Geometry of the soul
Any approach to the work of Joan Pedragosa, whether it is drawn, graphic, designed or constructive, must take into consideration that everything he did arose from the passion which moved his vital activity. Without a doubt, it is in his signature (deliberately reproduced on the two-page spread of this book's endpapers) that this thrust, at once impulsive and controlled, free and reflexive, spontaneous and always meditated, is manifested.
It is not necessary to be graphology expert to see that the reputed graphologist Max Pulver was right in affirming that: The signature is an abbreviated biography. No one doubts that the signature evolves with the passing of the years and, consequently, changes. Moreover, in Pedragosa's case, it allows us to discover the energy of a person with a mastery of the stroke and who expresses himself without hesitation, without sacrificing legibility, a person who forgoes all flourish to concentrate on the fleeting lines of his own particular calligraphy, a calligraphy that ties letters randomly or leaves them isolated, lending meaning to the etymological origin of this word: beautiful writing. Indeed, it's clear to see that Pedragosa's is not a conventional signature: it begins with an ascending vertical gesture and closes with an essentialisation of the letters s and a, turning the concatenation of alphabetical characters into plastic signs because form and gesture combine, seeking a rhythmic and aesthetic unity which acts as a trademark. The thickness, the stroke, the angles, the curve, and the ins and outs never become lost but rather they are tied by this will to join two always latent components of Joan Pedragosa's personality: constructive rigour and plastic beauty, and for this reason I would venture to recall what Plato said: Calligraphy is a geometry of the soul which manifests itself physically.
Although some situate the origins of Joan Pedragosa (1930-2005) in Barcelona, he was born in fact in Badalona, a city quite near the Catalan capital and tied to it historically, socially and economically, even though Badalona has significant Roman roots and its own cultural and associative life. It was also in Badalona that Pedragosa met Pere Casajoana, a teacher of line drawing and industrial aesthetics whom Pedragosa always called a technologist (perhaps because this word alludes to the concepts of science, art and craft), and whom he never forgot to mention in any of his biographical notes, probably because in Casajoana's classes he not only learned basic geometry and the possibilities of descriptive geometry but also discovered how to define forms in space and how to express them on paper or produce them in three dimensions, a constant which one observes in his graphic design (trademarks, logos, alphabets, posters, etc.), in his packagings, in trade-show stands and models, in jointed cardboard sculptures and in large-format sculptures made from diverse metals in the last stage of his life.
Nevertheless, in order to grasp Pedragosa's personality and the scope of his work and activity, it is not enough to analyse his work morphologically or plastically, although this helps us unquestionably to understand the evolution of the modus operandi which he went about formulating over the course of the 1950s and 1960s. A deeper look must be taken of his theoretical-practical concerns, which were initially more intuitive and later showed a more intellectual basis, and which, with the passing of the years, were reflected in his work and were a genuine catalyst of the passage from pictorial to graphic culture, or better said, from the last applied-art manifestations to the first communication-society actions. Decisive within this context was the commitment which he undertook to what finally became known as new graphic design, an assessment which is not mine but which was already affirmed by the art critic Joan Perucho (1920-2003) in one of his memorable articles on design and the emerging graphic designers published in the magazine Destino in the 1960s. There, although he stated Pedragosa's attraction resided in: The grace of the sensitive, of the capriciously emotive and light, he made it clear that, From among the splendid ranks of our graphic artists [...] he is doubtless one of those who shows the most rigorous and scientific character. His creations shake our eyes' view with a clean, clear and beautiful emphaticalness, and his compositions and mise-en-page have something mathematical, they draw us nearer a world of sharp, keen-edged geometrical structures [...] where nothing is left to chance but rather everything is thought out according to what follows it and, in a certain sense, to what determines it.
Before continuing I find it necessary to recall that Pedragosa belongs to the so-called post-war generation. He was born in 1930, for which reason he experienced directly the consequences of the Spanish Civil War and suffered the bewilderment and rupture which it entailed. He participated in the political-cultural changes that took place in Spain in the 1950s, a fundamental decade owing to the conjunction of forces which came to ally themselves with each other: on the one hand, the interior renewal fostered by the civil society, and particularly that of Catalonia, and on the other, the opening of the country to the exterior, which favoured the arrival of multinational companies (many of which were tied to advertising), the growing avalanche of tourists and the Spanish emigration to the northern European countries.
This obviously contributed to a change of civil mentality which had effects on social and aesthetic spheres in which new currents, particularly those from Switzerland and Germany, were to be decisive. These new currents revolutionised graphic creation as a whole, introducing new patterns which radically overturned the country. Socially, in the closing years of the 1950s the autarchy went into crisis and the black market and all the limitations derived from the Civil War began to disappear. In order to obtain new markets, the shops and the small autochthonous industrialists looked for a path of expression that would help them to make themselves known, and they found it in brochures, catalogues, labels, posters, displays, newspaper advertisements, etc. which they commissioned to the graphic professionals who were emerging little by little. Although one could not yet speak of advertising campaigns as they are understood today, it was evident that these businessmen decided to spread their image in trade shows, metro stations, trams and public spaces such as stadiums. Obviously, at graphic level this was a period of transition that recovered the tradition of Catalan comic art, which had been omnipresent in the magazines of the 1930s, and graphic design made an effort to renew itself in its conception, following closely the schemas of French advertising. The result was a very simple austere graphic design which broke away from the lines of symmetry of earlier advertising, replacing signboard lettering with sans serif typographic characters and using ranges of contrasting colours that had been unusual until then and which were subject to the precariousness of the inks and papers manufactured in Spain, characteristics which lasted until the opening of the markets derived from the Stabilisation Plan approved in 1959. This plan timidly allowed the entry of modern machinery and tooling, quality inks and varnishes, and papers of good grammage and careful coating, favouring a transcendental change in the visual landscape of the times, a change in which young graphic artists acted as a genuine driving force.
Consequently, the graphic design of the 1950s was tied directly to the world of the print shops and of the little advertising agencies since it was usually the selfsame shop-owners or small-scale industrialists who commissioned their jobs. The work was conceived and carried out by the so-called commercial draughtsmen or advertising draughtsmen and it was printed on typographic or lithographic machines, seeking maximum savings in the use of inks, generally through solid colours or cutouts in order to reduce the cost of the product, as the circumstances required. Commissions by Pedragosa such as those for Alum-Rol, Laboratorios Funk, Vanguard, Lavadora Mobba, Mistol or industrial machinery Riba explain quite well this quest for visual effectiveness with a minimum use of ink, playing with white spaces, overlaying and screens, although one may also observe the line of renewal which began to be favoured by the firms for which Pedragosa worked, such as the one directed by the advertising expert Oleguer Jacas.
Also dating from this decade are other jobs which, despite the country's precariousness of resources, show a great dignity and exhale a spirit very close to that of the great masters of the times. The latter work of Savignac, Paul Rand and Donald Brun with their pictorially-based realism; Herbert Leupin, André François, Saul Bass and Ben Shahn, with their more informal drawing of post-Picassian roots, and Armando Testa or Celestino Piatti and their friendly illustration had a direct influence on Pedragosa and his generational fellows, that is to say, the most attentive ones and those who followed the current international scene through Gebrauchsgraphik, Graphis or Graphis Annual, the magazines or yearbooks that steered the great change which took place after World War II, when the Swiss-German graphic school displaced the French school defended by magazines such as Arts et Métiers Graphiques.
Exploring new paths
A work of Joan Pedragosa which marked, in our context, the start of a new conception of design is the poster which he made in 1959 for the 28th Official International Trade Show of Barcelona, which was held in 1960. In this poster, Pedragosa ventured to replace the artistic-plastic proposals of previous years with a distinctly graphic approach based on simplicity and on force-ideas. His initiative was rewarded with the first prize of the contest held by the Trade Fair Institution, with the result that the poster was published, achieving a great repercussion in the press of times, which spoke of the: personal style [of Pedragosa] in the European trend which is so much in vogue today and in which the Swiss are masters. (José Ruiz Perich, 23 October 1959) and of its message, advertising argument and level comparable to that of the contemporary foreign posters, as was written in Destino by Sempronio, the most popular commentator of the times. This reception was especially important for Pedragosa and all the more so if one considers that it was the first time he had entered a contest. Indeed, it was the decisive thrust in the affirmation of both his professional calling and his aesthetic option, ratifying
his will to be an independent graphic artist with all the risks and advantages entailed by the economic and social circumstances prevailing at that time.
Bent on achieving his goal, between 1960 and 1962 Pedragosa made various professional stays in Switzerland, specifically in the city of Lausanne, where
he was entrusted with the department of Projects and Graphic Creation of the firm Conseil de Publicité directed by Ralph M. Chavannes, a decisive figure in the transition from commercial advertising to graphic design. Moreover, on a personal level he also collaborated with other studios and even received a prize for the project of a stand for the firm Riam International. Moreover, his interest in typography brought him into contact with Alfred Thuillard and little by little he went about exploring the postulates of the International Typographic Style which had the cities of Basel and Zurich as its focal points. This current put functionality, geometrical rigour and the modular method before any other compositive criterion and assimilated the theoretical bases of constructivism, concrete art, and the Bauhausian and Ulmian postulates. It was based, psychologically, on the gestaltism derived from Gestalt psychology and the so-called psychology of structure or psychology of form, which proposed an in-depth analysis of the qualities of form, its configuration and its direct effect on the senses and especially sight. Basically, Neue Graphik sought to establish a new visual order which would forgo decorative rhetorics and any idea of improvisation, establishing the patterns of work on the basis of standard criteria, a methodology highly appropriate to Pedragosa's way of doing things.
Max Bill, the one-time director of the Ulm school and the leader of this movement, wrote in 1952 in the magazine Form an article entitled Form und Kunst (Form and Art), in which he said: We know that forms differ according to the material of which they are made and the function for which they are intended. That is to say, material and function have a decisive influence on the genesis of form. He was convinced that, in order for it to be beautiful, form could not be arbitrary but rather it had to be subject to criteria of order and functionality which the Swiss succeeded to taking to their quintessence. It is not by chance that many of Pedragosa's commissions, even including those carried out before installing himself in Lausanne, follow the patterns marked by the famous Schule für Gestaltung Basel (Basel School of Design), which was led by Josef Müller-Brockmann and Richard Paul Lohse. The arrangement of contrasting chromatic fields, the systematic sequence of vertical or horizontal blocks only broken by the counterform of a figure or object, the preferred use of sans serif fonts, the resources derived from manipulated photography and the assembly of primary geometries which were defended by Müller-Brockmann and his followers, built a graphic system which Pedragosa made his own and which he would never abandon in the course of his career, even if on some occasions there flowed a spontaneous stroke of surrealist inspiration in his work.
Not in vain, in the late 1950s before leaving for Switzerland, the motto of the Swiss constructivists: Art should shape and organise everyday life and not decorate it, had inspired the work of Pedragosa and his fellow graphic artists, whom I have called the Pioneer Generation (Artigas, Pla-Narbona, Domènech, Moradell, Vellvé, Huguet, Morillas, Baqués, etc.). These professionals had chosen to distance themselves from the postulates inherent to the fine arts in order to strengthen a creation based on the project and its objective systematic development. Indeed, with respect to avant-garde art, they were only interested in what was known as the International Typograhic Style, which was manifested in the new typography, functional architecture and furniture, and objective photography. This preference was accentuated in the case of Pedragosa, who was one of the few graphic designers who did not come from the arts and crafts schools such as the Llotja and that had an eminently technical training centred on line drawing and the industrial aesthetic.
This influence, extremely purified but always dominated by an exquisite plastic quality and a good articulation of forms and basic colours, which sought contrast more than harmony, may already be observed in works of Pedragosa from 1956, such as the Mobba brochure, which advertised the Series B Optical Scale (pure Neue Graphik), the Riba advertisement from 1958, the Fogojet insecticide label and box from 1961 (which shows the redesign of the historic logotype that had been used up to that time), the refined folder for Oliver Batlle ball mills from 1959 or the quintessentialised design of a file for the Mobba brand of the same year, which could easily have been signed by Josef Müller-Brockmann or Emil Ruder, who at the same time were developing the same set of fonts and eliminating all stylistic or decorative rhetoric. These were proposals which broke away at that time from all the schemas of typography use, opening new paths which would be followed by Pedragosa's contemporaries.
On returning from Switzerland, convinced that to strengthen his personality and to introduce himself into the communication market he should not be indebted to anyone, Pedragosa decided to work as a freelancer. Consequently, in 1962 he set up his studio at Barcelona's Carrer Tuset, which at that time was modelled on London's Carnaby Street. Indeed, Tuset was a street that sought to be an expression of the new social concerns, where the most prominent advertising agencies, photographers and designers of the times were concentrated and where there were bookshops, decorators, tailors, the Drugstore (modelled on the Chelsea Drugstore), the Cova del Drac music club, etc. Accordingly, at No. 8, 4th Floor, Door 1 of Carrer Tuset a new stage began in Joan Pedragosa's career. It was a small space in terms of square metres but it allowed him to unfold an intense activity. Criteria of diagramation, purity of images, and geometrisation of letterings and trademarks characterised his work of those years, which was also distinguished by his use of new techniques such as burned-out photography, the Repromaster, colour separations in typefaces and lettering, and the application of fonts and alphabets, either transferred or of his own creation.
This simplification of graphic elements, accompanied by a contrast between background and form and a contraposition of soft and hard geometries may be found in the poster that won the contest for the 4th Joan Miró Drawing Prize, held in 1965 by the Artistic Circle of Sant Lluc and the selfsame Joan Miró Foundation, a prize which had a big impact on the Barcelona scene and exerted a strong influence on Barcelona's incipient graphic design schools: the Escola Massana and Elisava. It is interesting to compare the project and the final poster of this design since, in the project, according to the pencilled indications, one may observe that everything is calculated precisely so that the poster's various elements will fit together: the upper third reserved for the typographic block of Helvetian layout and for simulated texts made with German words clipped from Swiss printed matter, and in the other two thirds, the grid of black squares with red transverses. It is a model job which accords with what could be called the Pedragosa modulor.
Another model job is the trademark that Pedragosa made for Àudio, one of Barcelona's pioneering high-fidelity shops, located in the area near Tuset at Carrer de la Granada, 34, which was widely known from its published advertisements and from the wrapping paper and bags that it used. Once again in this proposal, the designer offered a rigorous combination of geometry and typography, achieving an image to which, in my opinion, the shop owed much of its popularity.
Pedragosa's mastery of geometrical proportions on the plane and in space may likewise be seen in the set of pieces which he designed in 1971 for the conference which Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) held in Barcelona and which brought together this select association's most prominent graphic artists, primarily from central European countries. The selfsame logo VIVA AGI!, designed with a retouched Bodoni Antiqua Bold and with a forceful yellow and red target that acts as the dot of the exclamation mark and contrasts with the black of the poster's letters and the white of its background, is clear, orderly and striking. With his proposal, Pedragosa expressed the constructive order of the Swiss repertoire, to which he added a few renovating touches from American pop. The display, the stationery and all the rest of the material produced with this design, especially the programme-poster, demonstrate like no other work his typographic and iconic graphic style.
Independent and corporate
Joan Pedragosa was always an enthusiastic person and a worthy professional. He never dissociated his way of being from his way of behaving. Despite his wish to work alone, in order to have the last word on his commissions, as a matter of conviction and also because the circumstances of the environment so required, he was what one today would call an activist. He was supportive of his fellows, with the companies with which he collaborated and with all the initiatives of civil society which demanded a personal involvement.
It should be noted that his Swiss experience of the early 1960s and his close ties to foreign professionals fostered a renovating contribution to the democratic process which we were then beginning.
One fact explains quite clearly this sensitivity to collective initiatives: his animating and organising role in the foundation in 1961 of the association Grafistas, Agrupación FAD (Graphic Artists, FAD Group), an effort which was made jointly by the most prominent Catalan designers of the times: Josep Pla-Narbona, Enric Huguet, Tomàs Vellvé, Amand Domènech, Ernest Moradell, Josep Baqués, Àngel Grañena, Francesc Graus, Sebastián Rey Padilla, Pere Creus, Eudald S. Humà, Antoni Morillas and Joan Pedragosa, with Pla-Narbona acting as chairman and Joan Pedragosa as vice-chairman. Like all associations of guild-like character, this one began in café conversations which continued afterwards at the homes of the promoters, finally taking shelter at FAD -Foment de les Arts Decoratives- (Decorative Arts Promotion), an organisation which had been founded in 1903 and which was still very active. FAD welcomed the group to its headquarters and gave it a legal personality. Despite this, associative life was not easy since, within the frame of Francoism's highly legislated social life, this collective was obliged to submit itself to the structure of the vertical trade unions, created by the National Movement with a view to controlling the working world. However, the fact that the instituting of the organisation was appropriate and that its leaders' efforts were not in vain was demonstrated by its progressive growth and by the diversity of initiatives which it undertook, initiatives in which Pedragosa played a very active role, just as was stated in the meetings' minutes and as has always been recalled by the person who was chairman in that period, Josep Pla-Narbona.
The establishment of corporate and deontological positions was the first goal that was set and it was followed by others such as the short publication entitled Normes per a l'organització de concursos d'art gràfic (Rules for the Holding of Graphic Art Contests), which was published in 1962. This document sought to lend order to and regulate the profession, reflecting the spirit of parallel organisations created in Europe during those years (AGI, ICOGRADA, etc.), and to establish some rates as a guide to professionals and companies in a field which was under a constantly growing demand and which was completely lacking in references.
Pedragosa promoted or participated in numerous activities which were unfolded in those years. One of those which had the greatest public projection was the use of the novel advertising billboards of three by four metres which the outdoor advertising firm RED had installed in the most central places in Barcelona, RED offered them to Graphic Artists, FAD Group for the purpose of placing them at the service of institutional or solidarity actions without commercial aims, such as the charity campaigns of Spanish National Radio (RNE), tourism promotions of the city, the Barcelona International Music Festival or the Festival of La Mercè.
Another milestone was the exhibition 4 Graphic Artists, which was promoted by the prestigious art gallery Sala Gaspar, where Picasso, Miró, Clavé and Tàpies regularly exhibited. Located at Carrer Consell de Cent, Sala Gaspar concentrated the most prominent art dealers of the times. This event is worthy of note because it marked the first time that the art world opened itself to design and accepted it as a new and significant part of the visual culture. The graphic artists who were invited to display a selection of their most recent works were Gervasio Gallardo, Ricard Giralt Miracle, Joan Pedragosa and Josep Pla-Narbona, who were likewise the authors of a portfolio of lithographs entitled Atzimut. Quatre assaigs gràfics (Atzimut. Four Graphic Essays). This portfolio was published to accompany the exhibition and presented the oneiric realism of Gallardo, who at that time was in demand from French advertising; Giralt Miracle's Heraldiqueries apòcrifes (Apocryphal Heraldries) and his first kaleidoscopes; a series of personified machinations (in which devices, people and animals opened themselves to a surrealistic fantasy) and pop-up figures by Pedragosa, which would form the basis of many of the sculptures which he would later make of cardboard, and Pla-Narbona's phantasmagorical characters, which would become the matrix of his subsequent artistic work.
The spirit of the exhibition, however, would be captured in the book entitled Caleidoscopio 4 gráficos (Kaleidoscope -4 Graphic Artists), published by Editorial Blume, which was designed jointly by the exhibition's four participants and contains a prologue by Joan Teixidor and monographic texts on each designer by Joan Perucho. This was probably the first serious study of graphic design to have been made by art criticism, not only affirming its importance and novelty in the cultural panorama but also the intrinsic qualities of each of the participants. In the specific case of Pedragosa, Perucho underscored the conjunction of mathematical-geometrical elements with other imaginary elements of unmistakable personality open to the world of the fantastic, going on to conclude, after analysing his most rational facet, that: Joan Pedragosa's latest works reveal, as we have said, a more emotive and freer world, abandoning, in a certain sense, the prison of engineered levities which we commented on previously. Perucho added that: There is a strange vibration [...],a rhythm and an unusual effervescence. It is possible that new ferments will animate, from now on, the work of this excellent restless graphic artist. This is a phrase that, as I see it, announces what would form the other branch of Pedragosa, the one that eschews geometrical rigours in order to develop linear rhythms of figurative organisation with what is at once a carefully textured Baroque and Goyesque facture, forming a world of fiction that became explicit in the characters of the portfolio Atzimut (which bore fantastic, phonetic or mythological names), and the one that the poster and billboard of the 5th International Music Festival of Barcelona of 1968 expressed quite well.
The fact that the option of Graphic Artists, FAD Group was eminently cultural (despite the promotional character which it expressed in order to make itself known) was stated in the first and only edition, from 1966, of the magazine Atzimut para el conocimiento de la expresión gráfica (Atzimut for the Knowledge of Graphic Expression). This was an austere publication issued in black and white with the support of the customers of the graphic artists themselves - laboratories, publishing houses, advertising agencies, print shops, schools, etc. - which included, among others, articles by Aranguren, Felip Cid, Ernest Lluch and J. Corredor-Matheos, and which became a genuine organ of reflection on the theory of the image and on the rich possibilities of visual communication, a function which was resumed years later by the magazine CAU (1970-1982), promoted by the Quantity Surveyors' Association of Catalonia.
Nevertheless, the thrust of this collective was reflected in the first graphic design yearbook published in post-war Spain, in 1964, which brought together a selection of the works of the twenty professionals who formed at that time Graphic Artists, FAD Group, a collective which sought above all to be an association of free independent autonomous professionals.
An important facet in the life of Joan Pedragosa was that of the pedagogue. Indeed, he was a vocational teacher and, aware that it was indispensable to divulge the new concepts of design which he had learned basically at the side of other professionals or in studios and workshops linked to graphic creation, he promoted the possibility that this knowledge could be learned in a regulated centre. The first institution to show an interest in teaching what we know today as graphic design was the Escola Massana. This school, despite its having been founded in 1929, had reached the middle of the Century as a conservatory of sumptuary arts and was devoted fundamentally to the teaching of arts and, above all, crafts. Fortunately, in the 1950s, thanks to the initiative of professor Santiago Pey, it went about opening itself to the new designs (interior, industrial, graphic and textile design), until it finally became, at the end of the 1960s, a centre of reference of these specialities. Decisive in this transformation was the creation in 1958 of the department of Advertising Art, which was how everything related to graphic design and graphic communication was termed. From that moment on, the curricula evolved towards visual communication and design, a change which took place with the arrival of Joan Pedragosa in the academic year 1965-66. Pedragosa was acknowledged not only for his professional success but also for his technical rigour and his mastery of the use of typography and layout, as well as for being the creator of popular images of great iconic power.
His pedagogic aptitudes also became known to the students of Elisava when, in 1967 within the renovated curriculum which had been launched by Jordi Pericot, Pedragosa consented to take part in some monographic workshops devoted to one of the specialities which he knew best: the study of volume and its application to packaging, since at that time he was the professional who had most studied and worked with this new discipline and the designer under greatest demand from pharmaceutical laboratories and food industries.
Over the course of his career, Pedragosa worked for numerous publishers, especially designing dust jackets. His creations were many in this field but special mention should be made of the collection Ciempiés by Editorial Tàber, which he designed towards the end of the 1960s; the pocket collection by Editorial Edhasa, which he worked on between 1973 and 1979, and above all the Colección de Arte Hispánico (Hispanic Art Collection), published by Edicions Polígrafa and directed at first by Joan Perucho and later by J. Corredor-Matheos, a series which would become a classic among Spanish art books thanks to its graphic treatment.
Pedragosa worked on the Colección de Arte Hispánico between 1964 and 1976, devoting himself to it body and soul, but since he did so discreetly, his merit has generally gone quite unnoticed. Until that time the art books published in Spain usually followed the most classic layout models in their margins, in the distribution of their text and in the position of their images. Joan Pedragosa, however, broke those schemas and, assimilating some of the patterns of the central European books, he renovated the format, design and arrangement of the lettering and the texts, turning this collection into a pioneer in the field of art books in our country. Moreover, thanks to its editions in several languages, this collection achieved great projection abroad. It should be noted that all the artists published in this collection were of the first order: Miró, Picasso, Torres Garcia, Juan Gris, Joaquim Mir, Hartung, Max Ernst, etc., but as the author of some of these books I can attest to Pedragosa's valuable contribution which, in my opinion, was decisive to the collection's success and which may be seen on each of the pages of the books. I am referring to the selection of images, their arrangement, the plastic balance of forces, the cover piece, the headers (which always varied in adaptation to the artist's aesthetic) and his most original and daring contribution: the treatment of the endpapers, on which a sign, a photograph, a drawing, a signature, some brush strokes, some spots or a fragment of a work of the artist occupied the whole surface, offering an excellent introduction to the aesthetic of the various painters, sculptors and architects who were studied monographically in the collection.
Logos, trademarks and letters
At the end of the 1950s and particularly in the 1960s there was a genuine boom in the field of corporate trademarks. The symbolism and rhetoric which were characteristic of the 19th century and the more or less heraldic symbology were not useful to a society which was beginning to understand communication as an essential element of its functioning, and with trademarks and logos (icons which appeared in all types of communications -advertisements, catalogues, posters, stationery, packaging, etc.) the companies and institutions discovered the need for a corporate identity which would convey their personal style.
Thanks to Pedragosa's mastery of graphic techniques, typography and the treatment of images, and his rigour in the definition of forms, he became one of the most highly demanded trademark creators. He did not apply standard forms but rather he studied a solution for each case which would combine personality with aesthetic and formal quality. Pedragosa worked with three registers: logos, trademarks and the combination of the two. In the case of logos, he based his proposals on the traditional typographic families, which he manipulated by accentuating some elements to instil them with a specific identity, as is explicit in the cases of Mobba, Fogo, Palau de Caramany, Ibiza, Nit i dia or Abitar Editores. For trademarks he took recourse to a particular graphic synthesis of iconographic resources, as may be seen in those of Vulca Pros or Almerimar. In their combination, that is to say, the association of the logo and the trademark, which is what he developed most often, he sought the most essential feature of each product, as is manifested by the logo-trademarks which he designed for Fogojet (with the schematisation of an insect), for the cinemas Arkadin (with the reproduction of some reels of film) or for the cinema Capsa (with a zoetrope).
Generally speaking, however, his trademarks are not abstract but rather they provide clues that help to identify the sector of each product, as is made patent in the symbol which he created for the Costa Brava, in which he fused the initials of the denomination in an anchor, or in the one for the restaurant Sí, Señor, in which a chef's hat accompanies the establishment's name.
Many are those who coincide in affirming that the essence of graphic design comes from the culture of the letter. In the case of Pedragosa, it is fair to underscore that his mastery and knowledge of typographic characters and of their application was essential throughout his career. Whether it was a case of pre-existent alphabets or of specific lettering for each application (advertisements, trademarks, posters, dust jackets, brochures, catalogues, bookplates, etc.), there is always a special care in the application of his letters, either within the strictest typographic canons as in the case of Mobba, or within the freest lettering fantasy, as may be observed in the four letters a of Sala Gaspar which he used in the poster announcing the exhibition
4 Graphic Artists or in the forceful Gades with torn letters in the poster announcing the performance of this dancer in the ballet Don Juan.
This devotion to letters seeps through the design of the Galaxy alphabet which he created in 1964 and revised and updated in 2000, in which are combined the two forces which moved Pedragosa: rationality and organicity. In his alphabet, Pedragosa broke the rigourism of angularities with diverse applications of curved lines, in such a way that he instilled a particular dynamism to each letter, making this alphabet very appropriate for free typographic compositions, headers and logos.
The Christmas card which Pedragosa sent to his friends in 1964 opened a path of experimentation which took his work from surface to space. If up to this time his graphic work had been centred on bi-dimensionality (with some exceptions as was the Christmas card which he made for Mobba in 1960) from this moment on, jointed corporeal structures took on greater prominence. Menus, Christmas cards, invitations, holiday notifications... went about transforming themselves into volumetric elements and opened a new field of expression for Pedragosa which led him in the 1970s to detach these constructions from the graphic world and endow them with autonomy, up to the point of turning them first into mobiles and rotaries, later (from 1986) into tabletop sculptures, as he called them, and finally into small- and large-format sculptures.
That is to say, what he began to create with folded and overlapping pasteboard and what he later made with cardboard, PVC or fibreglass, finally came to be materialised in solid metal plates, stainless steel, aluminium and marble, an endeavour which claimed almost all his attention from 1993.
The timeliness of a book
At a moment of great graphic saturation as is today, when design has been instrumentalised excessively by the market, it is appropriate to recall the work of Pedragosa, now on deposit at the Biblioteca de Catalunya, where it forms a genuine reference of the configuration of graphic design in the last half of the 20th century. Pedragosa was not an epigone, a mere follower of the dominant trends, but rather he was a creator of patterns, someone who succeeded in exploring new paths and in opening new horizons in tune with the social and aesthetic changes which our country experienced in the conquest of modernity. To commercial advertising he contributed quality, rigour and good taste, and in cultural communications he instilled freshness and a sense of innovation. All this was the result of his way of being and of understanding graphic design and, by extension, visual culture. It was a way of doing things that had
a great influence not only on his disciples but also on his contemporaries.
With his work, Pedragosa wrote a key chapter in the history of our graphic design but that was not all. Even though he always preferred to do his work by hand, using pencils, brushes, inks, scissors, laboratory photographs, etc., I am convinced that, conceptually speaking, Joan Pedragosa is the link that joins analogue and digital design.