The Process of Herbert Matter’s Giacometti


Herbert Matter’s book, Giacometti, is what might variously be called a personal mission, a calling, a beautiful obsession. After comprehensively photographing Alberto Giacometti and his work in Paris at the sculptor’s rue Hippolyte-Maindron studio, Matter spent the remaining 24 years of his life carefully organizing and overseeing the composition of those images into a visually compelling and profusely illustrated book.

The photographs are stunning: less documentary than expressive statement, and utilizing unusual camera angles and perspectives to better capture the dramatic nature and construction of both Giacometti’s artwork and the artist’s famously idiosyncratic countenance. The sculptor himself considered the results “by far the most beautiful photographs” ever taken of his work.

However, Matter’s process materials from the project—on display for the first time at Rare—are of commensurate historical and aesthetic interest, as they chronicle not only the prodigious nature of Matter’s design talents and his attention to detail, but also numerous production techniques which are no longer in regular practice. 

Matter began his design process by first creating simple hand-drawn storyboard layouts on graph paper [left], incorporating either quickly sketched outlines of the images he saw placing on each page (see first line of pages), roughing in filler text (second line of pages), or indicating content to come with an “x”:






As he developed the layout further, he added more detail to the thumbnails and jotted page numbers and notes [below]:











For spreads that were more complicated visually—such as the series in the middle of the book which has multiple photographs of various sizes on each page—Matter included more recognizable characteristics in each sketch to better differentiate the photographs, and also added numerical references in red underneath each drawing [below]:














He then went back his original book-length storyboards, photocopied them, and cut out the images [below left] to paste onto plain layouts [below right], adding additional drawings and notes in marker and ink where necessary. This process enable Matter to continually alter and rework his layouts with ease and flexibility.














The culmination of all these meticulous revises were his spectacularly beautiful and minutely detailed final storyboards [below]—rendered in colored pencils and ink—which mirror the ultimate order and look of the book itself:

From these evolved designs, maquettes—book mechanicals employing pasted-down photostats and typset text, with hand-drawn additions in places—were created, which were used by editors and production specialists to both revise the layouts and create a working protoype for the printer. In the two images below—both from the American edition's maquette—autograph changes are written on Post-It notes, and hand-written yellow stickers at the bottom of each page indicate page counts. The photographs in the image on the left are both on display in “Matter/Giacometti,” and both pages in the spread on the right can be seen in Matter's hand-drawn storyboards above (image 3).

Below are images of a maquette for the German edition of the book, with paste-down typeset text on the left, and a hand-drawn image on the right:


As a final touch, Matter also created the typeface used on the dust-jacket and title pages of the book [left, with detail], hand-drawing the forms on graph paper and using masking tape to make corrections and create visual white space. 




Regretfully, Matter did not live to see his opus to publication, passing away in 1984. His wife Mercedes subsequently guided the book through the editorial process to its eventual publication by Abrams in 1987.


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