I was in Zagreb, Croatia two weeks ago as part of an international design jury for the ZGRAF exhibition of communication design. On the jury with me was the wonderful Niklaus Troxler whose posters for the Willisau Jazz Festival have been published widely and lauded internationally for their energy and inventive use of color, texture, and type. I’ve seen Niklaus work at the Art Director’s Club and at the Type Director’s Club, and think of him as the guy who designs posters for his own jazz festival. Niklaus is now retired from the jazz festival and his nephew has taken over, though he is still making single posters for individual jazz shows and other design exhibitions. He worked for 40 years making the Willisau jazz event and the posters that announced them.
This was the extraordinary lesson that I took from our meeting: he designed for himself the perfect life. He fused his passion for avant grade jazz and his design passion for making graphic design. He lives in Willisau, the same town where he was born. His work has allowed him to travel around the globe and speak and exhibit his posters. He is his own client and his subject will always engage him. We went out to see the John Pizzarelli Quartet one night (of course, I travel across the world and wind up watching jazz by a guy from New Jersey!) and we talked about the jazz that he loves, the really experimental stuff. We have one favorite in common, Bill Frisell. Liking the same music is the beginning of a friendship.
Now that I’m a graduate student, Topic A is often musing about what to do after graduation. There is a world of creative possibilities but really, it’s really just another design problem… not that Niklaus solved it brilliantly.