Wednesday, November 03, 2010

That Dutch Dude : Cor Klaasen

Tonight sees the opening of a retrospective exhibition of the work of Irish-based Dutch designer and illustrator Cor Klaasen. Cor was one of the wave of Dutch graphic designers encouraged to come to ireland in the fifties, with a view to developing a more professional design culture here.

I was lucky enough to benefit from having Cor as a tutor during my training in Dun Laoghaire School of Art & Design (now IADT). He was an iconic mentor, a mildly rakish, intelligent, pragmatic artisan and contrarion who could charm the birds from the trees (as well as students' mothers). More than that, he took a genuine personal interest in all of his students - helping us find unique strengths, both in our talents and personalities.

Some previous graduates were lucky enough to each receive a personal letter from Cor, in his elegant handwriting (a citheog, he could also produce perfect mirror-writing, a la Leonardo da Vinci!) My good friend James Ellis has a nice piece on his blog about this. I'm quite envious as I didn't receive one of these letters - unknown to us, Cor was already unwell by the time of our graduation. He died the following year.

As well as bolstering my shaky self-belief and providing a robust graphic apprenticeship, Cor also found me my first proper job! In Dublin, in the depressed late-eighties, full-time positions in graphics were few and far between. It was the night of our graduate exhibition opening. Aware that colleagues needed a junior designer with good drawing skills, he planned to offer the job details to the first graduating student he met - which was (thankfully) me! I went for the interview and was hired shortly afterwards, soon realising I'd a lot more to learn.

The last time I spoke to Cor was by phone from that very workplace. By then I knew he was unwell, but not the full extent of his illness. I mentioned how I hoped to see him again soon - maybe pick up a few tips for this testing, real world beyond the protection of college. His reply was enigmatic and empowering - 'You're the teacher now.'

I still make daily use of principles I learned from Cor. His own work also remains a creative inspiration. For that reason alone, I am looking forward to this exhibition immensely.

The exhibition is being curated by Niall McCormack from the fantastic Hi-Tone Blog. Niall will also give a presentation about Cor's work tomorrow night at a very special OFFSHOOT event. All these events are happening as part of Design Week 2010.