13 Jun 2024

Funk-Otto and beyond: The life and work of Helmut Lortz

German article below

Have you ever heard of Helmut Lortz? No? At IFA, neither had we- until we started delving into the brand’s history for its 100th anniversary that is. What is - at first glance- just a scribble of a human head with arrows pointing at eye and ear has, over tens of decades, become IFA’s most iconic symbol: The “Funk-Otto”. His creator? None other than Helmut Lortz. 

 Ein Bild, das Buch, Im Haus, Kleidung, Wand enthält.Automatisch generierte Beschreibung 

Photo: Kunst Archiv Darmstadt e.V.  Nachlass Lortz  

Born in 1920 in Schneppenhausen near Darmstadt, Lortz's artistic journey began with mastering ivory and wood carving during the 1930s. His exceptional talent quickly earned him recognition, winning prestigious awards and scholarships that paved the way for his design career. 

After returning home from war captivity, Lortz built his first studio in an old pigsty, which soon became the place to be for many artists and writers, among them Erich Kästner as well as well-known painters and sculpturers. Lortz and his “pigsty” soon became the heart of a thriving art community in the post-war era.  

However, Lortz was denied great fame. In fact, his multifaceted oeuvre would almost have been entirely lost after his death if the gallery owner and director of the Darmstadt Art Archive had not rescued Lortz's works. Otherwise, his works, which range from graphic art to painting and photography, would certainly have been forgotten - except perhaps for the Funk-Otto. 

The designs for this were created in the 1970s. At that time, Lortz was already internationally successful as a designer with posters, brochures, and logos. Previously, he taught applied graphics in Darmstadt and was appointed to the Berlin University of the Arts (HdKB) in 1959. Here, he held a professorship in experimental graphics for almost 30 years. 

Armin Lindauer manages a portion of Helmut Lortz's estate and oversees its care and preservation. Lindauer studied under Helmut Lortz at the Berlin University of the Arts. 

In 1984, Lindauer became a master student, later a lecturer, and an artistic associate. Since 2000, he has been a professor at Mannheim University. He has published two highly acclaimed books on Helmut Lortz's work. In addition, he runs a graphic design studio and works as a freelance painter. 

Lindauer spoke with us about Helmut Lortz, how he influenced him artistically, and the marks Lortz left on the world of design. 

Ein Bild, das Menschliches Gesicht, Person, Kleidung, Porträt enthält.Automatisch generierte Beschreibung 

Photo: Armin Lindauer © Jörg Sänger, Territory, Bertelsmann  

IFA: How was Helmut Lortz as a person and as an artist?  

Armin Lindauer: Anyone who met him for the first time was taken by his friendly and approachable nature. He interacted with people with an openness and innocence that was highly attractive. A slender man, with thick reddish-blonde hair and bright eyes. His curiosity about almost everything was striking. Man and artist were inseparable. 

Ein Bild, das Menschliches Gesicht, Person, Porträt, Text enthält.Automatisch generierte Beschreibung  

Photo: Helmut Lortz_© Stadtarchiv Darmstadt_Pit Ludwig  

I: How did your journey with Helmut Lortz begin?  

AL: As a student at the University of the Arts Berlin in the early 80s. I wanted to join his class and introduced myself to him. That's how it was back then, you would speak to the head of a class, show your portfolio, and he would decide whether you could stay or not. I was allowed to stay. 

I: How would you describe his art?  

AL: His artistic journey began with an apprenticeship as an ivory carver in the Odenwald. He won the nationwide professional competition two years in a row. He then received a scholarship for sculpture at the State University of Fine Arts Berlin, now the University of the Arts. His studies were interrupted by World War II. After the war, he began to work as a self-taught graphic artist and quickly achieved great success. He then designed posters, logos, postage stamps, book series, and illustrated books. His entire working method was based on drawing; on a clear line that bears the mark of the hand. 

Ein Bild, das Zeichnung, Entwurf, Text, Lineart enthält.Automatisch generierte Beschreibung  

Photo: © Kunst Archiv Darmstadt eV Nachlass Lortz  

I: Where does graphic design end and art begin?  

AL: Who evaluates what is what? Let's think about the paintings of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo. Clearly a commissioned work. Today, no one would deny that it is also great art. So why should an applied work, a work with a client, not have the same quality as a free one? Helmut Lortz made no distinction between applied and free. He worked with the same intensity in both areas, showing no preference. From my perspective, Helmut was a true boundary crosser. 

I: Which aspects of Helmut Lortz's art are particularly fascinating to you?  

AL: His enormous drawing talent is particularly noteworthy. This was expressed primarily in his constant sketching, his "grasping" of the world through drawing. This is the essence of all his design work, both free and applied. It is also the origin of the IFA logo. 

Ein Bild, das Text, Entwurf, Zeichnung, Lineart enthält.Automatisch generierte Beschreibung  

Photo: HL_Berlin_Skizzen© Kunst Archiv Darmstadt eV Nachlass Lortz  

I: How did Helmut Lortz influence your attitude towards graphic design and creativity? 

AL: Significantly. Just through his lived example. At the university, in his class, he was present like few others. You could always show him your work. His judgments were usually brief and precise. He didn't often give extensive explanations, but you could feel that he was usually right. Another special aspect was that you could watch him work. He taught more through demonstration than through many words. 

I: Which elements of his teaching have had a lasting influence on your career?  

AL: I leave the evaluation of my career to others. His influence on me as a designer was crucial; his incorruptible judgment, his visual cues were of outstanding quality. His approach of giving equal attention to the systematic and the intuitive has significantly shaped me. 

I: Can you tell me about the creation of the IFA logo?  

AL: To the best of my knowledge, the logo was created in 1969, well before I met him. He always told stories about people around him believing he was making a fortune from royalties. But he had actually sold all the usage rights. He wasn't particularly good at business. 

I: Can you provide insight into Helmut Lortz's design of the IFA logo and his design philosophy? 

AL: He typically developed his designs in series. The principle of variation and selection runs through his entire body of work. For the IFA logo, there are numerous sketch sheets with countless variations from which the final logo emerged. Its concentration and minimalism hint at the detail-oriented search behind it. 

Photo: HL_IFA-Logo-Skizzen_1971_© Kunst Archiv Darmstadt eV Nachlass Lortz 

Photo: HL_IFA-Logo-Skizzen_1971_© Kunst Archiv Darmstadt eV Nachlass Lortz  

I: Can you say something about the impact and significance of the IFA logo?  

AL: The significance is best understood by looking at the logo itself. A stylised head in profile receiving information through the eye and ear. The frame forms the outline of a screen, formerly a television screen. The human, symbolized by the head, is placed at the center of technology. The arrows represent the sender-receiver model. It's hard to express the topic more succinctly and meaningfully visually. Probably that's why this symbol has endured to this day. 

I: To what extent do you believe Lortz's legacy shapes the current world of graphic design?  

AL: Let's be realistic, what design shapes the current world? Perhaps the iPhone, and then...? And in this fast-paced world, who still remembers the designers? In his time, Helmut Lortz was a well-known and highly-respected graphic designer. He created designs that are still in use today. That's the greatest compliment, isn't it? Indeed, there is a criterion for quality, and it's called time. Many of his works have this timeless quality; they still mean something to us today. Not least, numerous excellent graphic designers and artists have emerged from his class at the University of the Arts Berlin. To my knowledge, many are successful both nationally and internationally, and some are also working as university lecturers. It would be interesting to compile a list. 

I: Why is it important to preserve the art of Helmut Lortz for the future?  

AL: In general, it's important to preserve what has quality. In my opinion, many of Helmut's works have this timeless quality that should be preserved – including the IFA logo. 

I: Can you share a personal experience with Helmut Lortz?  

AL: In the early 2000s, I had the opportunity to work with him and about him on two books. He was in his early eighties at the time. One was called "Denkzettel," (‘Memos’) the other "leicht–sinnig" (‘Light-Minded’). At the beginning, our ideas about "light-minded" were different. He asked me to simply typeset his texts. However, I couldn't imagine a book by him without drawings. My idea was to juxtapose drawings with the texts. But he, probably due to his age, didn't want to create new drawings anymore. So, I began searching through the archives of this manic draftsman for the necessary material. I created sample pages and showed them to him. He liked the concept. After that, he let me proceed. You couldn't convince him with words; you had to show him. 



---- German article ----

Der Funk-Otto und sein Schöpfer: Das Leben und Werk von Helmut Lortz 


Haben Sie schon einmal von Helmut Lortz gehört? Nein? Wir von der IFA auch nicht - bis wir uns anlässlich des 100-jährigen Jubiläums ausführlich mit der Marke und ihrer Geschichte beschäftigt haben. Was auf den ersten Blick scheinen mag wie eine Kritzelei eines menschlichen Kopfes mit Pfeilen, die auf Auge und Ohr zeigen, ist im Laufe der Jahrzehnte zum ikonischen Symbol der IFA geworden: Der "Funk-Otto". Sein Schöpfer: eben jener Helmut Lortz.  

Ein Bild, das Buch, Im Haus, Kleidung, Wand enthält.Automatisch generierte Beschreibung 

Photo: Helmut Lortz_im Atelier___© Kunst Archiv Darmstadt e.V.  Nachlass Lortz  

Der 1920 in Schneppenhausen bei Darmstadt geborene Lortz begann seine künstlerische Laufbahn in den 1930er Jahren mit Elfenbein- und Holzbildhauerei. Seine außergewöhnliche Begabung verschaffte ihm lokal schnell Anerkennung, er erhielt renommierte Preise und Stipendien, die seine Laufbahn in Richtung Design lenkten. 

Nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg und seiner Rückkehr aus Kriegsgefangenschaft richtete sich Lortz in einem ehemaligen Schweinestall sein erstes Atelier ein, das bald zum Treffpunkt vieler Künstler und Schriftsteller, darunter Erich Kästner, sowie bekannter Maler und Bildhauer wurde. Lortz und sein "Schweinestall" wurden in der Nachkriegszeit zum Mittelpunkt einer blühenden Kunstszene.  

Doch der große Ruhm blieb Lortz verwehrt. Tatsächlich wäre sein vielfältiges Werk nach seinem Tod fast auf dem Müll gelandet, hätte nicht der Galerist und Leiter des Darmstädter Kunstarchivs Lortz' Arbeiten gerettet. Sonst wäre sein Œvre, das von der Grafik über die Malerei bis hin zur Fotografie reicht, vermutlich in Vergessenheit geraten - außer vielleicht der Funk-Otto. 

Die Entwürfe dafür entstanden in der 70er Jahren. Zu dieser Zeit war Lortz als Designer bereits international mit Plakaten, Broschüren und Signets erfolgreich. Zuvor lehrte er Gebrauchsgrafik in Darmstadt und war 1959 an die Hochschule der Künste Berlin (HdKB) berufen worden. Hier hatte er fast 30 Jahre eine Professur für Experimentelle Grafik inne. 

Armin Lindauer verwahrt einen Teil des Nachlasses von Helmut Lortz und betreut dessen Pflege und Erhalt. Lindauer hat an der Hochschule der Künste Berlin bei Helmut Lortz studiert.  

1984 wurde er Meisterschüler, danach Lehrbeauftragter und künstlerischer Mitarbeiter. Seit 2000 ist er Professor an der Hochschule Mannheim. Er hat zwei vielfach ausgezeichnete Bücher über das Werk von Helmut Lortz veröffentlicht. Er betreibt ein Atelier für Grafik-Design und arbeitet freischaffend als Maler.  

Lindauer sprach mit uns über Helmut Lortz, wie dieser ihn künstlerisch beeinflusste und welche Spuren Lortz in der Welt des Designs hinterlassen hat. 

Ein Bild, das Menschliches Gesicht, Person, Kleidung, Porträt enthält.Automatisch generierte Beschreibung 

Photo: ArminLindauer_ © Jörg Sänger, Territory, Bertelsmann  

IFA: Wie war Helmut Lortz als Mensch und als Künstler? 

Armin Lindauer: Wer ihn zum ersten Mal traf war von seiner freundlich zugewandten Art eingenommen. Er begegnete Menschen mit einer Offenheit und Arglosigkeit die höchst anziehend war. Ein zierlicher Mann, mit dichten rotblonden Haaren und hellwachen Augen. Seine Neugierde auf fast alles, war auffallend. Mensch und Künstler waren nicht zu trennen. 

Ein Bild, das Menschliches Gesicht, Person, Porträt, Text enthält.Automatisch generierte Beschreibung  

Photo: HelmutLortz_© Stadtarchiv Darmstadt_Pit Ludwig  

I: Wie hat Ihr Weg mit Helmut Lortz begonnen? 

AL: Als Student an der Hochschule der Künste Berlin, Anfang der 80er Jahre. Ich wollte in seine Klasse und stellte mich bei ihm vor. So war das damals, man sprach bei dem Leiter einer Klasse vor, zeigte seine Mappe und er entschied, ob man bleiben durfte oder nicht. Ich durfte. 

I: Wie würden Sie seine Kunst beschreiben?  

AL: Sein künstlerischer Werdegang beginnt mit einer Lehre zum Elfenbeinschnitzer im Odenwald. Dabei gewinnt er in zwei aufeinanderfolgenden Jahren den deutschlandweit ausgelobten Berufswettkampf. Er erhält nun ein Stipendium für Bildhauerei an der Staatlichen Hochschule für bildende Künste Berlin, heute Universität der Künste. Der zweite Weltkrieg beendet sein Studium. Nach dem Krieg beginnt er autodidaktisch als Grafiker zu arbeiten und hat schnell große Erfolge. Er gestaltet nun Plakate, Signets, Briefmarken, Buchreihen und er illustriert Bücher. Seine ganze Arbeitsweise basiert auf der Zeichnung, auf einer klaren Linie der man die Hand ansieht. 

Ein Bild, das Zeichnung, Entwurf, Text, Lineart enthält.Automatisch generierte Beschreibung  

Photo: © Kunst Archiv Darmstadt eV Nachlass Lortz  

I: Wo hört Grafikdesign auf und wo beginnt Kunst?  

AL: Wer bewertet was was ist? Denken wir mal an die Gemälde der Sixtinischen Kapelle von Michelangelo. Eindeutig eine Auftragsarbeit. Niemand würde heute bestreiten, dass es auch große Kunst ist. Warum soll also eine angewandte Arbeit, eine Arbeit mit Auftraggeber, nicht die gleiche Qualität haben wie eine Freie? Helmut Lortz machte keinen Unterschied zwischen angewandt und frei. Er arbeitete mit der gleichen Intensität in beiden Bereichen, eine Präferenz war nicht erkennbar. Aus meiner Sicht war er ein echter Grenzgänger. 

I: Welche Aspekte der Kunst von Helmut Lortz sind für Sie besonders faszinierend?  

AL: Besonders hervorzuheben ist seine enorme zeichnerische Begabung. Dies drückte sich vor allem in seinem permanenten Skizzieren, dem „Begreifen“ der Welt durch Zeichnen aus. Dies ist der Kern all seiner Gestaltung, der freien und der angewandten, und es ist auch der Ursprung des IFA-Logos.