Roots cahier Swip Stolk

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Event | Graphic | Heritage | Publication

Lecture delivered by Paul Mertz, on the occasion of the presentation of the 42nd Roots booklet to Swip Stolk on 30 March 2017.

Swip Stolk
About half a century ago, Swip and I met for the first time – accompanied by buddy Anthon Beeke. Swip is then a very young designer, with a sonorous voice and an unstoppable urge to convince – I am just an assistant at advertising agency Prad, surrounded by stars such as Dimitri and Gregor Frenkel Frank, Hendrik Eduard Janssen (“The beer tastes good again) and the legendary founder Maurits Aronson.
In those days there was a yawning gap between graphic design and advertising – between designers and art directors. Even so, soon enough Swip gets accepted as a member of the ADCN, the Art Directors Club Netherlands. And soon enough Swip and I together create a corporate campaign – for the client I liked best at the time: Dutch Dairy Bureau. Buttermilk, yummy, cool, sleek, white thirst quencher. Swip models my adjectives stably and steadily in playful ads with refreshingly drawn creatures and a relaxed long arm. Quite daring, at the time, but advertising manager (that’s what the function was called in those days) Jan Krijnen approved of the design without delay.
Soon enough Swip also designs the central image for Upperground, an action of the Bijenkorf, also a calling card customer of Prad. The ADCN yearbook responds alertly: Swip is mentioned no less than 6 times. (One book later 5x and still later 4x. On that occasion, the editors upgraded Swip Stolk to Stolkman).

Why do I love Swip? Still?
Swip is ambitious, is original and quirky, and has guts. Based, I think, on a justifiable self-confidence. Is there still more? Yes, there sure is; Swip is unorthodox, recalcitrant, not trendy, he cherishes freedom and is averse to the formats, the patterns, the styles that tend to degrade many designers to glorified desktop publishers.
But most of all, because he understands what really matters: no art for art’s sake, but in his own words: “A design must fascinate, attach itself to the retina. People must have / must feel the urge to turn around and look again at what exactly is going on. The design should intrigue, challenge, provoke, even irritate. It does not necessarily have to be beautiful (although it may of course be that, we’d quite like that), but it does have to communicate, promote and strengthen the message.
This is how Swip closely approaches the AIDA advertising directives (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) without renouncing himself.

What comes to my mind when I think of Swip? Now? Still? The onderstebovenkalender 70/71 (the Upside Down Calendar 70/71) for those who wanted to see every day from two sides. And together with brother in arms Anthon the posters for Citroën – so at odds with the imminent reign of Karel Suyling. Also together: NS campaign, the swirling revitalization of the train. Then the wonder world of Environments, the first interaction between Swip and Frans Haks, in those days still attached to the Utrecht University. In addition to a surprising, playful, innovative and sometimes incomprehensible exhibition also a catalog shaped like a battery-fueled Jumbo electro game. Furthermore, of course, the infamous Varahaan, with balls instead of wattles, the corresponding font Vara Bold, the calendars for De Boer & Vink, the job for blood buddy Jan Jansen, including the store layout, culminating in the double exhibition: Two master designers in the Valkhof in Nijmegen, and the second-skinned hybrid BMW, which is now in the brand museum in Munich. And of course: the fascinating secret alphabet, from Angry to Zodiac and the jewelry. (See the as usual marvelous cover photo by Aatjan Renders.)

I also emphatically refer to the numerous works for the Groninger Museum and the Rembrandthuis; bien etonnés de se trouver ensemble, the 21st century versus the 17th. It is exceptional how well Swip could and can put himself in each of these so very opposing worlds. The swirling, violently beckoning of now & later versus the contemplative and subdued qualities of then. Swip has therefore rightly declared himself Master, equivalent to Rembrandt. (The physical similarity does not lie either for that matter). I quote Frans Haks: “Swip can immerse himself in the essence of the commission like no one else. He always takes a seat on the client’s luggage carrier”.

But what touches, fascinates, intrigues me most of all is that Swip over and over again manages to create something that is beyond the ordinary, something that is as free as a bird and as fresh as a grouse. A pinnacle of spirituality and at the same time worked out to perfection, cared for until the capillaries are reached, elaborated, finished. How can you simultaneously be so unbiased, frank, uninhibited and so perfectionistic?

Photos: Pieter Boersma

Roots is a collaboration between [Z]OO producties and Wilco Art Books. The aim of the series is to generate attention for the roots of the Dutch graphic design culture. Roots is wholeheartedly supported by The Association of Dutch Designers (BNO), Pictoright and Wim Crouwel Instituut.

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