Sara De Bondt’s new book collects the epic histories of graphic design in Belgium

We chat to the graphic designer and publisher about the project, which collects historical information and interviews with practitioners to paint a comprehensive view of the Belgian graphic design scene and its background.

Date
5 April 2022

It’s no secret that the Belgium graphic design scene is a hub of talent and creativity. For years, the country has regularly been producing some of the most innovative artists working in the field. One Ghent-based graphic designer and publisher in particular who recognised this is Sara De Bondt, whose new book Off The Grid charts the histories of graphic design ­– from graphic design unions to graphic design and the colonisation of Congo, to interviews with practitioners. “When I started my PhD, I realised that there is very little information available about the history of Belgian graphic design,” Sara tells It’s Nice That. “So I started interviewing people, asking if they had information, talking to designers of all generations, and I ended up with an overload of information with no way to contain it or structure it.” That’s where Occasional Papers, the publishing imprint Sara runs with Antony Hudek, came in. Already known for publishing books on the histories of art and design, Sara knew a book on the histories of graphic design would fit perfectly within Occasional Papers established catalogue.

“I was keen for it to be ‘histories’ and not one conclusive set ‘History’,” Sara explains on the book’s layout. “That’s why there are many different types of writing in the book: from more academic essays to interviews to biographical texts or just a delicious picture plate section.” One glance at Off The Grid’s bibliography section and you can appreciate the stratums of work and art that is poured in to the book, from Sara and the practitioners featured. “The last pages of the book are the most important as they contain the bibliography and list of archives,” Sara says. “It’s important that future researchers can know where to start digging.”

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Frida Craet Burssens: Poster for Grafische Kunst – USA – 20ste eeuw (Copyright © Design Museum Gent, 1950 and Occasional Papers, 2022)

The book itself feels celebratory, diverse, and collective. It covers as much of Belgium’s scene as possible, largely inspired by Sara’s own exhibition at the Design Museum Gent, titled Off the Grid: Belgian Graphic Design from the 1960s and 1970s as Seen by Sara De Bondt. “I invited everyone I could think of who knew anything about the subject to give a talk in the little reading area we had set up in the show,” she says. “It felt like a waste not to capture all the new content being produced in the exhibition context so that people could enjoy it longer.” By the end of the exhibition, Sara had archived and stored away the works and asked practitioners in attendance to contribute words to the books.

Ultimately, Sara herself is a designer “inspired by peers, colleagues, and students’ work,” consistently drawing on life she encounters in her everyday to constitute her work. It’s probably why Off The Grid feels so genuine and authentic, as it’s infused with Sara’s genuine appreciation of art as much as it is with aesthetic fancy. Often, it’s the quotidian things like “drawing, art, walking, travelling, flea markets, bookshops and nature,” which Sara looks to for artistic fuel. “And with Occasional Papers, the people whose work we publish are always people we admire,” she says.

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Paul Ibou: 12 Owl Variations (Copyright © Paul Ibou Foundation, 1970 and Occasional Papers, 2022)

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Sara De Bondt, Jeanine Behaeghel: Off the Grid: Histories of Belgian graphic design (Copyright © Jeanine Behaeghel, 1966 and Occasional Papers, 2022)

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Roland Denaeyer and Michel Olyff: 42/60 – C’est pas trop cher à imprimer et c’est suffisant pour s’exprimer (Copyright © Collection Centre de la Gravure et de l’Image imprimée, 1974, and Occasional Papers, 2022)

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Julian Key: Poster for Salon de la Moto et du Cyclomoteur (Copyright © Letterenhuis, 1973, and Occasional Papers, 2022)

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J Costa: Typesetter at work for Le Courrier d’Afrique (Copyright © Royal Museum for Central Africa, 1956, and Occasional Papers, 2022)

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Boudewijn Delaere: New year’s greetings (Copyright © Boudewijn Delaere Archive, 1970, and Occasional Papers, 2022)

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Jocelyne Coster: Poster for Joy Division and Digital Dance in Plan K (Copyright © Collection Annik Honoré, 1980, and Occasional Papers, 2022)

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Jeanine Behaeghel: Posters for Je Weet Niet Hoe? theatre play at Korrekelder (Copyright © Letterenhuis, 1965–66 and Occasional Papers, 2022)

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About the Author

Joey Levenson

Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.

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