Ivan Chermayeff, 1932-2017

Tom Geismar and Ivan Chermayeff
Tom Geismar and Ivan Chermayeff.

I was sad to hear that Ivan Chermayeff passed away on December 2nd, 2017 at the age of 85. While we never had the pleasure of meeting in person, Ivan and his colleagues Tom Geismar and Sagi Haviv have been gracious enough to share their thoughts and advice with me in my much shorter time as a graphic designer.

In the words of his design partner Tom Geismar, “Ivan was a brilliant designer and illustrator, with a vibrant personal style that reflected joy, intelligence and wit. He loved surprise, large-scale objects, and the colour red. For over 60 years, Ivan and I have enjoyed a partnership, to which we each brought complementary talents, in an alliance cemented by shared values and mutual respect. Ivan’s contribution to the field of design will remain unsurpassed.”

Ivan Chermayeff posters

About Ivan Chermayeff

Born in 1932, Ivan Chermayeff’s career spanned more than six decades. He was a distinguished graphic designer, author, illustrator, and collagist, producing memorable work in a wide range of mediums. He created more than 100 posters announcing television shows, museum exhibitions, and other cultural events, all crafted with a fantastic sense of colour, form, typography, and visual connections.

9 New York Ivan Chermayeff
Steel sculpture for Mobil, at 9 West 57th Street, New York, 1972.

From its inception, the design firm that he founded with Tom Geismar — now named Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv — has worked closely with architects on large-scale projects. Ivan’s design for the massive steel red 9 that sits on West 57th Street is a New York landmark, and his “fractured flag” design was a highly visible feature in the US Pavilion at Expo’67 in Montreal. After the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, Ivan and the firm worked closely with the Kennedy family and the architect I M Pei over many years to develop the design for the exhibition at the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.

The firm has long specialised in the design of graphic identities for a wide range of companies, government institutions, and cultural organisations. Ivan’s logos include those for HarperCollins, Showtime Networks, the Smithsonian Institution, and many more.

Harper Collins logoHarper Collins logo, 1990.

Showtime Networks logoShowtime Networks logo, 1997.

Smithsonian Institution logoSmithsonian Institution logo, 1999.

A past president of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, Ivan Chermayeff was the recipient of gold medals from the institute and from the of Illustrators. He was named to the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame in 1981.

Over the years Ivan designed a range of children’s books with bold illustrations and sparse text. His “Sun Moon Star,” with words by Kurt Vonnegut, has been reprinted in many languages.

Sun Moon Star
Sun Moon Star, by Kurt Vonnegut and Ivan Chermayeff.

Apart from his professional work, one of Ivan’s favourite means of personal expression was collage. Bright, colourful, and graphic, each collage was made from mailing envelopes, scraps of packaging, ticket stubs, bits of type, etc.

Ivan Chermayeff collages

The artwork has been featured in more than 40 one-man exhibitions throughout the US, Europe, and Japan. Nearly all the collages are variations on the theme of the human face, each made with a style and visual wit characteristic of Ivan’s work.

Ivan Chermayeff
Ivan Chermayeff, 1932-2017.

In the wake of Ivan’s death, Mike Dempsey republished a great read and recorded interview from 2009 — Ivan the great.

Sincere condolences to Ivan’s family and friends.


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