22 December 1908; Winterthur, Switzerland
09 December 1994; Berlin, Germany
1927 - 1994
Max Bill was a Swiss architect, artist, painter, typeface designer, industrial designer and graphic designer, known as the founder of Concretism (concrete art).
After an apprenticeship as a silversmith during 1924-1927, Bill took up studies at the Bauhaus in Dessau under many teachers including Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and Oskar Schlemmer from 1927 to 1929, after which he moved to Zurich.
After working on graphic designs for the few modern buildings being constructed, he built his first work, his own house and studio (1932–3) in Zurich-Höngg. From 1937 onwards he was a prime mover behind the Allianz group of Swiss artists. Bill is widely considered the single most decisive influence on Swiss graphic design beginning in the 1950s with his theoretical writing and progressive work. His connection to the days of the Modern Movement gave him special authority. As an industrial designer, his work is characterized by a clarity of design and precise proportions. As a designer and artist, Bill sought to create forms which visually represent the New Physics of the early 20th century. He sought to create objects so that the new science of form could be understood by the senses: that is as a concrete art. Thus Bill is not a rationalist -as is typically thought- but rather a phenomenologist. One who understands embodiment as the ultimate expression of a concrete art. In this way he is not some much extending as re-interpreting Bauhaus theory. Yet curiously Bill's critical interpreters have not really grasped this fundamental issue.
In 1944, Bill became a professor at the school of arts in Zurich. He co-founded in 1953 the Ulm School of Design. Bill was a professor at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste Hamburg and chair of Environmental Design from 1967 to 1974. In 1973 he became an associate member of the Royal Flemish Academy of Science, Literature and Fine Art in Brussels. In 1976 he became a member of the Berlin Academy of Arts. In addition to his teaching, Bill wrote and lectured extensively on art, architecture and design, appearing at symposiums and design conferences around the world. In particular, he wrote books about Le Corbusier, Kandinsky, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and artistic theory.
His 1951 retrospective at the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art was highly influential, helping the birth of a Brazilian avant-garde that would eventually move from concretism to a looser, more creative form - neo-concretism.
Bill died en route to a hospital after collapsing from a heart attack at Berlin Tegel Airport. He was 85 and lived in Zumikon, a Zürich suburb.