American design historian Mel Byars once called the work of Israeli designers the “best-kept secret” of the design world, but the past few years have finally brought them some attention. SAFE: Design Takes On Risk, a 2005 exhibition at MoMA, featured a number of Israeli projects, and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum recently concluded Solos: New Design From Israel. These shows have focused on objects from furniture to emergency preparedness kits. But Israeli typographers and type designers, working with a character set unfamiliar to most of the world, have faced higher hurdles in finding a global audience.
Oded Ezer has met this challenge with a series of genre-bending experimental posters with Hebrew type that’s been abstracted, fragmented, and otherwise subjected to heavy sculptural manipulation, often pushed beyond readability even for those who can read the language. “What I’m really interested in is trying to find new possibilities for typographic expression, not only in Hebrew,” Ezer, 32, said from his studio in Givatayim, near Tel Aviv. The originality of this work, which he’s dubbed “typo-art,” has won Ezer honors in a number of high-profile international design competitions.
A 1998 graduate of Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Ezer realized early on that he’d never be satisfied simply executing commercial projects. In 2000, he founded his own studio and, with a group of like-minded designers, cofounded Hagilda (“The Guild”), Israel’s first type-design cooperative. At the same time, he began a series of experimental works, looking to architecture, the sciences, and natural forms for models. He found particular inspiration in the work of artist Ed Ruscha, who also began as a commercial graphic designer, and in the posters produced during the 1980s by the Dutch design firm Studio Dumbar.
“Plastica” (2000) grew out of Ezer’s interest in applying biological forms—in this case, forms reminiscent of insects or arachnids—to type. Ezer continued to experiment in his commercial work and in a series of personal works that paid homage to Michelangelo along with three contemporary Israeli innovators—the late poet Yona Wallach, the experimental composer Arie Shapira, and the graphic designer David Tartakover. More recently, Ezer has been trying to imagine the inner lives of letterforms. His newest projects toy with the notion of how type might have looked had nature created it. While he’s clearly inspired by biotechnology, Ezer has developed his biotypographical creatures intuitively, playing with everyday materials such as wax, fishing line, and chewing gum.
Ezer shies away from calling himself an artist, which would imply a direct involvement with politics or society. “Letters may be part of culture, but I don’t deal with messages,” he says. Still, given who Ezer paid homage to earlier in his career—Tartakover, for instance, is at least as well known for helping to found Peace Now as he is for being a designer—one gets the sense that Ezer may be more of an artist than he’s willing to admit.