WERKMAN, H. N. HAP Grieshaber et al.: HENDRIK NICOLAAS WERKMAN 1882 – 1945. Bochum: Städtische Kunstgalerie, 1961.

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HENDRIK NICOLAAS WERKMAN 1882 – 1945

H. A. P.  Grieshaber et al.

H. A. P.  Grieshaber et al.: HENDRIK NICOLAAS WERKMAN 1882 – 1945. Bochum: Städtische Kunstgalerie, 1961 First edition. Text in German. Quarto. Thick printed wrappers. Fitted acetate sleeve. Printed endpapers. 119 pp. Black and white and color reproductions. Elaborate graphic design. Multiple paper stocks and printing techniques throughout. Critical essays, biography and complete illustrated catalog of works. Light wear overall, but a very good or better copy.

8.75 x 9.75 book with 119 pages profusely illustrated with color work samples of Werkman's avant-garde Dutch typography. Catalog for the first major Werkman exhibition, held at the Städtische Kunstgalerie from October 21, 1961 to December 25, 1961. Includes essays by HAP Grieshaber, F. R. H. Henkels, Peter Leo, Jan Martinet, Pauline Martinet, complete illustrated catalog of works, and bibliography. An exceptional labor of love from H. A. P.  Grieshaber and the Kunstgalerie Bochum. My highest recommendation.

Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman (1882 – 1945) was an experimental Dutch artist, typographer and printer who set up a clandestine printing house during the Nazi occupation (1940–45) and was executed by the Gestapo in the closing days of the war.

In 1908 Werkman established a printing and publishing house in Groningen that at its peak employed some twenty workers. Financial setbacks forced its closure in 1923, after which Werkman started anew with a small workshop in the attic of a warehouse.

Werkman was a member of the artists' group De Ploeg ("The Plough"), for whom he printed posters, invitations and catalogues. From 1923 to 1926, he produced his own English-named avant-garde magazine The Next Call, which, like other works of the period, included collage-like experimentation with typefaces, printing blocks and other printers' materials. He would distribute the magazine by exchanging it for works by other avant-garde artists and designers abroad and so kept in touch with progressive trends in European art. Among the most fruitful contacts were with Theo van Doesburg, Kurt Schwitters, El Lissitzky and Michel Seuphor, the last of whom exhibited a print of his in Paris.

Such contact was vital while Werkman was building up his business and could not leave Groningen. In 1929 he was able to visit Cologne and Paris, after which he developed a new printing method, applying the ink roller directly to the paper and then stamping to achieve unique effects on a simple handpress. The more complex of these required some fifty handlings in and out of the press and could take a whole day to complete. Another of his experimental techniques was the painstaking production of abstract designs using the typewriter, which he called tiksels. After 1929 he also began writing rhythmic sound poems.

In May 1940, soon after the German invasion of the Netherlands, Werkman started a clandestine publishing house, De Blauwe Schuit ("The Blue Barge"), which ran to forty publications, all designed and illustrated by Werkman. Included there were a series of Hassidic stories from the legend of the Baal Shem Tov. On 13 March 1945, the Gestapo arrested Werkman, executing him by firing squad along with nine other prisoners in the forest near Bakkeveen on 10 April, three days before Groningen was liberated. Many of his paintings and prints, which the Gestapo had confiscated, were lost in the fire that broke out during the battle over the city.

Just before World War II the museum director Willem Sandberg, who was originally trained as a typographer, had paid Werkman a visit and even arranged for him a small solo exhibition in Amsterdam in 1939. Immediately after the war he put on a retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum and laid the foundation for its large collection of Werkman's work. He also wrote a tribute to his friend, “a man with a craving for freedom manifest in his way of life, expressed in his work, who became an artist at the moment he was economically broken, deserted by everybody, considered a freak – at that moment he created a world of his own, warm, vivid and vital.”A later tribute to his example was paid in an American monograph devoted to his work: “Since Werkman’s death an awareness of his relevance to contemporary graphic design has steadily emerged, and his work has lost nothing of its richness, spirit and optimism.”

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