Design icon: Mihajlo Arsovski

Hailed by influential designer Mirko Ilić as one of the most authentic graphic designers in Croatia, Mihajlo Arsovski defined the emerging graphic design scene in Zagreb during the 1960s. Arsovski is widely recognized among scholars, critics, and graphic design enthusiasts in Croatia, but he is not very well known outside of the region, despite the bold visuals that put him ahead of his time and are still recognizable in the work of graphic designers today.

Like other graphic designers of his generation, such as Ivan Picelj, Arsovski formally studied academic painting before moving into design. His early clients included Pop Express magazine and the student publication Polet, but he is best known for his ongoing collaboration with Theater &TD. By the mid 1960s, he had developed a recognizable visual language by pairing collage and photomontage with typography, often emphasizing its pictorial potential and visual impact. Another characteristic of Arsovski’s style during this period is the coupling of high and pop culture images – all tendencies that art historian Dejan Kršić has identified as postmodern in a context that was not yet familiar with postmodernism, positioning Arsovski as something of a graphic design visionary.

In a recent article for Design Observer, Rick Poyner, design critic and one of the online publication’s co-founders, laments the lack of familiarity with the work of Mihajlo Arsovski and other central and southeastern European designers. “It’s hardly news that we need to trample over the boundaries of conventional historical accounts in search of other graphic histories. Here is another fine example of what we might have been missing all those years,” he writes.

Locally, however, Arsovski’s legacy is readily apparent in the work of contemporary graphic designers, whether they are consciously channeling his aesthetic or not. Some similarities can be found, for example, in the bold typography and clever pop-culture montages of Dario Dević and Hrvoje Živčić, who have also worked with Theater &TD.

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