Niklaus Troxler is at home in many different settings, yet maintains a unique bond with his home country. In 1966 – having just turned 19 – Troxler organises his first jazz concert in his native village of Willisau, Switzerland. He also designs his first jazz poster for the occasion. At that point, he already has three years of experience working as an apprentice typesetter. But when you compare Troxler’s first poster with the work that would follow, you get a sense that it was jazz, rather than Swiss typography, that opened the doors to the graphic universe for him.
After completing his programme, Troxler moves to Paris to work as an art director. It only takes a few years before he moves back to Switzerland: the Willisau concerts mean more to him than a career in his favourite city. As the organiser of the Willisau Jazz Festival, he is his own client – and many of his colleagues envy him for this. He has clear priorities: he’d rather save on poster ink than make cuts in the programme budget.
Troxler has already built up a full body of work when he succeeds Heinz Edelmann in 1998 as senior lecturer at the Stuttgart Academy of Art and Design. This is also where I get to know Niklaus – as his student. He is stimulated by the interaction with his students – including in his own design practice. He brings his posters along to class and puts them up for discussion. Rather than merely imparting knowledge, he welcomes us into his life and exchanges experiences with us. For him, the highest aim is individual expression, and he wants everyone to enjoy this freedom. Niklaus goes to a lot of concerts. He never actively publicises them, but anyone interested is welcome to come along. Joining Niklaus at these concerts is nothing short of a revelation. I discover that they’re the font from where he draws his creations.
Niklaus is driven by an untiring curiosity to discover new things. To hear with his eyes, and see with his ears. He pays as much attention to sensory perceptions as he does to objective design criteria. In particular, his attention is captured by colours, their interrelationship and their effect. Once a drawing is done, he lays it aside – like a jazz musician never goes back on the solo he just played. Timing is important. The way he sees it, you can also work on a poster for too long. That’s characteristic of his approach: he prefers to go with the flow and look forward rather than break his time into pieces and remain in one place.
Niklaus writes jazz history with his festival, which has become a household name in the jazz community. And as far as graphic artists are concerned his posters are design milestones. Although surprisingly few people actually know that he is responsible for both feats. Generally speaking, the worlds in which Niklaus has put down such firm roots only see each other from a distance. But in his practice, they are able to enrich and stimulate each other – in the most natural possible way.
A living work. For me, Niklaus is someone who draws inspiration from all over the place, tries out all sorts of things, and also takes a lot of risks. And always in his own, signature style.