Kalman to Deliver Commencement Keynote
Three distinctly different pioneers in contemporary culture will accept honorary degrees at RISD’s 2013 Commencement ceremony on Saturday, June 1. This year’s honored guests are: legendary Swiss designer and artist Karl Gerstner, who is unable to travel to Providence but will accept his degree in absentia; author, illustrator and designer Maira Kalman, who will also deliver the Commencement keynote address; and environmental activist and author Bill McKibben. The honorary degree recipients will help celebrate with the approximately 462 undergraduates and 197 graduate students who will accept their own hard-earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees that day.
A preeminent designer and systems thinker, Karl Gerstner is widely known as a 20th-century innovator in typography who has made a significant impact on the world of modern art, design and design education. He embodies the rigor of Swiss design, but also reinvented it in the mid-20th century by pioneering computational art forms (before computers), grids, unjustified text setting and “integral typography” – an approach to graphic design in which form, meaning and function are interdependent.
A theorist and accomplished writer, Gerstner is perhaps best known for his 1963 book Designing Programmes – something of a “bible” in design circles – along with several books on color theory and such pivotal works as Compendium for Literates (1974), Visual Language (2001) and Marcel Duchamp: »Tu m’« Puzzle upon Puzzle (2003). He was a cofounder of GGK (Gerstner, Gredinger and Kutter), one of Switzerland’s largest and most successful ad agencies and one that made a global impact through groundbreaking work for Geigy, Swiss Air, IBM and other clients. Throughout his career, Gerstner found rewarding design opportunities in creating ads that offered real quality and substance in place of pandering to popular taste.
Illustrator and self-described optimist Maira Kalman has written and illustrated many well-loved children’s books, including Max Makes a Million, What Pete Ate from A–Z, Looking at Lincoln, 13 Words (with Lemony Snicket) and Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey. A frequent cover artist and contributor to The New Yorker, she has also brought her inimitable style to books such as And the Pursuit of Happiness, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style and Michael Pollan’s newly reissued classic Food Rules.
Kalman worked with her late husband Tibor Kalman at his legendary design company M&Co and recently collaborated with designers Kate Spade and Isaac Mizrahi. She’s represented by Julie Saul Gallery in New York and has earned recognition from the Art Director’s Hall of Fame, along with winning the New York Times Best Illustrated Book award and the Prinz Honor for Why We Broke Up, a collaborative book with Daniel Handler. In addition, Kalman is currently working on a dance performance piece with choreographer John Heginbotham at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York, where she teaches graduate design.
One of the world’s leading environmentalists, Bill McKibben is an activist and author whose efforts on behalf of climate change are reaching people throughout the world. Since 2009 his grassroots climate change campaign 350.org – which references 350 parts per million as the safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – has coordinated thousands of rallies and brought renewed attention to global warming.
Called “the planet’s best green journalist” by TIME magazine, McKibben is a frequent contributor to publications such as The Atlantic Monthly, Grist, Harper’s, Mother Jones, The New York Times and Rolling Stone, among others. In 1989 his book The End of Nature became the first widely influential polemic on climate change. Since then McKibben has written more than a half dozen important books, including Maybe One (about population growth), Enough (about genetic engineering) and Deep Economy (about the need for community-based economies). He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury college in Vermont and an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.