Nikolaus Hafermaas on media and Mr. Kappes
The first time I went to the movies at the age of five, my father's friend took me to see “Peanuts.” I still remember Snoopy's dream of being a fighter pilot while sleeping on the roof of his hut. Very psychedelic visuals, a whole cosmos made out of a few lines and to me at that time: amazingly fast. Then came Yellow Submarine, the most colorful film I've ever seen on our kitchen's 15'' black and white TV, followed by Pasolini's 120 days of Sodom, where for the first and last time I had to flee the movie theater at the age of 14. Then my first night spent with MTV, sitting at my aunt's house on Long Island, transfixed by the lightning speed of the jump-cuts. I almost peed my pants because I was afraid of returning from the bathroom just to find all the fabulous video clips having run out in the meantime – just as it would have been the case on German TV back then. A year later I watched Bladerunner 20 times. It completed my audio-visual education. Every flick I've seen since then still feels like a cheap imitation.
Mr. Kappes, a short balding 11th grade teacher at the Easton Area High school, told me everything about Western design. I attended his class as an exchange student and took in his theories about why things are designed to look like they do—why the inside of the McDonald's fries cartons are striped white and yellow to make the contents look bigger; why a Cadillac's grille looks like a latter-day Greek temple and what the restaurant of the future will look like. As far back as 1980 he predicted that we will go to “neutral” places where we'll choose from a menu of virtual themed environments, to match our choice of food. The meals would consist of nutrition bars individually programmed to resemble any taste and texture desired.
I stumbled over my next influential teacher one day in the basement of my Berlin Art University. I was about to quit my studies in the visual communications department out of frustration and disorientation. He looked like the very late Albert Einstein turned hermit. He ran a small metal workshop in the cellar of the school. The absence of students didn't seem to bother him a bit. We instantly became friends and I started wrestling three-dimensional shapes out of sheet metal under his supervision. Fighting with the material's inherent stubbornness I no only learned about cutting, drilling and welding, but fundamental facts about proportion, contrast, tension and composition—all applicable to graphic design as well. Within a few months I had produced numerous pieces of sculpture and furniture, which my graphic design teachers then had to grade. Fortunately, they let me pass.
Chair Graphic Design Department
Art Center College of Design, Pasadena
Berlin / Los Angeles