Graphic Gardens. Camilo Umaña

David Consuegra (1939-2004) returned to Colombia in 1963, after having graduated in Fine Art at the University of Boston in 1961, and having acquired a postgraduate degree in Graphic Design at the Yale School of Arts. The graphic environment that surrounded Consuegra there provided him with a privileged atmosphere: his lecturers at Yale were Herbert Matter, Paul Rand, Bradbury Thompson, Arthur Hoener (who was a disciple of Josef Albers and lecturer in design and colour).


Yale gave importance to the study of typography, which was undoubtedly an outcome of the strong influence of Swiss designers such as Max Bill, Karl Gerstner, or Joseph Müller-Brockmann, among others. They proposed a functional and rational approach to design, and favoured the use of «clean» typefaces such as Akzidenz Grotesk, Univers or Neue Haas Grotesk (Helvetica as was initially known).


For Consuegra, the persuasive training at Yale with regard to typography bore fruit in 1963 with his master’s thesis – De marcas y símbolos, which consisted in the study of logotypes and their design. In later years several of his books also dealt with alphabets, such as Las veintiséis letras (1964), a book for children. In ABC de marcas mundiales (1988), he compiled in alphabetical order the most influential logotypes of the time. In Graphica et lettera (1975), a book of letters for the designer’s use, Consuegra reproduced dozens of seminal examples of typefaces and lettering by influential contemporary designers.


Despite these publications, Consuegra’s interests in letters never led him to design a typeface usable for continuous text; however he did manage to create some examples of lettering and was able to use them in posters and graphic works he designed. The exclusive nature of typeface design, especially before the digital era, was not something that Consuegra would have found feasible to pursue in Colombia. The work he did in the posters that are studied here is a prime example of his expertise in drawing letters.


In the field of research he produced a comprehensive historical study of American typography with the book American Type Design & Designers (2004). While researching for this book David also conceived a colossal project which he managed to give a title, Diccionario enciclopédico de diseño gráfico, but it never materialized due to the enormous proliferation of information and challenging editorial requirements.


His commitment to education was always constant in his work — he founded some of the first graphic design departments in Colombia, in which he also taught, and also through his work as author-publisher. He shared the romanticism of the times by undertaking publishing adventures in which he not only acted as author, publisher, designer, editor, and illustrator, but which he financed as well. He also acquired a solid reputation in the United States and Europe, where he was invited to the great international events of logo design.


Between 1963 and 1967, David Consuegra designed a series of posters for the Museum of Modern Art (then a branch of the Universidad Nacional of Colombia), which are a homogenous body of work: same format, using silk screen printing and two inks, and almost always employing Helvetica extra compressed. In these, Consuegra developed a very original design approach emulating the style of each artist, but by means of new geometric compositions, typographic combinations, and sometimes the use of drawings and illustrations, he created a new graphic idiom. The result was an exercise in interpretation which was closer to the experiments of conceptual art. Towards 1950 it was clear that the separation between art and design was irreversible; the graphic designer emerged as a subspecies among industry and commerce and would be responsible for a systematic and standardized work. Consuegra studied and lived among this split which transformed design into a professional activity –it was the moment that graphic design separated itself from fine art, advertising, architecture– and he pioneered this activity in his country.


These thirty or so posters constitute the most impressive body of work in Colombian graphic design of the last forty years, which also tie in with the work of Sergio Trujillo Magnenat. It is significant that both designers excelled at drawing letters: it is common practice that lettering in posters and book jackets can be adapted and redrawn. This discussion centres on those examples where David Consuegra transformed texts into images and graphic works. To put them in context they have been compared with other international examples produced in the same decade, that is between 1960 and 1970. The parallel is reciprocal and not just coincidence; the presence of a shared visual idiom confirms the existence of an underlying spirit and language in the history of art.