Every card in Jayme Odgers‘ collection tells a story. They document his career as a graphic designer and reflect his fascination with language.
Installation Magazine: Your art practice and typography is guided by a sophisticated grasp of language and presents information in a succinct, visual format. While your collection has documented decades of your career as a graphic designer, it is also reflective of your practice.
Jayme Odgers: Yes, I do believe that my fascination with business cards, and the information they offer is in direct relationship with my text-based work. There is more to a business card than meets the eye: they emit a visual energy. Of course, many are generic and standardized, however, doesn’t that say something about the owner of the card as well?
When did you first begin working with typography?
My first foray into serious typography began when I was Paul Rand’s assistant in the mid-1960s. Paul Rand is considered the father of American graphic design. It was the first time I saw that the same words or text handled differently could conjure different feelings, confer different meanings. He taught me how context could change how we see language. Typography is generally the weakest link of graphic design- so much so that Paul Rand would have rather been known as a great typographer than a great designer. He considered it a higher calling because there are far fewer great typographers.
How does language shape your view of the world?
While I relate to specific letters especially in certain fonts, my mind is captured more by words and language itself. I especially like seeing words in broader contexts: e.g., the word “entrance” (doorway, opening) is also the word “entrance” (to be put in a trance), therefore, every doorway becomes a possible moment of entrancement. We have the opportunity to change our state of mind via every doorway we pass through. I am captivated by images as signifiers and by the abstract nature of language, especially the concept of words as images. We hear the word sunset and we “see” some abstraction of a sunset in our minds. Perhaps the word conjures a mnemonic image of all the sunsets we’ve ever seen- who knows? Words also carry strong feelings. I am riveted that little alphabetic squiggles or abstract sounds can connote intense feeling as well as potent imagery when put together. Synesthesia also plays into how I see my work. I love the aspect of concomitant sensations: e.g., seeing a color and smelling a particular smell, or hearing a number and seeing a color or hearing a sound and seeing an image. I’d love to do work that crosses sense barriers and provides as rich a sensate experience as possible. Simply, language fascinates me.
You play a lot with tense and time, as seen in the NOW Clocks. How do you use manipulate the letters to have a meaning in multiple states of being? (past, present, future.)
It is said that there exists the past, the present and the future, however, it is also understood that the present contains all-time; that there is no past, or future, only an ever-changing now. I find the concept of time to one of the most unstable mindsets we humans have constructed to help us understand our world. Strangely, time flies when we’re having fun but seems glacial when we are in a miserable situation. We’ve moved from Aristotelian time removed from space to Einsteinian space-time where time and space are simultaneous Since all of my work takes place in the here-and-now, my work is about that state of being— the NOW Clocks and all my text-based work for that matter. I paint the state of being I am in at the moment I am in it. I find trying to live other than “now” painful, and definitely prefer here-and-nowness to there-and-then-ness. All my work takes place in the present; it is the least painful place I know.
Several years ago when we collaborated on a business card and I was surprised the your treasure trove of unusual cards made from unexpected materials. Tell when you began collecting business cards. Was there a specific card that you found particularly unusual, which inspired you to hold on to it?
It all happened unexpectedly and by chance. When I had my own graphic design design business, naturally I saved the business cards of potential clients, printers, professionals in the trade, etc., as any business person might. No doubt, being in the business of designing cards plays heavily into the mix of collecting the calling cards that stood out to me, as in— that’s a great idea.
Approximately how many cards are currently in your collection?
I haven’t counted them, but many hundreds of cards, boxes of them. Most of them are too ancient to be of current informational value, however, when I go through them, it is much like looking at vintage photos of one’s life, almost every one of them evokes a memory of an event, a moment in time, or a phase of life.
A sign of a successful card is that it represents someone’s identity. What kinds of professions are represented in your collection?
No matter how good, or bad, a business card might be— and I have some real doozies— they do say something about their owners. At one point in my design career, my design studio was next to Frank Gehry’s architectural office. I was his “official” graphic designer. In trade for 6000 square feet of office space, he was allowed to walk clients through my design office and tell his clients I was the graphic design wing of his architectural practice— it was a win-win. He asked me to design his business card and stationery with the prerequisite that it show no particular identity, he didn’t want it to say “architect”, or anything for that matter. He sought absolute neutrality. I never worked so hard on an “identity” and failed so miserably. I couldn’t design something that said nothing about it’s owner, only something that said perhaps the wrong thing. The best cards should represent, in some fashion, what the person or business does. It should be a visual metaphor for what they do, or at least be memorable. Most of my collection is comprised of cards from people who work in the visual arts. However, I also have cards from motels, restaurants, every walk of life down to a card from a LeRoy Porter, who worked in a New York hotel’s bathroom as a “bathroom attendant.” His company is called Royal Flush, and his title is CEO; the card has a stock tuxedo jacket as it’s trademark. Gotta love that.
What are some of your personal favorites?
Some of my dearest collectables are business cards of great graphic designers, such as Paul Rand, Wolfgang Weingart, Josef Müller-Brockmann, F. K. Henri Henrion, giants of the design industry. After all, these are the experts in graphic design! They have been an essential part of setting the standards of what we now call graphic design, and in every case, their own personal business cards are a matter of less-is-more, simplicity, and typographic excellence. They are gems. But some of my absolute favorite cards call into the category of “shape relevant” cards, for lack of a better term. One is a tiny, business-card size, perfectly made envelope with a flap on the back from a salesman from the Federal Envelope Company of Los Angeles. Another is a card in the shape of a light bulb from Duro-Test Corp, a lighting consultant-design and energy saving service. I have the lipstick-shaped card of a makeup artist. A real favorite is a business card made of a paper-thin sheet of pure copper from my copper-mining hometown of Butte, Montana. I also have a folding pop-up business card from a structural graphics company. When you open the card, a diminutive three-dimensional typewriter pops up and a tiny letter gradually comes out of the typewriter as one opens the card with a letter of introduction typed on it! Hard to top that!
What is the most unique card in your collection?
My all time favorite I keep coming back to one business card I cherish above all others is a relatively heavy die-cut “pointing hand” (with a shirt cuff) die stamped out of thick-gauge metal from a company called Fine Blanking Orbital Forging in Los Angeles. On the hand in four languages, English, Spanish, German and Japanese is stamped “Who pays?” The die-cut hand has a deep dimple at its precise centerpoint and it spins effortlessly on the tip of the dimple. When I met with this company we had a typical businessman’s lunch, and as I recall there were four or five people. After lunch, when the billed showed up, the salesman got out his “spinning” business card and said, “Allow me to give you my business card.” He placed it in the middle of the table and spun it. I was totally transfixed. When it stopped it pointed at someone else other than the person who had invited us to lunch. They paid. Pure genius!