Self-Styled: Koloman Moser
by Taylor Slattery | January 31, 2023
Koloman Moser, an Austrian-born artist and designer, was one of the founding members and foremost creative minds of the Vienna Secession, a movement that would forever change the world’s perception of the nation’s artistic tradition. Counting artists, architects, and designers such as Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffman, and Otto Wagner amongst its ranks, the movement’s primary aim was to break down barriers—namely those of the institutional powers that be, whose definition of art was rather narrow and rooted in nationalism and historicism. This included the distinctions between what were traditionally perceived as high and low forms of art, such as painting and the decorative arts respectively.
Of all of the movement’s skilled tradesmen and high-profile practitioners, Moser, nicknamed “Tausendkünstler” by his peers, which translates to “thousand-artist”, due to the sheer variety of mediums he worked in, perhaps best embodied the movement’s ideals. Moser was not only an accomplished illustrator, having studied drawing at the Akademie der bildenden Künste and Kunstgewerbeschule, and spending the early part of his career creating illustrations for various local print publications, but was also a visionary designer, having worked with a number of firms and materials in his work designing jewelry, furniture, and other interior objects.
Koloman Moser also worked extensively on Ver Sacrum, which served as the movement’s official journal, featuring design, illustration, and writing from the group’s practitioners as well as
contributions from noteworthy European writers of the time.
Many of the words one might use to describe the works produced by the Vienna Secession as a whole are equally applicable to Koloman Moser’s personal aesthetic. His graphic works, both in the illustrations and layouts created for Ver Sacrum and the Wiener Wiener Werkstätte, the workshop Moser co-founded alongside architect Josef Hoffman, are striking and bold in both color and composition. Moser effortlessly blends styles between highly-rendered realistic figures and portraiture and graphic abstractions that feel fresh even to this day.
Moser’s imaginative approach to composition blurs the line between narrative and decorative, simultaneously illustrating the words found on the page while enshrouding them and making them a part of the imagery itself.
Unafraid to completely abandon one style or manner of working for another, many of Moser’s pieces feel like they’ve been produced by a different hand altogether when examined one by one. Moser was adventurous and relentless in his creative exploration, incorporating a myriad of patterns and textures in his work as both a designer and illustrator. It’s only when viewing his body of work as a whole that the through lines between his graphic practice and his furniture and object designs begin to emerge and one can truly appreciate Moser’s creative genius.
Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.