Cantos: A New Directions Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Alvin Lustig

A Visit to the Studio of Rodrigo Corral, ND’s Creative Director at Large

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The walls in Rodrigo Corral’s office are covered with movie posters, four Alvin Lustig designs we’ve also hung in our office (including the original cover for Amerika by Franz Kafka), the photo of a sprinkle-covered hand featured on the cover of James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, large paintings, and posters for art exhibitions. On the top of the bookcase just after the entrance is a display of one of the studio’s recent designs–-Mrs. O: The Face of Fashion Democracy by Mary Tomer. Beneath, the shelves are packed with books, including some New Directions titles Corral has designed (in the quick glance I got, I saw Kenneth Patchen, Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, and Tennessee Williams).

Rodrigo Corral, New Directions’ Creative Director at Large, welcomed five ND interns––Katie, Cathy, Leonora, Georgie, and me–and assistant editor Michael into his office on Thursday. While we sat around a ping-pong table discussing design and New Directions and world domination, a designer to the side worked in Photoshop on a potential cover for ND’s new Pearls series.

Since he began designing for New Directions more than three years ago, Corral’s designs have become a distinctive part of the catalog. Among many others, his portfolio for ND includes the eerie gray cover for Ghosts by César Aira; the red-speckled cover for The Halfway House by Guillermo Rosales, featuring a stenciled man with his head stuck in a house, and a thought-bubble surrounding the title; the cover for My Unwritten Books by George Steiner which made use of empty-space between two metal bookends; the pink and metallic Love Poems by Pablo Neruda with romantically curled type.

Corral says he hasn’t been designing ND books with continuity in mind — he focuses on each text as its own entity. His covers stand out as visually appealing and do seem to have an overall idea, even if its nothing definite or intentional. There is an organic, natural feel to the designs, even when the design is a minimalistic photo, as in the case of My Unwritten Books.

The book as a physical object is important to Corral. “One of the first things I did when I started designing there was to make sure the paper quality of the books improved.” The covers for the books he designs are often matte and pleasant to hold; the labyrinthine cover for Borges’ Labyrinths was printed on metallic paper, making the mirrors in the image physically glint.

Many of the covers he has done for us are redesigns, including Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and Labyrinths by Borges. As Leonora told Corral, the copies of Siddhartha with its new textless cover quickly disappeared off our table at the Brooklyn Book Festival in September – even if the buyers already had a copy.

Corral said that for his designs he tries to find an overall symbol or idea to represent the text. For the cover of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, he built off of Junot Diaz’s descriptions of Oscar, Oscar’s obsessions with comic books and his incredible imagination, and the violence of the book. “How do you depict violence like that?” So Corral chose the now infamous paint-splattered side-silhouette of Oscar – a whimsical but unsettling depiction.

Often, Corral will have an idea for a cover and need an artist to execute it. When he first started designing, at FSG, he would run around to the art departments at local colleges and grab as many cards as he could. He’d tell artists he wasn’t able to pay, but was able to offer a potentially great opportunity, to have a piece of their artwork featured on the cover of a book.

Since then, Corral’s pool of artists has grown. While conceptualizing the cover for Nausea, he went to Leanne Shapton. “That’s watercolor. I couldn’t do that. I knew I wanted something that was hard to read but that I could read, and she did great.”

Corral is careful to ask for help from the correct artist for the job – “If I know a photographer who’s great with people, I’m not going to go to him for a still-life. It requires a different eye to get the light exactly right on a pile of gumballs.” Here he pointed to a glass of gumballs in the middle of the ping-pong table as an example.

Our conversation also touched on his work with Mary-Kate and Ashley for their recent release, Influence, a book full of photos and interviews, all to show a glimpse into the lives of the famous twins;  relations with authors – he thinks it important to keep a middleman between author and designer; and the future of book design.

His answer to the question of publishing’s future is much more optimistic than some.

“I think it’ll go back to where it should be,” he said, mentioning how only a few years ago design offices were bloated. “They’d have five people on mechanical. You don’t need five people on mechanical.” Corral strongly believes the quality of books will go up, production won’t be rushed, and they’ll become much more luxury and quality items dedicated to representing the integrity of the text, as it should be.

Just before we left, Corral pulled out a copy of Coupe Magazine and flipped open to a page featuring his redesign for The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald. He lent Michael a copy to bring back to the ND office.

A gallery of some of Corral’s designs for New Directions can be found here and more images from our visit here.

Corral also helped design The Way it Wasn’t by James Laughlin – which we are serializing in parts at this blog.

– posted by Kelsey Ford

From the archives of New Directions

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One of the neatest things about working in the New Directions office (along with the people, the writers, the translators, the books, the neat old building we are housed in….well, okay, most everything here is pretty nifty) is roaming around the old books and archival material that embody the history of wonderful literature published here.

Back in the days, there was an anthology put out by New Directions with the cover designed by Alvin Lustig, a graphic designer who changed how book covers should be understood physically, not as a literal embodiment of the characters but as an artistic interpretation that matched the content of the book. For the anthology, he designed a bold and simple look.

New Directions Books designed by Alvin Lustig

New Directions Books designed by Alvin Lustig

An elegant design that quickly conveys the essence of the Modern.

Besides seeing our older designs, I like to read the older books as well. One of the finds which most interested me is the Swiss writer Philippe Jaccottet. In 1977, New Directions published a slim selection of Jaccottet’s journals which were translated by the renowned translator Michael Hamburger (I still love Hamburger’s translation of Celan the most although Pierre Joris’ is quite astonishing as well). In March of 1960, Jaccottet wrote the following in his journal:

The peach tree in bloom: an impression of crowds, swarm, humming in the budding which has always struck me as the clearest feature of early spring. Of silent explosion, too. But it is particularly the multiplicity, the multitude that strikes you. And then the first flower open under the rain, like a pink star. Constellation of the peach tree. With the colour of dawn. Peach tree, constellation of dawn.

Observer of the earthly zodiac, of a galaxy arrested in its motion in a garden. It will soon be the acacia’s turn, I haven’t forgotten, I would not have thought it so lavish. Perfumes, whiteness, night of May or June, the shortest of the year.

Soo Jin

Written by New Directions

March 6, 2009 at 4:14 pm