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May 29, 2020
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3 min read

Letterform Archive Salon Series 21: Martin Venezky

After mov­ing back to New York from a few years in Brazil, I did a fair amount of couch-surf­ing while search­ing for a new design job. I spent most of my free time walk­ing up and down Broad­way or rum­mag­ing through book stores. Strand Book­store, near Union Square, was my all-time favorite but a bit out of the way. If I decid­ed to go down there to browse, it was like break­ing off at least half-a-day. So, trips to Strand were reserved for spe­cial occa­sions. West­sider Books, on Broad­way between 80th & 81st Sts. on the Upper West Side, was a lot clos­er to where I was stay­ing. It’s a small and tight shop, with books tow­er­ing from the ground lev­el to the sec­ond-sto­ry ceil­ing. Despite the small­er foot­print of the build­ing itself, walk­ing through the front door had a cav­ernous, church-like effect on me.

Inside West­sider Books

How­ev­er, my time was spent in the Barnes and Noble a few blocks up from West­sider, on Broad­way and 82nd St. I want to say there were three lev­els in that par­tic­u­lar store, with mag­a­zines and lat­tés on the upper lev­el.

On one unevent­ful 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 the 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—hmm…intriguing. After 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 did read it. But what I loved about this book was its metic­u­lous, diverse, and play­ful nature.

It Is Beautiful…Then Gone by Martin Venezky
It Is Beautiful…Then Gone by Mar­tin Venezky

I remem­ber imag­in­ing this poor guy must have been kid­napped, locked in an attic with 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 could nev­er do. Carson’s work always came across to me as acci­den­tal and slight­ly pre­ten­tious. While Venezky’s work was in many ways 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.

Mar­tin Venezky

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 a delight­ful man. I encour­age every­one to tin­ker around the links below to get to know his work bet­ter.

Now, I think I’ll final­ly give his book a read.

***

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