Unit Edition’s latest release, Ed Fella: A Life in Images, revisits the work of renowned American graphic designer, artist and educator Ed Fella, known for his inimitable style and penchant for breaking the rules of design. Born in Detroit in 1938, Fella’s initial foray into the world of design began, surprisingly, in the tame world of advertising, where he created press ads and leaflets for the healthcare and automotive industries. Throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, these uninspiring commercial jobs put food on the table, but it was in more experimental and conceptual design that his passion truly lay. For decades, Fella honed this side of his craft in the hours outside of his day job, pushing boundaries and making connections with various art collectives throughout the city that encouraged out-of-the-box thinking. But it wasn’t until 1985 that he finally made the decision to leave advertising and return to education, first enrolling as a student at the Center for Creative Studies, then at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1987, and then, later that year, taking a position as a professor at CalArts. From 1987-2013, when he gave his final lecture, Fella passed on the bountiful wisdom he had accrued throughout his career – all the while continuing to develop his personal style in the background.
For writer and designer David Cabianca, who first came to Unit Editions with the idea for this monograph, capturing the illustrious journey and seminal work of Fella had been a dream of his for many years. “[He] had worked tirelessly to get an Ed Fella monograph into print” explains Adrian Shaughnessy, co-founder and editorial director of Unit Editions. “He’d been let down by one or two publishers and came to us in the hope that we could get it published.” David approached the team with an abundance of photographs of Fella’s work, which he had shot in his studio in California. He wanted to transform these into a cohesive visual essay that would be a fitting tribute to his personal practice and approached Fella himself to create the edit from the thousands of images he had on hand. “The task of selecting and partnering the work was something that only Ed could do,” says Adrian. “Our job was to produce a workable grid that accommodated the large amount of text that surrounds it.”