Even if you don’t recognize his name, Alvin Lustig was one of the great graphic designers of the 20th century. Although he died of diabetes before he was 40, Lustig created dozens of abstract, modernist covers for books by Thomas Mann, Joseph Campbell, Nathaniel West, D.H. Lawrence, and more. Paul Rand was a super fan, and used a couple of Lustig’s New Directions covers as examples of great design in Thoughts On Design.
Another fan of Lustig’s design chops is Edgar Orlaineta, a Mexican artist who has created a series of sculptures specifically designed to enhance Lustig’s cover designs. He calls it New Direction, and his sculptures have been created out of brass, walnut, and other materials to be paired with A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh, Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West, Three Lives by Gertrude Stein, and more.
“I’ve always found Lustig’s design appealing and intriguing,” Orlaineta says by email about why he started the project. “He never felt as rigid as Bauhaus or other European graphic designers: he seemed more experimental and adventurous to me. His designs were closer to art, and his covers were not too literal. There was something enigmatic, something modern, and also very American, about his work.”
According to Orlaineta, he was inspired to create his sculptures as a tribute to Lustig after learning of his tragic end. “He died very young, at 40, and he was blind in his last days, but still designing,” Orlaineta says. “The fact that he was still designing while blind made me think about our body and the way we relate to the world with it. I started developing my work around that: not about blindness, but all the senses that are involved when we create, and the relationship between the eye, the hand, and the brain.”
Orlaineta says that each of his sculptures was designed to incorporate a specific Lustig cover from the beginning. “I don’t just add the book at the end,” he says. “The sculptures always work together, formally and conceptually . . . To me, the covers of Alvin Lustig feel primitive, archetypical, symbolic, and pure. They are not sophisticated or extremely elaborate, but still very strong and beautiful.” The New Direction sculptures are Orlaineta’s attempt to create physical totems to these designs.