“A singular designer who did not want to be a designer”, this is how Jordi Fornas is defined by the also designer Enric Satué in his book My dear designers (graphics) edited by Alianza Editorial. One could speak of an “Enigma Fornas”, a graphic designer who was part of the generation of creators who revolutionized the graphic image in Spain in the sixties and who, however, ten years after his death, has been semi-forgotten. An oblivion caused by the designer himself who at one point in his life wanted delete his time as a graphic creator to dedicate himself to painting, his true vocation.
The recent exhibition Furnaces. The image of Catalonia that hosted the Institut Ilerdencs de Lleida claimed the figure of this graphic creator who managed to make design a popular product. For Pau Llop, graphic designer and curator of the exhibition, Fornas has never emerged as a determining figure in the Catalan design scene, in part due to his refusal to identify himself as a designer and claim himself as an artist. “On the other hand, in many Catalan homes it is easy to recognize one of his designs, undoubtedly the best tribute for a creator of pop culture.”
In 1963 the Edigsa label, Barcelona’s record publisher, germ and motor of Nova Cançó, published the first album by Raimon, a young Valencian singer who landed on the popular song scene with his composition Al vent. Starting from a photograph by Oriol Maspons that shows a scrawny boy barely out of adolescence with his guitar, Fornas prints his personal stamp on the cover, setting a style that he will develop in his subsequent works. As Satué points out, “Fornas turned the typographic composition of the song titles 90 degrees, giving it a rampant, aggressive and certainly original look. The phenomenon of acceptance of his graphic proposals is remarkable, some undoubtedly disconcerting, for an audience with a desire for change and new knowledge ”, highlights Pau Llop.
This same avant-garde and transgressive will will manifest itself in other projects, editorial collections, periodicals, etc. Between the Crown jewels highlights the collection La Cua de Palla, a series of detective novels from the publishing house Edicions 62. On the occasion of the exhibition Signs of the century. 100 years of graphic design in Spain, Held in 2000 at the Centro Reina Sofía, the covers of La Cua Palla de Fornas stand out in the world of editorial design with their covers in two colors, yellow and black –like the colors of the taxi–, their burned photographs and their Lettering in Letraset. “His is a personal language and different from the rest of the records and books of the time, which brought an avant-garde and European tone to the graphic world,” says Llop. A graphic identity that “draws from the British pop aesthetic, from the design of the Swiss school and, especially, from the French graphics of the fifties. The mixture of all these influences is reflected in resources and uses that make up one of the mainstays of what we call Fornas style”.
“Jordi Fornas’s design was more than a simple graphic application,” underlines Pau Llop. “Fornas is a key player in Catalan graphic design. It is a link in a gear that revolutionized and modernized the Catalan culture of the sixties, and was the forerunner of a change that had to reach a society that wanted to break with the gray of Francoism ”. In one of the texts in the exhibition catalog, the writer and essayist Jordi Amat emphasizes the importance of Jordi Fornas in this modernization process. “Fornas begins to shape a new imaginary for a new time. A process of transformation was taking place in the country that was not political, but it was economic, and which had a moral correlation because it had to make it possible to experience the drives and yearnings for modernity in a free way. And who gave shape to this desire for freedom was, surely in a more persuasive way than anyone else, Jordi Fornas ”.
The avant-garde album covers that Fornas makes for the Edigsa label will end up producing a domino effect and other publishers such as Concèntric, the other Nova Cançó record label, will project this pop accent that runs through the sixties. The cover of the cartoonist Enric Sió for the album Long live Guillermina’s love in comic aesthetics and reminiscences beatlerians it will mark the musical image of the time or the works of the singer and occasional designer Pau Riba following the psychedelic currents. Other designers will join the “graphic revolution”, such as América Sánchez, Francesc Guitart, Enric Satué, Claret Serrahima or the work of a Daniel Gil for the Hispavox label in collaboration with photographer Francisco Ontañón.
Jordi Fornas will also be responsible for a good part of the graphic image of Joan Manuel Serrat, from his beginnings with the group Els Setze Jutges until his rise as a mass singer and pop idol. The covers of Fornas for the Edigsa label, with photographs of himself or others –Josep Puvill, Colita or Toni Catany–, project the construction of the myth, either as the romantic and bohemian young man from Morning song or the sophisticated of Velvet bunny. “Fornas’s work at Edigsa was a complex and complete work: he designed album covers, defined graphic identities for sub-stamps, converted musicians’ names into logos, photographed performers … An example of the total designer,” he says Llop.
As of 1975, Jordi Fornas’ professional career opens to a new stage. “We must not forget that he always considered graphic design as a job, a means to bring income home and to his family,” says Pau Llop. “Despite being at a peak in his career as a designer, he wants to rediscover his great passion, painting and creating in freedom, an artistic exercise that design does not allow him due to its functional nature.” Fornas often denied design, he did not value it like painting, since he considered that in graphic work there was an authority that ended up deciding, setting the guidelines, and in essence, the product had a specific purpose ”, Llop points out.
His pictorial work goes through different stages, from a more organic and vegetal conception to more urban themes. This entire process will be marked by a progressive distancing from the social and professional environment while taking refuge in his creative and artistic world. “Fornas often denied design, he did not value it like painting since he considered that in graphic work there was an authority that ended up deciding, setting the guidelines, and in essence, the product had a specific purpose,” says Llop. Little by little, Fornas retires to seclude himself in his creative world and after the death of his wife he decides to dedicate himself fully to painting. Confined to his house in the Sarrià-Sant Gervasi neighborhood of Barcelona, he becomes obsessed with plastic experimentation. A part of his voluminous pictorial work could be seen in a posthumous exhibition at the Montserrat Abbey Museum in 2013. “An illustrative example of his attitude and his defense of painting over design was his refusal to be proposed for the National Design Awards. He never considered himself a designer ”.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.