Erik Nitsche was a celebrated name in the twentieth century graphic designing. He was recognized for meticulously designing books, annual reports and setting page composition and type presentation. His simple yet attractive designs, use of brilliant colours and exquisite typography became his trademark.
Born on September 7, 1908, in Lausanne, Switzerland, Erik Nitsche grew up in an art-oriented family. His father and grandfathers were skilled typographers and had close ties with a noted artist, Paul Klee. In fact, it was Klee who inspired Nitsche to pursue art as an artist rather than a mere photographer. Notwithstanding their closeness, Nitsche went on to attend the Kunstgewerbeschule in Munich, instead of Bauhaus School where Klee taught. Upon graduation in early 1930s, he took up a job in Cologne, Germany. After a brief period he was offered a job by Maximilien Vox to work in Paris. As he moved to Paris, he received requests from various magazines and newspaper to do the illustrations.
During his stay in Paris, the art-deco-style was in vogue in France. However, Nitsche’s early learning of Swiss style played a major role in his works. He was also attracted to Bauhaus and rationalistic style which is a direct opposite to art-deco style. Therefore, he decided to merge the two styles together in his early works. In the following years as the European conflict approached, the contemporary artists decided to flee Europe. Nitsche was among those artists as he fled to United States and found stability working in Hollywood. At first he designed a set for a musical but shortly after he gave up and headed to New York. His first decade in New York was spent working as a freelance graphic designer. The major American fashion and decoration magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, Life and Look, hired him to work on designs and illustrations.
Nitsche held his Swiss heritage responsible for getting him work in whichever noted magazine office he walked into. Soon he found himself in the position of an Art Director at Air Tech and Air News magazines. It was a technical magazine, which featured charts and graphs about hydraulic systems and aerodynamics. He was given the total control of design, illustration and format of the magazine and fulfilled this responsibility extraordinarily. While others have found geometrical and technical designing laborious, it complemented Nitsche’s Swiss style since it was about logics and precision.
1940s is marked as the time when Nitsche’s success reached its zenith. He worked for a large number of clients as an art director. He became the successor of Herbert Beyer at Dorland International taking up the position of art director, in 1947. The following year he designed a few issues of Mademoiselle Magazine. He was a restless soul, who called himself a ‘nomad’ since he never remained at one job for a long time. Unable to continue to work at offices, Nitsche left New York and relocate to Ridgefield, Connecticut in early in 1950s.
He was linked to Gotham Agency and thereby to the General Dynamics in Connecticut. The company wanted to propagate and purvey peace instead of sheer terror of war that their development of destructive weapons conveyed. Nitsche was chosen for the responsibility of turning around company’s image by building its identity from scratch. Since the company couldn’t reveal the top secret specifics of submarine project, Nitsche was forced to work with symbolic representation of peace and came up with a series of six lithographic posters. In 1995, he was diagnosed with a terminal illness and passed away in late 1998.