Norman S. Ives was born in Colon, Panama in March 1923. Ives’s childhood was spent, as the son of a career naval officer, in California, Connecticut and Hawaii. During his lifetime, he was recognized as a gifted artist, graphic designer, publisher and teacher.
Ives graduated from Wesleyan University in 1950, and then entered Yale University as a member of the first graphic design class, studying with Josef Albers, Alvin Lustig and Alvin Eisenman.
Joseph Albers, Director, Yale University Art Department, was clearly the most significant influence on Ives’s process and his work. Ives fully embraced Albers’s license to fracture and reinterpret the alphabet and the way it defined written language.
After receiving his MFA degree in 1952, Ives began teaching at Yale in the Graphic Design program, progressing from Assistant, to Associate and then Professor in 1972. During the mid-to-late 1950s, he worked with Herbert Matter on numerous design projects, including work for the New Haven Railroad, and Knoll International.
As an artist Ives was attracted to the field of graphic design and the opportunities to create works that balanced his passion for form with the function necessary to communicate with a broad audience. His creation of elegant symbols is the most notable example of that balance. They reflect his pleasure and mastery of the forms and satisfy their need to communicate the nature and complexity of certain institutions.
His professional design work involved the creation of symbols, book jackets, and posters. Ives’s graphic design shows the same sophistication and mastery of form found in his personal work. Ives’s regard for his design is evident in his publication, 8 Symbols, 1961. Murals seemed a natural venue for Ives’s talents. They offered dramatic scale and graphic impact. Their abstract nature was an appropriate style for banks, schools, theaters, and most public spaces.
Ives’s artistic work included paintings, collages, prints, and bas-reliefs that featured fragmented and layered letterforms as the elements for his commissioned murals. They reflected the cross-over of ideas between these fields. His work, including collages, silkscreen prints, paintings, sculpture and bas-reliefs, was exhibited by the Stable Gallery, an avant-garde creation of Eleanor Ward. She was the farsighted genius who recognized the potential of Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Franz Kline, and other promising contemporaries of Ives. He was also exhibited at Sydney Janis Gallery, Saidenberg Gallery, Marilyn Pearl Gallery, and various others.
While perhaps best known for his graphic designs, today his paintings and collages are collected by major museums: The Guggenheim Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, Yale University Art Gallery, The Smithsonian Museum and various others.
There are two salient events that illustrate the span of his work. In 1967 his 8-foot square painting, Number 3-L, was selected for the Whitney Annual Exhibition of American Artists. That same year, the Museum of Modern Art mounted an exhibition titled 3 graphic designers. They were Massimo Vignelli, Norman Ives, and Almir Mavignier. It is hard to name another artist recognized as a fine artist and a graphic designer.
In 1958 Norman Ives together with his Yale colleague, Sewell Sillman, created the boutique publishing venture Ives-Sillman, Inc., in New Haven, Connecticut. Their first edition was a portfolio, Homage to the Square, ten silkscreened prints based on the paintings of Josef Albers, who was mentor to both artists.
They continued their work with Albers and designed and produced two major publications: Interaction of Color and Formulation: Articulation. Over the next 15 years, they produced a number of exceptional portfolios and editioned prints by leading artists: Josef Albers, Ad Reinhardt, Dieter Rot, Piet Mondrian, Jean Dubuffet, Willem de Kooning, Romare Bearden, Walker Evans and many others.
As a teacher of graphic design, Ives’s ability to inspire was cited by his Yale peers. His teaching style was low key and personal, generally meeting with small groups to discuss assignments. Generations of students continue to pass on his understanding and passion for graphic design. He taught immediately after graduation in 1952 until his death in 1978. He also taught at the Rhode Island School of Design, University of Hawaii, and Royal College of Art in London.