With more than fifty years of experience exploring all forms of printed matter, Dutch designer Karel Martens employs traditional craftsmanship and materials while investigating the possibilities of the digital world. In particular, he focuses on exploiting the conventional four-color printing process by overlapping the colors across various media. Through algorithmic manipulations of visual information, Martens transforms data into systematic, graphic narratives, as exemplified by two of his Maharam Digital Projects, Dutch Clouds and Cosmos, which translate photographs into thousands of multicolored icons.
A revered elder of Dutch graphic design, Martens has completed wide-ranging commissions, from government-issued telephone calling cards to large-scale designs for architectural façades, in addition to prolific personal projects and publications. His monograph, Karel Martens: Printed Matter, was published in 1996 after he received the Dr. A.H. Heineken Prize for Art, and he recently co-founded Werkplaats Typografie, a two-year postgraduate graphic design school in the Netherlands, while also serving as a visiting professor at Yale University.
For Maharam's 1 of 10 initiative, Martens's submission featured a set of graphic elements derived from a collection of found hardware, including washers, fasteners, wiring, and mending plates, which he transformed from solid silhouettes into graphic icons. Martens chose a circular washer and two rectangular fasteners as the basis for Trio, and explored spatial and color relationships and combinations with these three elements—intersecting bars of color create the illusion of transparency, while also demarcating the three points of an equilateral triangle. Overlapping elements playfully challenge expected color theory: yellow and blue do not yield green, but instead a warm, saturated umber. After experiencing great shifts through elemental manipulations of color and space throughout the design process, Trio ultimately finds balance and beauty, exemplifying Martens's unique approach to design.
Images: Jaap van Triest and Robin Kinross, Karel Martens: Printed Matter (Hyphen Press, 3rd ed., 2010).