Celebrating White Space


by Andrew Goodell

Ab Gratama’s exhibit on display through Jan. 30 in the Farnham Galleries showcases his unique commercial art.

When creating graphic art such as posters advertising the Iowa City Jazz Festival, Gratama’s efforts are never lackluster.

Associate professor of art Dave Richmond enjoyed Gratama’s display.

“He’s really passionately interested in communication layout,” Richmond said. “White space is as exciting to him as an object in that space. He’s very excited about how words relate to white space in a layout.”

After studying at the Royal Academy of Art at The Hague in the Netherlands, Gratama earned a diploma for both graphic and typographic design as well as photography in 1962.

Since 1987, Gratama has been the professor of graphic design at the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History.

Gratama is a partner in Gratama LaVine Design Studio in Iowa City. He’s also recognized for his work in the developing nations of Ghana, Nigeria and Venezuela.

“He did a lot of work in Africa sponsored by the Dutch government,” Richmond said.

Richmond explained one of Gratama’s challenges during his work as a visual communications consultant in Africa.

“He taught people how to produce printed materials for education on health issues,” Richmond said. “He was trying to develop a series of informative posters to promote hygiene without words.”

According to Richmond, Gratama designed posters without words so his messages about a wide range of health issues could effectively break down the language barrier.

The graphic designer’s international work was done in conjunction with USAID, the Dutch government and United Nations agencies.

Farnham Galleries Assistant Crystal VanDeCasteele was also impressed by Gratama’s variety of skills.

“He conducted workshops for national health and agricultural communication campaigns,” VanDeCasteele said.

Richmond described one piece of Gratama’s work as “European” and “Bauhausain.”

Some of Gratama’s work is very accessible. The people of Holland can see some of the same work displayed at Farnham every time they mail a letter.

“He did postage stamps for the government of Holland,” Richmond said.

In addition to postage stamps, the Farnham Galleries are currently featuring pieces that Gratama created for book and CD-booklet layouts.

The artistic mediums Gratama employs are noticeably diverse.

“Some of his work is on Photoshop,” Richmond said. “He likes Macromedia layout. Some of his early work is pre-computer.”

These works of commercial art can be seen on the third floor of Mary Berry Hall from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. At 4:30 p.m. today, Gratama will be on campus for a closing reception in the Farnham Galleries, followed by a slide presentation in the Brenton Student Center at 7 p.m.