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Autumn in Paris
A Visit with Catherine Zask

by Linda Cooper Bowen

In her large, light-filled space, every wall of Catherine Zask’s Paris atelier displays designs both produced and experimental—the work of an intense, intellectually curious, graphic artist. The studios of other hard-working graphic designers, architects, artists and photographers surround hers; the collegial atmosphere offers autonomy as well as an occasional shared bottle of wine. A series of large silk-screened posters hang from a ceiling rack displaying her work at its most powerful and reductive. There are also many examples of shattered, decomposed letter strokes that illustrate Zask’s iconoclastic approach to formal typography, with letters often abstracting words into independent constructions.

In a career spanning over twenty years, she has embraced the new technology with enthusiasm. “Computers have completely changed design. Whether you are a designer, photographer, architect, filmmaker, artist or work with sound or animation, we all use the same tool. Everything is now totally mixed; graphic design is no longer only about print, and the boun­daries are blurred. When the computer first came we thought it was something extraordinary. It is. You are given lots of freedom and it is so easy. For me the new change was wonder­ful. You can do a great deal with this wonderful, bloody computer, but you have to handle everything and you have to know everything. All I ask of the young people who want to work here is that they are totally at ease with every aspect of production and the software. Knowledge liberates the spirit and allows you to think about something else. The only purpose of the computer is to know it very well, like a pen, not to ask how to use it.”

Catherine Zask's studio at the Villa Medici, Academie de France in Rome, 1993-1994.

Zask also urges young designers to deepen their experience and learn other skills. “In schools here students do graphic design, film, sound and animation. Graphic designers want to be artists; artists want to be graphic designers. I don’t think this is either good or bad because in the past most artists have been multi-talented. I do many things: write, paint, draw; you can easily write, and draw as well as make films, there is no contradiction.” She thinks that students should be taught film, arts, theater, choreography and costume design. Zask would also like to see the introduction of national Living Treasures programs modeled after those created by the Japanese government. The programs are responsible for supporting exceptional artisans and rein­troducing craftsmanship that has become so devalued. “It is extremely noble to work with your hands,” she states. Promoting encounters between designers and students in business fields like economics, administration and the sciences is another one of her important goals. Her objective is to create a mutual understanding between cre­atives and those who represent the attitudes and pragmatic concerns of the client side. Cooper Bowen
Linda Cooper Bowen is a marketing consultant interested in exploring current business issues which concern the creative profession. She has written for Communication Arts, Graphis, Print, HOW and I.D., as well as a number of foreign publications. Bowen has taught a graduate marketing course at Pratt Institute and is a frequent guest lecturer to design organizations in the U.S. and Canada. Her book, The Graphic Designer’s Guide to Creative Marketing is published by John Wiley & Sons, New York. For additional information, see Bowen live in downtown Jersey City, where she enjoys an excellent rear view of the Statue of Liberty.