Wednesday, 11 October 2006

The Dick Bruna Huis in Utrecht

I'm posting this from a hotel room in Amsterdam, as the missus, daughter and I are at the beginning of a 2 week break in Europe. We've three days here in Holland then on to the UK.

Today we visited the Dick Bruna House in Utrecht, ostensibly to appease our 3 year old daughter, a big Miffy fan, but also to satisfy our own curiosity.

The museum House stands opposite the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, a fairly compact building converted from a former mental health institution (or so the staff told me). The whole place is painted white inside, which gives maximum effect to the powerful graphic simplicity of Bruna's work... not to mention Miffy.

That iconic symbol of Dutch graphic design dominates the ground floor. A golden statue of the eternally youthful rabbit welcomes visitors, with books, interactive computer games and other activities for young children in the rooms beyond. Our daughter was in her element, which gave me plenty of time to watch the film documentary on Bruna and be inspired by the fascinating gallery of his graphic design work on the upper floor. (There's a rather inadequate virtual tour on their website).

I have to admit I was slow to pick up on Bruna's genius. I knew him mainly for Miffy and not much else until comparatively recently, when I saw a book covering the full range of his earlier posters and book covers from the 1950's and 60's. Seeing the work here in poster form however knocked me out with it's powerful simplicity and design. I was deeply impressed - if only I'd been more aware of this kind of work when I was commissioned for all those Japanese posters in the 1990's! I've learned a lot of lessons today, not least the proudly traditional way Bruna works - it's not technique that matters in the end, it's what you do with the techniques you have, whether it's using the latest technology or doing paper cutouts by hand. Results matter, not methods.

I was amazed by the deliberate simplification of design, stripping things down to the most minimal of suggestions, his limited palette of colours, his book cover designs are amazing exercises in "less is more".

Moreover insights into Bruna's lifestyle really made an impression. There's a lot about him that makes me think that deep down most artists (or graphic artists at least) are the same - he sticks to a daily ritual, he procrastinates before beginning work (don't we all!), he passes all his drawings to his astute wife for approval before finishing (I do exactly the same with my better half), he lives to work on his pictures and is relatively disinterested in money. He knows his world and he's a master of presenting it in what seems to be a fresh manner with every book. Basically it's because he's a perfectionist, he gives his best every time.

All in all an inspiring visit to this little museum. I highly recommend it to anyone passing through the area.

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