing’) a contribution in seven copies had to be handed in. The collaborators took turns at collecting the separate pieces and gathered these into a cover of their own design. Gerards’s cover for Nuuks 4 (1983) is a collage in white, grey, red and black, with xeroxed photographs and shreds from the newspaper NRC Handelsblad. The silk screen printed cover of number 11 (1984) points forward to experiments in his later work. By making the title start on the back and repeating it in shifts and by placing the word ‘elf’ [eleven] against the reading direction, the text gains tension, without losing legibility. Anyway, it was for Nuuks that Gerards made his last free work.
Owing to the positive reponse to Europa - he soon ran out of the limited edition of one hundred numbered copies - Piet Gerards acquired a taste for publishing. Because modernism would not do for him to solve the problems arising from the design of prosa and poetry, he began to study Huib van Krimpen’s Boek over het maken van boeken (1966). In this traditional designer’s handbook, the counterpart of English publications like The making of books (1951) by Sean Jennet and Methods of book design (1956) by Hugh Williamson, microtypographical matters are also dealt with extensively. ‘Microtypography’ is all about optimal legibility of texts, and in this respect detailed attention is given to matters as word-space and lead.13 For many years Boek over het maken van boeken was for Gerards the reference work par excellence. Nevertheless, he would not become a classical book designer with a dogmatic design attitude, although he continued to search for the rules underlying ‘invisible’ typography. Later on he was impressed by the, considerably less dogmatical, German designer’s handbook Lesetypographie (1997) by Hans Peter Willberg and Friedrich Forssman.
In 1983 Europese nacht appeared, the first book produced entirely according to Gerards’s instructions and views. This volume of poetry by the Russian emigrés Vladislav Khodasevich, Georgy lvanov and Boris Poplavsky also marked the beginning of Gerards’s career as a publisher.14 The jacket is printed in solid grey, with the title and sub-title reversed and the remaining text in black.* Like the interior it is set in a Garamont, in different type sizes (roman and italic); at the bottom, below a thin line, the ‘G’ in Futura forms the publisher’s device. All lines on the jacket and the title-page align to the left, as do the running headlines and titles in the interior. The subtlety characterizing the later work is absent from this debut: the paper of the wrapper and of the interior is too heavy which makes for stiff leafing through; moreover, (micro)typographical subtleties like hanging figures and small capitals are lacking, but in this respect he was dependent on the composing room of the printing house he worked with.15 Europese nacht seems to mark a break with his earlier work: the book is entirely in keeping with the generally accepted typography of literature of those days. Some influence can be attributed to the ‘Kleine Bellettrie Serie’ (Athenaeum), designed by Jacques Janssen,16 and Gerards probably also knew the jackets of Willy Fleckhaus for Bibliothek Suhrkamp and Edition Suhrkamp.17 However, Fleckhaus’s covers and those by Janssen following his example, partly derive their strength from the use of one size of type in one style.
In 1985, in an almost identical design, Tussen twee spiegels appeared, a second volume of Russian poetry in what is called from then on the ‘Visum’ series. Gerards wrote to his friend Joep Schreurs in May of that year: ‘Last week I read through some books on typography and especially on book design, only to find that I still have a lot to learn. Fortunately it is always about the things which I myself also found already annoying in the two books (EN and TTS) but for which I had no solution at the time. L’éducation permanente. Anyway, it takes a lot of time and work before one can call oneself a good book designer. Actually, I think that’s the most interesting work. If only I could get some regular well paid jobs in this line’.18
Since it was clear to Gerards that his publishing house needed fresh élan, he asked in 1986 Joep Schreurs, who was more familiar with foreign literature, to become his partner.19 In that year Gerards & Schreurs started the ‘Fragmenten’ series with shorter, often neglected literary texts. The new series opened with Laatste brieven by Osip Mandelstam* and Het onbekende zelf - Fernando Pessoa by Octavio Paz. In these two little books Gerards tries to achieve a balance between his modernistic inspiration and his recently acquired classical insights. The cover design, which aligns to the right, is convincing. Defining the image, it includes a portrait of the author in a lot of white. The author’s name and the title have been set in Futura, with a spot colour for the title and the photograph, the latter in duotone. The volumes are sewn paperbacks with the flaps folded over the coloured fly-leaves. Out of sheer necessity the interior has again been set in a Garamont; only later did Gerards manage to persuade the printer to purchase an, in his view more suitable, book face - the Scangraphic Bembo. In spite of some minor flaws Laatste brieven became one of ‘De best verzorgde boeken’ [The Best Book Designs], a selection which once again took place for the first time since 1970. The selection panel’s report, drawn up by Hugues C. Boekraad, states: ‘Typographical carelessnesses - a wrongly positioned page number, too little space between the capitals on the title-page, and excessive leading for the notes - failed to detract from the appreciation felt by most of the panel for these refreshing little books with their unusual and ingenious use of double flyleaves’.’20 The narrowly set (sans-serif) capitals on the cover are not really annoying; moreover, the letterspacing of capitals in order to achieve an even colour, certainly not easy with dry-transfer type, is only a standard for traditional designers.
The ‘Fragmenten’ volumes Laatste brieven and Het onbekende zelf already indicate how Gerards’s work will develop. About designing for his own publishing house he says in 1986: ‘It is easy to make a book look classical. The trick is to find a contemporary form which does credit to the book, not something from before the second World War’.21 What appealed to him among other things was the daring work of Peter (Philip) Renard for De Bezige Bij, the sober and simple covers by Kees Kelfkens for the series ‘Privé-domein’ of De Arbeiderspers, and even more the ‘natural typography’ of Joost van de Woestijne for Meulenhoff. Many of the literary editions designed by them are in his bookcase. The later volumes in the ‘Fragmenten’ series, which discontinued in 1991 with number eleven, show some striking improvements in comparison with Laatste brieven. The typography is more balanced and the books are easier to leaf through owing to a better choice of materials.
A third series by & never really got off the ground. This series, entitled ‘Typografica’ or ‘Biblio’ in the publisher’s lists, was to focus on the book and typography. Eventually, only two publications in this field appeared: in 1985 a facsimile of Suprematisch worden van twee kwadraten [the Dutch version of Pro 2 kvadrata] by El Lissitzky22 and in 1988 Opstellen over typografie by Jan Tschichold.23 Although Tschichold was, like Szczuka and Lissitzky, a ‘pioneer of modern typography’, in this anthology the later, once more traditional Tschichold is speaking, the man who, by preference, practised symmetrical typography. A copy of Leben und Werk des Typographen Jan Tschichold (1977) had been in Gerards’s possession for some time and he was fascinated by either aspect of Tschichold’s oeuvre: the ‘elementare’, ‘neue Typographie’ and the classical book typography.
Opstellen over typografie, produced in cooperation with his later partner Marc Vleugels, is an example of his less frequently practised symmetrical typography, as in De meisjes van Zanzibar (Visum 4) of the same year. Actually, in the third Visum volume he had already abandoned the concept of the series. In De meisjes van Zanzibar* the cover title is set in a printed label, an approved ‘form’ which he would adopt more often. This bilingual volume of Russian poetry became one of ‘De best verzorgde boeken’ [The Best Book Designs]; the selection panel’s report praises the contemporary use of symmetry in particular.24 In addition to these series & published some larger works, for instance the liber amicorum Voor Arthur Lehning (1989), in which ‘avant-garde and anarchism are made visible in the black and red on the dust jacket’. Apart from that, it shows a characteristic feature of style of which he would avail him self for some time to come: small capitals combined with italic.
In the meantime, in the basement of his mansion-house on the Akerstraat in Heerlen he had recently moved into, Gerards had established a small printing shop with a proof press and some type for handsetting, including of course his favourite, the Bembo. He became a member of the ‘Stichting Drukwerk in de Marge’, an organisation which brings together amateur printers and publishers. From 1986, under the imprint Huis Clos, a series of titles appeared in a limited edition which for practical reasons were soon produced in offset.25 Intended as a bibliophilic series of &, the Huis Clos editions began to function more or less as goodwill presents from the designer’s bureau. Up to now twenty mainly literary editions have appeared in this series; some of these have been illustrated by artist friends.
Gerards’s affinity with the visual arts led in 1985, in cooperation with some friends, to the foundation of gallery/art centre Signe on the first floor of his home.26 Its logo (updated in 1994) can also be read as ‘singe’, French for the Dutch ‘aap’ (cf. AAP). Apart from exhibitions on contemporary visual art, Signe organizes projects and lectures on music, literature, cinema and architecture, which not infrequently run parallel to Gerards’ activities as a publisher. The gallery became the operating base for numerous cultural events in Heerlen and the surrounding area. A side effect of this varied cultural commitment was that, as a graphic designer, Gerards came into contact with a number of new and for him interesting clients. Thus, he produced for the city of Heerlen a publication on the occasion of the opening of the library and museum complex by the architect Jo Coenen (1986), for the Municipal Library of Maastricht an anthology of the work of the poet Pierre Kemp (1986) and for the city of Maastricht Coenen’s account of his urban plan for the Sphinx Céramique factory site (1988). For the Institut Néerlandais in Paris he designed in 1989 one of his first larger art books: the exhibition catalogue i10 et son époque.
Gerards also designs literary publications for Uitgeverij Herik in Landgraaf: whose house designer he has been since its establishment in 1988.27 Apart from the publisher’s lists and other minor printed matter, he has produced since 1991 the series ‘Landgraafse cahiers’ for this small, committed publishing house. Moreover he designed two volumes in Herik’s ‘Zwarte Reeks’, a series of poetry to which several generally well-e,stablished graphic designers and illustrators have contributed in the meantime.
In 1987 Gerards did the design of a volume in the goodwill series of Rosbeek (Nuth), a printing house with an excellent reputation among designers.28 Twee tot de derde by Wiel Kusters and Oskar Pastior, in which poems and interpretations alternate, is one of his most experimental designs from this period. The square format was a recurring feature of the series, which had been established in 1969 by Baer Cornet, a designer who has been strongly influenced by the Swiss typography of the late fifties and early sixties.29 A year later Gerards produced a jubilee volume for the printing firm Groenevelt (Landgraaf): Witte wereld, essays by Wiel Kusters and Kees Fens.30 This was the first time Gerards was able to have his ideas executed in professional cooperation. He looks upon these printing house publications as his first books in which ‘form and content interfere to optimum effect’.31 He would continue to work with Groenevelt and Rosbeek.
Gerards and Schreurs put a stop to their publishing house in 1990. In an interview with Boekblad Joep Schreurs said: ‘We have always taken the line to publish only books which we would like to have in our own bookcases. Maybe this is what finished us, perhaps we have been too snobbish in our work’.32 The Leiden publishing house Plantage took over the business and Gerards, as its house typographer, continued to design the series ‘Fragmenten’ and ‘Visum’ among other things.33

After the closing-down of the publishing house in 1990 Gerards centred all his attention on designing. In the meantime the gallery had moved to neighbouring premises and the small printing shop of Huis Clos had been disposed of. The basement was now converted into a studio. A number of more important clients for art books and particularly for books on architecture found their way to the Akerstraat in Heerlen. In addition to book design there is other work: house styles, magazines, brochures, posters and annual reports for institutions and companies.
In the way of production techniques a few things also changed dramatically in 1990: he purchased a Macintosh and switched to desktop publishing.34 With this computer the designer has become a compositor, layout man and lithographer all at once and he has innumerable opportunities for manipulation at his disposal. Gerards did however stick to his point of departure that no concessions should be made to the quality of the typesetting. His bureau has never been guilty of expanding or condensing type, to mention just one of the excesses of the early DTP practice. With regard to DTP, the better class of books was not yet considered in professional circles at the time: only a few of ‘De best verzorgde boeken’ [the Best Book Designs] had been executed on the Macintosh in the early nineties.
Desktop publishing entailed that with regard to the choice of typeface the designer was no longer dependent on typesetting and printing offices. Since 1990 Gerards has bought dozens of digital typefaces; revivals of his favourites from the era of metal type (Bembo, Gill, Perpetua, Sabon) and many new, by preference, Dutch designs. He ordered for instance - most of them immediately after their appearance - the text types Swift, Caecilia, Scala, Trinité, Documenta, Quadraat and DTL Albertina. His constant interest in the historical avant-gardes is apparent from his purchase of the first Architype series of The Foundry: digital adaptations of experimental designs by Paul Renner, Theo van Doesburg and Jan Tschichold. He used these typefaces, now actually ‘fun-fonts’, only once or twice. His fascination for typefaces as well as calendars resulted among other things in the private publication Zes Nederlandse letterontwerpers (1995) and the series 12 Nederlandse letterontwerpen (Rosbeek, from 1995). Since 1989 Gerards has been working with young designers employed on a permanent basis.35 In the early years of DTP the cooperation with Marc Vleugels was important, in 1992/3 in the form of a partnership. Vleugels, a specialist in the field of microtypography, had been working at Rosbeek’s printing office for some years and he put in substantial technical know-how. Differences of opinion marked the end of this collaboration. The office structure that had developed made it possible to work on various large commissions at the same time and, according to Gerards himself ‘to take advantage of the ideas of the staff who, for that matter, are responsible to a large extent’. Although he leaves the execution to them, he will always critically supervise the work until its completion. He is a perfectionist, which is the reason why he is never completely satisfied with the result and, by preference, points out its shortcomings. Piet Gerards regards designing in the first place as ‘organizing’, both practically and intrinsically. He does not force text and image into a previously determined grid but he ‘organizes’ them, constantly weighing the pros and cons, towards an ideal form. ‘There is more to it’ are winged words, according to his staff. Many times everything is changed round at the last moment. ‘We work from the text, the content, and not from preconceived ideas’, Gerards says in an interview.36 The experiment is never an end in itself: in his work new solutions arise from the copy: ‘A cover design for a book comes into being from the moment you see the title displayed on your screen. The text itself, its meaning, provides an infinite number of points of departure for the final form, without having to resort to the obligatory painting with which generations of literary books have been decorated. I do not think highly of the new hype of art books, artist’s hooks and books on architecture in which image and text, by way of association, are supposed to reveal a hidden meaning and relationship. I do not question the integrity and the craftsmanship of the makers and I do understand their pretensions, but I wonder to what extent the suggested content is grasped by the reader or viewer. The real content of these fist-size books will hardly suffice to fill a newspaper column. One single sentence by Nabokov tells me more than a whole essay by many an architect’.
What seems experimental in Gerards’s work, is generally the result of his trying to find functional solutions to problems arising from specific copy. For instance, in the volume Jon Erkens: actor in de Mijnstreek 1946-1990 (1995), the interaction between the main texts and the long, almost isolated footnotes is visualized in references consisting of a note number, a reference mark (< >) and page number. In Berlin night (1993) by John Hejduk, a publication for the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the way in which the explanation of the buildings is dealt with, is just as one might expect but yet surprising. Instead of positioning an explanatory ground plan beside the watercolours, he places the explanation on tracing paper in between. Its text is functional depending on whether this transparent leaf covers the verso or recto page. The wire-o binding made it possible to use this additional type of paper and fits in well with the character of the illustrations. Hans Oldewarris of the Rotterdam publishing house 010 had seen Gerards’s presentation in Ontwerpen in opdracht (1990) on the basis of which he contacted him.37 At 010, specialized in architecturce and design in the Netherlands from 1880, ‘particularly great care is devoted to the design of the books’.38 So this publisher was an interesting client. Moreover, Gerards had been interested in architecture for some time.
In the mid-seventies he travelled through the Netherlands in order to look at modern architecture. He was much impressed by Aldo van Eyck’s Burgerweeshuis (Amsterdam 1960), Piet Blom’s ‘paalwoningen’ [cube shaped houses on concrete pillars] (Helmond 1975) and Herman Hertzberger’s office building for Centraal Beheer (Apeldoorn 1972). His first design for 010 was the small series of lectures Hoe modern is de Nederlandse architectuur? (1990). Another three volumes were published in the same format and the same execution (sewn paperbacks with dust jacket), which, as if they were style exercises, have been designed each in a different way.39
Publishing house 010 works with various designers but Oldewarris considers his contemporaries Piet Gerards and Reynoud Roman as two regulars: ‘We will always continue to work with them, while we want to give a lot of other people just a chance’. Homan is setting the scene at 010 with regard to picture books, his bestknown design being the much awarded series ‘Monografieën van Nederlandse architecten’. Gerards is given preference when books with a lot of text are involved. No doubt, his literary background also plays a part in this choice as well as the fact that the complicated typesetting for publications as De Rijksbouwmeesters (1995, 765 pages) or Gids voor moderne architectuur in Nederland (1998, 372 pages) can be efficiently and perfectly produced by his bureau. Of Gerards’s picture-books for 010, Chassé Theater Breda (1995)* by Herman Hertzberger is undoubtedly the most abundant one. Particularly because of its intriguing cover: the small pieces that have been die-cut from the black paper allow a fragmentary view of the colourful interior of the foyer. Gerards likes to titillate the reader. The small holes are suggestive of the perforated sheet steel in the building and the numerous ceiling lights. Looking back, the structuralist Hertzberger thought the cover was not straightforward enough: ‘This perforated cover, of which Hans Oldewarris keeps saying that it has been so terribly expensive, resulted in an enormous sale of course. I think it’s too special. For me a book is rather an article of everyday use. The point is that basic means are used’.40 In the meantime Gerards has thought up various solutions to the problems presented by the often multilingual architecture books. In Chasse Theater Breda the Dutch text is printed on the left on an (almost) solid grey, the colour in which the English translation has been printed on the right; the captions in Dutch are in white, those in English are in black. For the interior he likes to use a second colour. On the title-page a concession had to be made to the publisher: the latter definitely wanted to have the title of the book typeset on the title-page, even when it could be seen spread across the width of two pages in the lettering of the depicted façade.
Architects are usually closely involved in the publications on their work. For one thing, with regard to the editorial aspect, because they want to control the visual material. Or, in Ben van Berkel’s understatement: ‘Naturally, an architect also has a certain idea on how a building represents itself in the best way’. ‘This concern’, says Gerards, ‘can be just as much an annoying restriction as it can be an incentive for the designer’. When an architect is satisfied with a book, it is obvious that he wants to work with its designer on a subsequent project. Thus, in 1993 Gerards made for 010 a volume of essays by Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos and a year later Van Berkel’s voluminous picture-book Mobile Forces for the Berlin publishers Ernst & Sohn. Van Berkel asked him for the lettering of the Erasmusbrug (1996) in Rotterdam and for the lettering of the Piet Heintunnel (1997) in Amsterdam. An architect who, by preference, works with Gerards, is the Walloon Charles Vandenhove: together they made books for NAi Publishers (Charles Vandenhove 1985- 1995, 1994), for 010 (Le Balloir, 1996) and for La Renaissance du Livre (Charles Vandenhove: art & architecture, 1998).* For Gerards it goes without saying that the work of these two architects is approached in an entirely different way, which for one thing is illustrated by his choice of typeface. For the neoclassicist Vandenhove he always used the ‘classical’ seriffed typeface Trinité; for the deconstructivist Van Berkel he used, within a mure current and more dynamic typography, the contemporary sans serif Meta (in the bilingual Mobile forces in combination with the Perpetua). ‘It’s a surplus value of our productions’, says Gerards, ‘that they have been customized for our clients, but nevertheless are recognized as having issued from my bureau’.
His most extreme architecture book was published by the Swiss firm of Birkhäuser: Strange bodies (1996)* on Wiel Arets, the third architect in line who works with Gerards more often. He had previously designed for this architect An alabaster skin (010, 1991). Arets, who likes to point out the cinematic character of architecture, had in mind a book represented as a film; the layout of Strange bodies resulted from this idea. Within the specification of the square format - all Arets publications measure 30 x 30 cm - Gerards opted for an oblong continuous concept which even ignores the margin of the page sometimes. Like a film, Strange bodies starts off at once, with text and illustrations on the inside of the front cover; the title does not appear until page eight. These years also saw the production of a large number of art books, particularly those commissioned by Limburg museums and galleries. On the occasion of exhibitions in the Venlo museum Van Bommel Van Dam he designed publications on the painters Lei Molin (1995), Frits van der Zander (1995), Ger Lataster (1996) and Theo Kuijpers/Arie Berkulin (1999). Gerards personally took the initiative for the retrospective work Piet Killaars: beelden (Rosbeek books, 1997). Because the editor in chief broke the concept - for instance, the biography is not synchronic with the oeuvre survey below - the final result is disappointing to him. Commissioned by the Stedelijk Museum Roermond, a few small catalogues on (applied) art were produced.
Gerards also made a few art books for the Algemeen burgerlijk pensioen fonds [National Civil Pension Fund] (Abp), on the occasion of exhibitions in the reception hall of its head office in Heerlen. In 1994 Gerards initiated at Abp the project ‘i10, sporen van de avant-garde’ [traces of the avant-garde] with exhibitions, concerts, dance performances, lectures and excursions. As mentioned earlier, he had been interested in the magazine i10 since the late 70s. In addition to the publicity material, he designed the exhibition, the CD and the accompanying book. Here Gerards achieved powerful effects by working with enlarged letter shapes. The book i10 sporen van de avant garde, edited by Toke van Helmond, is in a broader format than the original magazine. Thus, the reproduced pages could be reduced, which resulted in a clear distinction between ‘facsimiles’ and commentary.41 Although published as a paperback, it was originally intended to be hardbound, with the boards covered by spoils, trial sheets of the printed text. In this way the exterior would show something of the production process and because these waste sheets differ from each other, each copy would be unique. Due to lack of time a simpler design had to be adopted, in which Gerards does however refer to the original idea by placing texts from the interior over one another on the cover. In spite of these concessions he considers i10 Sporen van de avant-garde as one of his most successful designs. (In 1982, Karel Martens didactually use printer’s waste sheets, namely for a poster of an exhibition of his free work).
The success of the i10 manifestation stimulated some projects on a smaller scale in gallery Signe. In 1995 Gerards organized an exhibition in these premises on the occasion of the publication of Typokalender ’96.42 And together with gallery owner Gustaaf Begas and former publisher partner Joep Schreurs he organized programmes around the filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (1997) and the artist couple Stefan and Franciszka Themerson (1998), which were accompanied by Huis Clos publications. The photobook Faces, with photographs by Kim Zwarts, should not go unrecorded here.4433 This prestigious goodwill present of the city of Maastricht and the province of Limburg was published in 1991 on the occasion of the Euro summit in Maastricht. The city’s international institutions have been depicted by means of photographs of their directors, accompanied by a short text. By the sophisticated choice of paper (a thin variety or paper for the text and art paper for the photographs), Faces breathes the atmosphere of a photo album, which is also suggested by the wire-o binding. In order to get rid of the transparency on the text pages (conjugate leaves with the fold at the fore-edge) black inserts were added by hand. In a circle which is cut out on the fold, the page numbers become legible in reverse. The round shape reappears as a black sticker which attaches the flap to the front cover.
In addition to the more explicitly designed architecture books, art books and special books, the literary publications continue in this period. For instance, for Plantage Gerards made a Bloemlezing van de Russische poëzie (1997, Visum II), Portret van een landschap (1998) by Leo Herberghs and the bilingual Gedichten (1999, Visum 12) by Alexander Puskin, Jevgeni Baratynsky and Fedor Tjutcev.* These volumes of poetry demonstrate how much a book becomes a unity if a designer is not just hired to do the cover only, which is actually common practice in many publishing houses. For that matter, the Visum series is a specimen of Gerards’s typographical versatility. Whether it is the title-page, the colophon or the positioning or the running headline: always new and fitting solutions have been found. Gedichten is more subtle than the earlier anthology Van Derzjavin tot Nabokov (1991, Visum 7), which is also in two languages. For instance, in one and the same typeface in one and the same type size a more satisfactory leading has been chosen. Since 1996 he has been designing for Bas Lubberhuizen, publisher in Amsterdam, the literary magazine De Parelduiker. Some later Huis Clos editions belong to his best work, particularly on account of their covers. Like for instance Spaans dagboek (1996), written by Arthur Lehning in 1936. Its cover, set in a printed label form, is a typographical allusion to the time of its origin: by the choice of the typeface (Rockwell, 1934) and by just missing by a fraction the connection of the lines (a specific characteristic of the era of metal type). A play of colour with stiff wrappers and flaps which reminds of Europa - can be seen in Jan Tschichold’s 10 veelvoorkomende blunders bij de boekproductie (1996). Here the stiff wrappers are grey and the flaps of the white dust jacket have been provided with a black strip (front flap) and a red strip (back flap). The text on the cover, placed sideways, is set in two of Tschichold’s contrasting typefaces. Also convincing, graphically as well as with regard to the editing, is the 1998 cover for the facsimile of Kurt Schwitters on a time-chart, which contains the commentary on this text by Stefan Themerson. The Dutch translation is printed on loose, transparant sheets contained in the back flap; when placed over the English text, all illustrations remain visible. In books of text Gerards will cause a momentary surprise on the cover and in the preliminaries only. Here his typography is restrained and the classical rules are observed. Although a certain scope for experiment always remains, he knows from experience that the true reader is conventional who prefers not be disturbed.
The fact that this work has so often been awarded, particularly in the selection of ‘De best verzorgde boeken’ [The Best Book Designs] is not surprising. At the bottom of Gerards’s lucid and subtle typography is a great commitment. He designs with passion, and is full of doubts perhaps rather the qualities of an artist than those of a designer. In every commission he searches for new solutions, all the more because for him there is no challenge in repetiton.44

This text is partly based on talks I had with Piet Gerards and with Ben van Berkel, Rob Bindels, Yolanda Bloemen, Herman Hertzberger, Hans Oldewarris, Cor Rosbeek, Joep Schreurs (†1999) and Ton van de Ven. Where I quote them without acknowledgement citations from these talks are concerned. The archives of publishing house Gerards & Schreurs and the consulted minutes of A.A.P. are now part of the archives of Uitgeverij Plantage in Leiden. The archives of Bureau Piet Gerards do not contain any correspondence or designs: these are usually thrown away after completion of a project. Thanks are due to Constance van den Hil, Rob Bindels, Ben van Melick and John A. Lane for their valuable commentary on earlier versions of this text.

(Translation Nynke Leistra)

1 The only survey of Dutch twentieth-century graphic design is: Kees Broos & Paul Hefting, Grafische vormgeving in Nederland: een eeuw (Amsterdam etc. 1991). An English translation appeared in the same year under the title Dutch graphic design. Book typography receives little attention in this history.
2 The translation, published in 1969 by Westfriesland, in Hoorn, of Louis F. Peters, Kunst und Revolte: das politische Plakat und der Aufstand der französischen Studenten (Cologne, 1968).
3 Gerards has continued to use rough paper in his designer’s practice. Of course it is Willem Sandberg (1897- 1984) who is mostly noted for this preference for simple types of paper like packing paper.
4 Een teken aan de wand: album van de Nederlandse samenleving 1963-1983, text by H.J.A. Hofland, compilation and design by Marius van Leeuwen and Nel Punt (Amsterdam 1983), p. 20.
5 Kladdaradatsch was founded in 1978 and appeared as a bimonthly. From number 4 (May 1979) Gerards was involved in its publication.
6 This interview, which Gerards conducted with Johny Lenaerts and Joep Schreurs in 1979, was reprinted in: Voor Arthur Lehning, ed. Toke van Helmond & J.J. Oversteegen (Maastricht, 1989), pp. 9-43.
7 Technically the screen printing did not have the effect which Gerards had in mind. Because ever tougher antipollution laws applied, he discontinued it around 1985.
8 Namely i10: een keuze uit de internationale revue i10 (The Hague 1974), the reprint of the anthology compiled by Arthur Lehning and Jurriaan Schrofer in 1963. Later on Gerards bought the first edition second-hand.
9 Gerards was for instance both (co-)publisher and designer of the following publications/facsimiles: in 1982 of Europa by Anatol Stern, designed by Mieczyslaw Szczuka; in 1985 of Suprematisch worden van twee kwadraten by EI Lissizky; in 1988 of Opstellen over typografie by Jan Tschichold and in 1998 of Kurt Schwiters on a timechart by Stefan Themerson. He took the initiative for the 1994 manifestation ‘i10, sporen van de avant-garde’.
10 Boeken maken 1982-1992: een overzicht van ruim 10 jaar ‘boekenmaken’ (Heerlen 1992), and Herdruk/ Neuauflage/reprint, text by Mathieu Lommen (Heerlen 1997). Apart from books, the latter edition also shows other work, for instance posters, calendars and designs of exhibitions.
11 Meyke Houben, ‘Een beetje gek op letters. Prijs voor grafisch vormgever Piet Gerards uit Heerlen’ [A little crazy about letters. Award for graphic designer … ], in: De Limburger, 29 April 1995
12 Besides Piet Gerards, other contributors to Nuuks were: Gustaaf Begas (photographer and gallery owner), Joseph Kerff (visual artist), Jos Muyres (Neerlandist), Jan Teeken (architect), Joep Schreurs (publisher) and Jo Willems (impresario/librettist). Some of them were also involved in Sirkus ANA, A.A.P. and/or Kladdaradatsch. Up to 1987 in all 21 issues appeared.
13 The term ‘microtypography’ (as opposed to layout) was introduced in 1982 by the Swiss designer and professional author Jost Hochuli. See for instance his Detail in Typography (Wilmington (Mass.) 1987).
14 The title-page mentions: ‘Gerards, uitgever te Maastricht’. Jan Paul Hinrichs, the translator, thought that AAP (which also means ‘monkey’) as a publisher’s name sounded too alternative. Actually, Gerards lived in Heerlen, but the Maastricht bookshop De Tribune handled the distribution.
15 In those early years Gerards had the greater part of his work set (photographically) and printed by Econoom bv in Beek (Limburg).
16 Joep Schreurs pointed out the relationship with the ‘perfect books’ of Athenaeum-Polak & Van Gennep in an interview with Mischa Cohen: ‘Een boek is niet zomaar veel letters [A book is not just a lot of letters]’, in: Het Parool, 30 September 1987.
17 See Michael Koetzle & Carsten M. Wolff; Fleckhaus: Deutschlands erster Art Director (Munich etc. 1997), pp 160-91.
18 Letter dated 30 May 1985, archive Gerards & Schreurs.
19 Later on Rob Bindels (editing) and Rob Oudshoorn (organisation) were to reinforce the publishing house for some years.
20 De best verzorgde boeken 1986, introduction by Ernst Braches, selection panel’s report by Hugues C. Boekraad, ([Amsterdam] 1987), no. 5. The ‘Fragmenten’ series soon met with general approval in the literary press, also because of its design.
21 Jos Stijfs, ‘Buitenkant boek moet spiegel zijn van inhoud’: de drijfveren en boeken van G&S’ [The exterior of a book should reflect its content: motives and books of G&S], in: De Limburger, 29 May 1986.
22 This facsimile of De Stijl of 1922 appeared already in December 1985 under both their names. Actually, the volume of poetry Dlja golosa by Vladimir Mayakovsky, designed by Lissitzky in 1923 was on their programme for some time. Europa (1982) was afterwards included in this series.
23 Opstellen over typografie is a selection, edited by Huib van Krimpen, from Ausgewählte Aufsätze über Fragen der Gestalt des Buches und der Typographie (Basel 1975).
24 De best verzorgde boeken 1988, selection panel’s report by Karel F. Treebus (Amsterdam 1989), pp 106-7.
25 The name ‘Huis Clos’ was derived from his house, named by him after Jean-Paul Sartre’s play. Since 1995 Huis Clos has been a foundation with Peter Schobben as co-publisher.
26 Continued from 1988 by co-founder Gustaaf Begas.
27 See for Gerards’s relationship with Uitgeverij Herik, whose name he also invented, the interview by Gerrit Jan de Rook ‘Wat ik maak, kan nergens anders verschijnen’ [‘What I make can not be published anywhere else’]: gesprek met Jo Peters van Uitgeverij Herik’, in: Hollandse Hoogte, 23/24 (summer 1997), pp. 42-9.
28 In 1995 number 37 was devoted to the goodwill publications which had appeared since 1969. For a short history of this printing house see: Jean Rosbeek, ‘Dezelfde mentaliteit als de ontwerper’ [The same mentality as the designer], in: Sybrand Zijlstra & Jaap van Triest, Galeislaven en rekentuig: drukkers, ontwerpers en de vooruitgang (Eindhoven 1997), pp. 120-1. See also note 42.
29 Gerards is an admirer of Cornet’s work; he was one of the editors of the monograph Baer Cornet: grafisch ontwerper / graphic designer, text by Paul Hefting (Rotterdam 1998).
30 Witte wereld was published on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Groenevelt in Landgraaf; a printing house which chiefly works for literary publishers. The two little volumes were designed by Joost van de Woestijne and Piet Gerards, who also designed the slip-case.
31 Graphic designer and professional author Philipp Luidl wrote a short review of Twee tot de derde under the title ‘Eine Broschüre’ in: Novum Gebrauchsgraphik, 59 (1988), no. 6 (June), pp. 26-9.
32 Peter Nijssen, ‘Uitgeven in Maastricht: teloorgang en folklore’ [Publishing in Maastricht: loss and folklore], in: Boekblad, 13 May 1990, pp. 14-15.
33 See the interview conducted by Tonny van Winssen with Yolanda Bloemen of Plantage for Boekblad, 18 January 1991, pp. 14-15: ‘Ik wil me niet alleen met de zakelijke kant bemoeien’ [I don’t want to take care of the business aspect only]. Yolanda Bloemen: vertaalster en uitgever’ [translator and publisher].
34 Namely, an Apple Macintosh IICX with an Apple LaserWriter II and an Apple Scanner. From 1994 the black-and-white lithography largely takes place in-house.
35 Karin Veldkamp (1989-1992), Ton van de Ven (since 1993) and Marc Reekers (since 1995).
36 Gerrit Jan de Rook, ‘Gesprek met grafisch ontwerper Piet Gerards’, in: Hollandse Hoogte, 23/4 (summer 1997), p. 50.
37 Ontwerpen in opdracht: Nederlands grafisch en ruimtelijk ontwerp 1990 (compiled by the professional association Nederlandse Ontwerpers bNO, 2 vols. (Amsterdam 1990), p. 113. Oldewarris had particularly been impressed by the reproduction of i10 et son époque (1989).
38 Cited from the 010-pages on the architecture site ArchiNed (www.archined.nl/org). The concern for typographic design is also referred to on this site: ‘This has resulted in many national and international awards in this field, like for instance in the Netherlands selections in the ‘Best verzorgde boeken’, in Germany the ‘Schönste Bücher aus aller Welt’ (one gold medal and two silver medals) and in the United States the Awards of the American Institute of Architects’ (June 1998).
39 Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos, Delinquent visionaries, (1993); Stedebouw in beweging, cd. Stefan Gall et al. (1991); Van ruimte tot rizoom, comp. and ed. Cees Boekraad (1994).
40 Hertzberger had proposed a black cover with a narrow strip from a photograph of the interior right across the width of the cover, as if you were looking inside through a letterbox.
41 This reduction was made, however, only in a small portion of the edition.
42 Typokalender 96: lrma Boom, Baer Cornet, Bram de Does, Piet Gerards, Reynoud Homan, Jacques Janssen, Max Kisman, Karel Martens, Marie-Cecile Noordzij, Harry N. Sierman, Fred Smeijers, Peter Verheul, compiled by Mathieu Lommen and Cor Rosbeek, text by Mathieu Lommen (Nuth 1995). Rosbeek 39. The theme of this calendar, which was Gerards’s idea, was ‘een experiment met de tijdrekening’ [an experiment with chronology].
43 Faces was awarded a gold medal in Leipzig in 1993 in the ‘Schönste Bücher aus aller Welt’.
44 Since the completion of my research in 1999, Gerards has had of course many other interesting commissions. Certainly, one of the most important ones for him was the commission by the Netherlands Post Office. This concerned stamps with paintings by seventeenth-century Dutch masters: ‘Tien uit de kunst: zeventiende eeuw’ and ‘Vijf van Rembrandt’. Both series - which appeared on the occasion of exhibitions were briefly reviewed in NRC Handelsblad of 30 April 1999 and they were published in June of that year.