Alvin Lustig’s book jacket design for Arthur Rimbaud’s “A Season In Hell” is known throughout the design world as one of the best contemporary interpretations of a literary classic. The book jacket is primarily red with black & white organic forms that the title and credits are contained with in. The abstract and casual nature of Rimbaud’s poems are reflected in the loose forms and spatial composition that includes plenty of white space that contributes to the positive forms and are not just defined as “negative space.”
Alvin Lustig was born in Denver Colorado back in 1915 where he was raised and introduced to the world of design by becoming a freelance printer and typographer. He started creating his contemporary and innovative style by modifying type ornaments to create different geometric forms. Also collaborating and becoming a charter member of a very small group (including Saul Bass, Rudolph de Harak, John Foli and Louis Danziger) called The Los Angeles Society for Contemporary Designers was a defining moment for him in distinguishing himself in the world of art, design, and literature.
The great 1945 book jacket creates an abstract approach that gives the viewer a lot of room for imaginative interpretation through its suggestive shapes and minimal palette. This contemporary combination of design and literature has become very popular and a great influence on reputable groups & audiences such as the Surrealists. Its thin hand rendered type compliments the heavy forms that they are reversed out from to create dynamic tension and an uneasy & vulnerable feeling that supports the essence of “A Season in Hell.”
Becoming famous for this contemporary style of abstractness, Lustig’s credibility is evident and creates a certain trust between he and his viewers by repetition of this contemporary continuity. Even in this vulnerable approach to a jacket design, he receives respect from his audience in the sense that he doesn’t underestimate their intelligence and allows them personal space for interpretation. I believe this piece of design would fall under the category of Ethos. The trusting relationship he builds between he and the viewer is due to respect of intelligence and simplification of his work.
This book jacket is a successful example of great contemporary design that expresses a tense but dynamic harmonious relationship of type, vector-like graphic forms, minimal palette, and interpretation of poetics.