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FITZCARRALDO EDITIONS: Artistic publishing house

To some extent ‘branding’ is the mutated cousin of the 20th Century Gesamtkunstwerk. Good branding contains all the components of a Gesamtkunstwerk.

Components of Branding/Gesamtkunstwerk

  1. All Encompassing: (right down to the fonts used, i.e., every curve of the letters are intentionally designed)

  2. Instant Recognisability: One can understand the intention of the art/brand merely by being exposed to it

  3. Expanding beyond visual design: there is an underlying philosophy behind the design

Before analysing the brilliance of Fitzcarraldo Editions, I thought it would be useful to introduce:

A Short History of the Gesamtkunstwerk

Definition: “An art work produced by a synthesis of various art forms (such as music and drama)“ - Merriam Webster Dictionary

When Koloman Moser (an early Gesamtkunstwerk-artist), created the logo and fonts for Die Wiener Werkstätte, all he did was create a brand.

Brands, as we understand them now, have basically just commercialised the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk. Nonetheless, one could argue that from the beginning the Gesamtkunstwerk has been for sale. The Wiener Werkstätte, was a kind of design agency and workshop. They had two main motives: create aesthetically pleasing designs and sell their work in order to have more resources to create more artistic work. (It should be noted that their profit was just a means to an end to create more, and not an end in itself (this is perhaps the major difference between branding-then and branding-now)).

But what does all of this have to do with the publishing house Fitzcarraldo Editions?

As everything these days, a publishing house is a brand. But unlike most publishers, Fitzcarraldo is also a Gesamtkunstwerk. This means that they value the Art (of Publishing) more than the Business of Publishing.

A short anecdote:

The last time I went to a bookstore, I spent two hours reading extracts of random books. Ultimately, nothing convinced me. I was searching something that wasn’t too plot heavy, and more poetic, but still fiction (if you know the name of this genre let me know). Then, I saw a blue monochrome book.

Previously I only read one Fitzcarraldo Fiction book (Flights by Olga Tokarczuk) and one Essay Edition (Essayism by Brian Dillion). Both books were quite experimental fiction/poetic non-fiction. I grabbed this new one and was instantly more intrigued by its content than by any book in the past two hours. And suddenly I saw them everywhere, silently waving at me with their blue hands. It felt like a superpower, as if I had swallowed the Matrix's blue pill (literally) for literature.

Fitzcarraldo has truly embraced what it means to be a brand in the Gesamtkunstean understanding of it. They tick the three boxes of artful branding.

1. All Encompassing:

One of the most stunning features of the publisher is the fact that they customed designed their very own Typeface called Fitzcarraldo Font. Gesamtkunstwerk artists of the 20th century loved creating their personal fonts including: Koloman Moser, Egon Schiele, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Additionally, it should be noted, that the blue of the Fitzcarraldo Editions, is not any blue, it’s perhaps the most unique blue in art history. IKB or International Yves Klein.

2. Instant Recognisability:

This they achieve by making all the book covers look the same. I would argue that the UK, has one of the biggest book cover design traditions, there are some stunning graphic designs out there. So, Fitzcarraldo is a bit of an outlier here . . . why make all their books, monochrome and homogenous? I think in terms of recognisability the uniformly coloured books become extremely effective, as demonstrated by my ability to easily spot them amongst the shelves.

3. Expanding beyond visual design

The concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk is interesting from an art-historical perspective because they demanded that art transcend and liberate itself from material and disciplinary constraints and conceptional separation of the arts. According to Gesamtkunst-artists, art should not only concern itself with the traditional, visual arts, but also with music, interior design, graphic design, poetry, literature, fashion etc, and merge them together. In that sense Fitzcarraldo, as a publishing house, obviously fits into the category.

I have mainly analysed their visual branding, however, the most notable part of their work appears when reading their books: the words, novels and literature they publish. Instead of just publishing an array of commercially interesting work, that is not interrelated at all, Fitzcarraldo elevates, unifies draws a storyline throughout all their publications.They create a dialogue, between writer, reader and content. As Founder Jacques Testard says in an interview:

“There is also an important principle underpinning the choice of books that we publish, which is that the books should relate to each other in some small way”

I chose Fitzcarraldo Editions for this case study, not only because I'm a huge fan, but because I really think that what this independent publishing house has accomplished with 3 employees in 8 years only, is truly inspiring.

The main takeaway message is that anything we create is part of a whole, this is equally a philosophical position, as it is an artistic one.

Existence and creation of new existences in itself becomes art.

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