About fifteen years ago, when I moved back to New York after a few years in Brazil, I did a fair amount of couch-surfing. To offset my presence, I spent most of my free time not looking for freelance gigs or apartments in book shops. The Union Square Strand was my all-time favorite, but a little out of the way. Westsider Books on Broadway between 80th & 81st on the Upper West Side was small and tight, reminiscent of some of the many small shops in my college town in North Carolina. But most of my time was spent in the Barnes and Noble a few blocks up from Westsider, on Broadway and 82nd. I want to say there were three levels in that particular store: magazines and lattés and on the upper level.
On one particularly uneventful afternoon or evening, I came across Martin Venezky’s It Is Beautiful…Then Gone book. I had never heard of this guy, but the size and thickness of the book stood out to me. The smaller-than-usual size was unusual for a design book, but it felt good in my hands. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell it was a design book. By the cover, I thought it might be a travel book someone left in the Design & Architecture section. The antique lion illustration, butterfly specimens, and the stuffed monkey holding a bust of Mao Zedong—I was intrigued! After opening the cover and sifting through the pages, I still couldn’t figure out what kind of book this was. The body text was rendered so tiny I almost got the impression it wasn’t supposed to be read. And to be honest, I never really did read it. But what I loved about this book was how meticulous, diverse, and playful it was.
After thumbing through the pages, I remember imagining this poor guy must have been kidnapped, locked in an attic with a pair of scissors, a glue stick, and a trunk full of old National Geographics, Sears & Roebuck catalogs, and a pile of old newspapers. After screaming for help for a week, a calmness set over him, and he began slicing up pages and reassembling them to his liking.
I also recall trying to connect his work to David Carson, which I was never able to do. Carson’s work always came across to me as accidental and slightly pretentious. While Venezky’s work quite the opposite; it appeared to be a laborious and deliberate act, taking a lot of care, patience, and time—everything in its place.
“Disorder creates invention.”
The other day, The Letterform Archive hosted Mr. Venezky for Salon Series, № 21. Zoom time! It was the first time I ever heard his voice or saw his face. Reminded me of the time I finally did an image search for NPR anchors—wow, they look like that, huh.
I thoroughly enjoyed the stories he shared about his studio, his methodology—all of it. He was quite a delightful man! I encourage everyone to tinker around the links below to get to know his work a little better.
Now, I think I’ll finally give that book a read.