Left: a ‘stela’ (stone slab bearing an inscription or design, often serving as a gravestone) near Stockholm, dated to the late Viking period (second half of A.D. 1000). This image depicts Thor, in a boat, wielding his magic hammer in battle against the cosmic serpent Midgard. Right: chalk drawing by Keith Haring, 1983.
These two images, made roughly a millennium apart, are almost identical in style. The simple line drawing (or engraving on the stela) and outlined figures are deceptively simple; the linework captures a great movement and vitality. Human figures are portrayed in a basic form that is iconic to our human language (think of the male/female icons on bathroom doors). However the style is distinctive; a friendly, expressive personality is expressed with a single line. In both cases, the bold, gyrating lines just seem to dance.
The first image was made by a badass Viking designer who was likely commemorating a fallen comrade with a gravestone depicting a God of thunder vanquishing a gruesome foe. The second was made by an eccentric New York City artist and Devo fan whose joyful subway drawings made him a pioneer in an 80’s street art movement. As much as those two people seem to differ in time, location, and lifestyle, their markmaking is remarkably similar. This reveals the common language of art and design, a shared heritage of visual storytelling. These two people both inherited a form of communication and expression which unites their work over a vast gulf of time and space.
I decided that I want to become the Joseph Campbell of graphic design. Campbell was a scholar of mythology who compared world cultures to reveal basic truths about human life. He was the man. But I also want to be the Jay-Z of design, so yeah. I’ll keep you posted.