Graphic design meets Surrealism in student, faculty collaboration

Murphy Bannerman

When Murphy Bannerman answered art history professor Claudia Mesch’s ad for an internship possibility with an e-journal that focused on Surrealism, she knew next to nothing about the subject. It was through a handful of one-on-one meetings with Mesch and the studying of recommended texts and artists that Bannerman came to appreciate Surrealism in a way she says wouldn’t have been possible in the classroom alone.

After receiving funding from the Terra Foundation for American Art for the Journal of Surrealism and the Americas (JSA) conference in 2010, Mesch decided part of those funds would be best used to mentor undergraduates through the platform of the JSA e-journal, for which she serves as a managing editor. At the time, Bannerman was a sophomore, interested in graphic design, and saw the opportunity as a chance to explore something new while gaining experience and honing her skills.

With the task of creating a new logo for the e-journal, Bannerman began by spending several weeks researching surrealist journals such as VVV and DYN, as well as DYN’s founder, surrealist artist Wolfgang Paalen. Throughout the semester, she became more comfortable with the movement, getting a feel for its aesthetics and developing a way to present it in an online, digital format.

Several hand-drawn sketches of Bannerman’s initial concept for the logo design were presented to Mesch, who would offer constructive criticism and guidance. Both agreed that the design needed to better reference historical Surrealism in the American West. Bannerman took that into consideration for her final design, which features a southwestern color scheme and depicts an eye, chosen to represent a vortex - a common theme in surrealist art.

Finally, Bannerman put her graphic design skills to work, transferring her drawings to Photoshop for the final version. Unfamiliar with graphic design herself, Mesch left that portion of the job entirely up to Bannerman, though they did discuss how to make sure the design remained true to Surrealism while still maintaining a vivid, clear and modern look online.

“I think I took one history of modern graphic design class in my life,” said Mesch. “I relied on Murphy’s skills and training. She is quite talented, and she shared with me some of her thought process in committing the design to paper.”

What resulted from their collaboration became the JSA e-journal’s official masthead. Both Bannerman and Mesch agree they benefited from working together by gaining a deeper understanding of each other’s areas of expertise. And although Bannerman has since shifted her focus to photojournalism, she emphasizes the value of a one-on-one learning experience with a professor, regardless of the subject matter: “Working directly with a professor allows students to ask more questions and go beyond the restraints of the classroom,” she says.

As for Mesch, she believes “the academic and scholarly work I do should be collaborative with students wherever possible ... We make our world – our identities, our memories, the places we inhabit – in and through art. I hope I can pass on to others the idea that if they are passionate about art, they can find their own path into it.”

To download and read the Journal of Surrealism and the Americas for free, visit

The journal's most recent issue looks at “Native American Surrealisms”; its next issue, Spring 2014, focuses on Latin America. The JSA journal is now included as part of the ASU Digital Repository in the Hayden Library database.