Flo Heiss: Life In Ten Works

In the first of a new series, Flo Heiss talks us through the ten pieces of work that have been most important to him over his career in advertising and design. They include a mix of digital projects, typography and also some paintings…

In the first of a new series, Flo Heiss talks us through the ten pieces of work that have been most important to him over his career in advertising and design. They include a mix of digital projects, typography and also some paintings…

Heiss is profiled in the November issue of Creative Review, where he talks through his recent decision to leave Dare – where he was ECD – to launch his own smaller enterprise, Studio Heiss. He cites a desire to get back to making things as the main reason for the move: unsurprisingly then, craft runs throughout the ten projects he has chosen here.

1. Italian Type

In 1993 I moved to Urbino in Italy to study graphics at the I.S.I.A in Urbino as part of the Erasmus Scholarship. I came out of a fairly rigid, but incredibly solid typography education mainly driven by Professor Frost at the Fachhochschule in Augsburg (close to Ulm with all its legacy) – he thought Ray Gun and Ray Ban were the same thing – into a free-flowing and open university in Urbino where we pretty much were allowed to do whatever the fuck we wanted. (Which set me up brilliantly for the Royal College of Art.) And in Italy I finally broke out of the ‘this-is-how-things-are-done typography’ to a more experimental style. For the first time I started to work with a Mac (Performa 630, if you must know), combining bubble jet printouts and white spirit rub print with collage, found imagery and drawing, and Polaroid photography. I did so many of those in old Italian registry books … here are a few [two are above, more can be viewed here]. This is where I started to experiment more freely and maybe more confidently. It was the first time I looked at something in itself and as a piece, rather than just a student exercise.

2. Corsarella CD-Rom

In 1995, after I finished with the diploma in graphics from Augsburg, I needed to earn some money to fund my planned trip to London and the RCA. I started freelancing for Scholz & Volkmer in Wiesbaden. I worked on one of the first commercial CD-Roms for Opel (Vauxhall) to launch their new model Corsa in Germany. We decided to use the then-cutting edge technology of Quicktime VR. Which is a shit version of today’s Google Street View. The CD-Rom was a game to hunt a lady called ‘Enrica Corsarella’ through four cities. And I decided to draw everything. The sketches are the base for the finished pieces I did. A combination of watercolour and Photoshop. Last time I looked, the CD-Rom was for sale on eBay.

3. FUSE font: F Surveillance

So my funding for the RCA was secured and off I went in 1996 to study for a masters in graphics. My tutor Jon Wozencroft gave me the brilliant opportunity to contribute to FUSE magazine. A dream come true for a student. I created the ‘typeface’ F Surveillance for issue 17 ECHO, based on surveillance cameras and criminals that you could type out to create endless scenarios of cameras watching people. Jon also very kindly invited me to contribute a film to be screened at the FUSE conference in San Francisco in 1998. I went along and found myself in amongst my heroes, and anti-heroes… Everyone from Erik Spiekermann to David Carson to Tibor Kalman was there.

4. The Rom Portfolio

My final piece for my graduation from the RCA in 1998 was a collaboration with Michael Scheufler and Tejinder Singh from the RCA fashion department. We created a CD-Rom as a portfolio piece for all students from that department and all the projections and graphics for the end of year show in the Roundhouse (which was totally empty and unused at the time). At the time I was addicted to Maelstrom on the Mac so that featured on the cover and I created a sort of Mission Impossible-a-like typeface, to sort of stay within the film theme we’d created. What I didn’t anticipate was how this piece would change my life. Literally. I met the love of my life during the making of the Rom Portfolio… I spent quite a lot of time in the computer room of the fashion department during the making of the CD, and there was a particularly nice girl who needed some urgent Photoshop help…

5. Oddbins website

After the RCA and a short stint with my friend Michael Scheufler as Germany’s answer to Gilbert & George I ran out of money and had to find a job. So in 1999 I started to work for Razorfish and designed my very first website there for Oddbins. I think that was the only thing we actually made there… I used my own handwriting as their font and created animated gifs. At the time e-commerce was still something you had to convince clients they needed. The time at Razorfish was amazing. I met so many brilliant people, most of which I am close friends with still today.

6. Loading

This film (click here to view) is a very personal piece I shot just before I joined Dare in 2000. It’s important to me because it combines my love of technology with an idea, a twist, a bit of magic … which is an approach I have used ever since to try and create surprising work (hopefully). It was also my first foray into moving image and I had it taken down from the web by Tom Waits numerous times. He doesn’t like people using his music. Even if it’s not advertising…

7. Frozen Girl

In 2003 James Cooper and I started working on the follow-up to Axe Feather at Dare. We just couldn’t crack it. It was an absolute fuck up. The idea was to use a girl frozen in ice, that you then would free by rubbing your mouse on the ice – just rubbish… So we went to Unilever and bought ourselves another three weeks to produce something else. And we came back with Lynx Blow… These images are from the Frozen Girl project, and have never been seen.

8. Sony Bravia – Van Gogh who?

In 2005 an email went round Dare from the Sony account team, to see if anyone knew someone who wanted to license a picture to Sony as a screensaver on their new Bravia range. I thought, well, I know someone… so I painted some big splashy paintings with my then one-year-old son Ben and scanned them in and one ended up on every Bravia shipped, alongside a chap called Van Gogh. I couldn’t quite believe it so I went into John Lewis to have it demoed to me… [See a film of this demo here.]

9. I Am Grumpy, Let’s Go Shopping

In 2006 I was invited by my friend Nerina Wilter to stage a solo exhibition in her wonderful gallery Home From Home in Munich. I decided to use my mobile phone drawings I did on a then-state of the art Sony Ericsson P800 (with stylus!), a year before the iPhone killed diversity… I filled the gallery with small photo prints and big screenprints, which were a little difficult to make. Blowing up the minuscule drawings in Illustrator then lasercutting plastic stencils and printing every colour separately … uff. [See more of the drawings here.]

10. Marketing Bullshit Acronym Paintings

Initially painted for the marvellous publication Can’t Understand New Technology (published whenever they feel like, by Steve Price of Plan B Studio and Camilla Grey). This set me off into a whole new direction struggling with paint and canvas. It’s so flipping difficult to do a good abstract painting… [Click here to see more of this series of paintings.]

More on Studio Heiss is online at studioheiss.com; to purchase the November issue of CR, featuring the profile on Flo, click here.

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