The art of reduction

An internationally acclaimed poster artist was secured for the design of the four “Animals around the world” special stamps. Claude Kuhn is a master of reduction – and surprising use of colour.

After a broad-based education, Claude Kuhn, born in 1948, worked as a graphic artist, art director and exhibition designer at the Natural History Museum in Berne for 40 years. He has also worked as a freelance designer, causing a stir with his sports posters (boxing and fencing) in particular. Kuhn’s work is regularly exhibited abroad. He has an impressive array of awards and prizes to his name. But those he has won at various international poster triennials are the most important to him. He was particularly pleased to be crowned sports artist of the year in 1992.

The motifs of the special stamps depict exotic animals from all over the world in the bold and surprising style that is typical of Kuhn. The common thread running through the set is the ellipsis. In the “Meerkat” design, it symbolizes burrows and clouds; on the “Flamingo” stamp, a puddle; in the “Giraffe” motif, a treetop; and on the “Zebra” variant, it represents the veldt and the animal’s droppings – in gold, of course, as this is a zebra with the Midas touch.

Jürg Freudiger

An interview with Claude Kuhn

Mr Kuhn, what was it like for you as a poster artist to create something as small as a stamp?

Designing a stamp is not vastly different from working on posters. As reduction and omitting anything that’s not essential is a key part of what I do, it was actually quite straightforward. A poster should also be able to work as a stamp, and vice-versa! The reading distance is less, but I don’t want to have to use a magnifying glass.

Your style is immediately recognizable here. Are there other typical traits apart from reduction?

The colour scheme is also typical of my work. For example, I don’t necessarily feel I have to use shades of brown to depict the zebra moving across the veldt. Grey as a neutral colour between black and white works just as well. Then there’s the use of ellipsis as a running joke.

Who are the stamps designed to appeal to?

Everyone! I believe that good design should work just as well in a children’s nursery as in an old people’s home. That’s my ethos. Animals are ideally suited to this – and good colours, too.

The animal in me How much animal is there in humans? And what makes animals different from us? Who boasts the title of “pride of creation”? An exhibition in the Dählhölzli zoo and at the BearPark in Berne explores these issues – with stories about dog dirt and daily newspapers, ducks’ feet and antifreeze agents, beavers’ teeth and our own gnashers, and leopards’ sleep and sleep coaching. Berne Animal Park is breaking new ground for zoos with this project. Comparisons like these produce no end of surprises, offbeat perspectives, humour and inspiration – it’s all beastly good fun! A project by Claude Kuhn, Simon Haller (Expoforum) and Berne Animal Park Until 31 December 2019, tierpark-bern.ch