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  • Henry Wolf

    Born
    1925, Vienna, Austria
    Deceased
    2005, New York, New York

    1976 AIGA MEDAL

    When I first met Henry Wolf in the fifties, he seemed to be the most sophisticated person I had ever known. He owned a Jaguar, was always in the company of beautiful women and was already clearly the best editorial designer in the world. Not to mention his charming Viennese accent.

    Although he matched many of my internal clichés for success and power there were some dissonances. For one thing his jackets never fit right (years after I learned that this characteristic is generic to a class of successful designers. The difficulty is usually concentrated around the shoulders.) For another, he seemed to be without pretension. Nevertheless he conveys the effect of extraordinary elegance.

    What one actually experiences from Henry is his lack of capacity to accept the second rate. It is a behavioral characteristic that is largely unspoken but totally understood by anyone who has known him for any length of time. I express the quality negatively because the demand for beauty extracts a price. One of Henry's favorite stories concerns meeting a girl who was carrying a transparent plastic handbag. The meaning of the bag made it impossible for him to be with the girl. “I think it's a terrible thing to be bothered by and I hate myself when I do it because maybe she was the nicest person I ever met, but because of this...she was sort of finished.”

    The search for belief, cohesiveness and standards as a defense against life's disinterested disorder may be one of the roots of form making activities. In Henry's case the world he creates either as designer, art director or photographer, is characterized by clarity of form and literary content. We are convinced of its “rightness.” Every element is the right size, the right shape and in the right place. The illusion is complete and hermetic. When I free associate about other artists whose perceptions of the world seem to share some quality with Henry, Vermeer and Mozart come to mind. Lucidity and the conspicuous lack of excess characterize all three.

    In the sixties, Henry chaired a conference he called “Art, Love, Time and Money,” a title which is about the most reductive expression for the totality of human experience I can think of. These four themes emerge as obsessive elements in most of Henry's work. Finally, what separates Henry from his peers is his special capacity to evoke the best from those who work with him. It is a rare and special gift.

    Resources

    New York Times obituary, February 16, 2005. 

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