Hung up in my room is a wrinkled, slightly torn poster, proclaiming in Greek the tour dates of a band I’ve never heard of or bothered to listen to. It exists simply because I entered Athens with the intent of finding myself a souvenir that actually held value, instead of buying one that would fade into oblivion. This particular poster was valueless, but it met the grandiose qualifications I had set for my steal: brightly colored with cool shapes.

What I failed to realize at the time of my adolescent thievery was that these qualifications I had been searching the walls of the city for are the foundation for graphic design. An art typically associated with the new technological era, graphic design as an art form has been on the rise for generations often appearing in the form of posters, album art and typography.

It was this art that Swiss graphic designer Niklaus Troxler found so enchanting as a young boy. An exhibit curated by Stamps Art & Design prof. Franc Nunoo-Quarcoo opens this week bringing together 40 years worth of Troxler’s jazz posters, that have gained world renown for the standard they set for graphic design.

Born in 1947, Troxler was attracted to the posters that surrounded him in his hometown and it became obvious to him that this was what he wanted to help create. After studying at the Lucerne School of Art and Design, Troxler made his way to Paris where he began making a name for himself in the design world.

“It was clear, that I wanted to be a graphic designer … in those days, Swiss designers and especially typographers were very welcome in Paris,” Troxler said in an interview with the Daily. “I worked in a team with three female designers and we did projects for editors, architects and also interior designs.”

Every art needs inspiration, however, and for Troxler that inspiration is contained in jazz music. At the age of 19 he organized his first jazz concert, and 10 years later organized the first Willisau Jazz Festival in 1975. Passionate about Free Jazz, an experimental jazz movement that introduced the musical stylings of Cecil Taylor and John Coltrane to the world, Troxler recruited countless musicians including Archie Shepp, Albert Mangelsdorff, John Surman and Frank Wright to perform at the premiere festival.

It is here that Troxler’s work flourished. Integrating the sonic beauty of jazz music into his art, Troxler created posters for these festivals every year, posters that have brought his skill and talent to the forefront of the graphic design revolution.

“Everything that attracts me in jazz, I can adapt in my design: improvisation, composition, sound, personal expression, interaction, order and chaos,” he said.

The sonic intricacies of jazz can almost be heard in Troxler’s designs. His posters contain more than bright colors and cool shapes; they encompass passion, joy, urgency and power. It is because of this that his pieces have won esteemed awards and been collected by museums around the world, including New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.

Troxler hasn’t shied away from addressing controversial matters in his art either. The red Swiss flag dominates a recent piece of his that addresses the population of Switzerland directly, as it proclaims that the country must leave its borders open for refugees.

Countless posters exist around cities that easily blend into the background. They make up a large part of urban scenery, coming close to being the nature that metropolitan centers often lack. But as Troxler has and continues to prove, graphic design is the source of admirable works of art and calls to action that far surpass anything bright colors and cool shapes can inspire. 

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