Axel Peemoeller interview

Seafaring designer Axel Peemoeller radios in from his sailboat in
the Mediterranean.

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i. TWOTHIRDS postermag with Paul Fuog
ii. 1969 Öl auf Leinwand, Schnitte im Kegelpaar in Blau — A work by Axel's father, Hans-Dieter Peemoeller
iii. Fortune 500 Magazine
iv. Feld Magazine final issue with Pual Fuog
v. Wedding Dress exhibition in Berlin

All photos © Axel Peemoeller 2012

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a small village in the middle of Germany. At the time there were horses and cows around me. Now the village is considered a small town and there are no more horses and cows.

Did your parents work in the creative field?

No, neither of my parents worked in the creative industry. Though my father had been doing lots for arts when he was younger – paintings, sculptures, with all sorts of different materials and techniques. His work was and still is really good. He was also the one who dragged us along to the dokumenta [an exhibition of modern and contemporary art which takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany], art exhibitions and so on. 

You seem to have a strong relationship with the ocean.

The ocean makes me feel good. I like the long views. I like the power of it, the truth, roughness, beauty, elegance and so on. I also like all sorts of activities to do with the ocean: surfing, diving, sailing, fishing. 

Consequently, I live on the ocean – on a sailboat in the Mediterranean. Today I arrived in Tunisia and I am now anchored outside Sidi Bou Said. Four days ago I was 'living' in Valletta, Malta. I travel around and work from the sailboat, or travel by plane to where I am needed for a job.

"I was once employed for one-and-a-half months – it wasn't for me."

Was it a conscious decision for you to work as a freelance designer?

I started working for design studios at the same time as I started university. I needed to make money and also enjoy the 'reality' next to the fiction at uni. I never worked as an intern. So from here it all developed without me noticing it. I was once employed for one-and-a-half months – it wasn't for me. I am not against it; if it is the right place with the right people and projects, I would probably love it. 

It's quite odd to think that 20 years ago it probably wouldn't be possible to live on a sailboat and work as a graphic designer. What do you think has made this possible for you? 

Yes, I think it would have been impossible, at least on regular basis and with no fixed marina. There are a few things that make it possible:

1. The internet: you can be connected to anywhere with anybody almost anytime. 
2. The clients: people are more used to contracting designers who they have never seen before in person. A lot of my clients I have never met in person.
3. Skype: it's an easy and cheap way to have conference calls and immediate contact whilst working together.
4. Online portfolio: with my website, publications and blogs, the work gets a wide distribution. 
5. Friends and business relations: word of mouth is a big part as well.
6. Easy travelling: it's cheap and convenient to travel by plane to wherever my clients need me to be and my flexible lifestyle allows this too.

Why did you decide to come to Melbourne?

I didn't decide; it just happened. I travelled around Australia in a VW bus with my girlfriend at the time, from Perth around the north. It took us one year to get to Melbourne and also to fall in love with Australia, so we stayed. Which sounds easier than it was – visa and all that.

How did you learn how to sail? When did you decide to live on the boat? 

When I was about 15 I got my boat licence on a small lake near our home. And then we had our first sailboat, a Conger, which mainly I used. Ever since, I have been sailing here and there. One trip was from Darwin to Bali, which completely ignited the flame again. 

It wasn't easy to leave Australia and move back to Germany. I didn't feel like a free man with my visa regulations in Australia. I knew that I wasn't staying in Germany when I moved back but also didn't know where to go and what to do. In winter 2009 I crewed up on a sailboat (funnily an Australian couple) sailing from La Rochelle to St Thomas in the Caribbean. Finally they decided to employ a professional skipper to take them and the boat across. It was sad for me and I had to think again, 'Whatever you want, you have to do it on your own!' And here comes the lucky part. I looked online for boats (I have for years, but mainly out of curiosity) that morning I found a really good offer in Barcelona. We quickly decided that we would like to try to live on the boat and started to sell all our belongings. 

Does your dog, Bones, accompany you on your travels?

Initially I was thrilled by the concept of having my dog live on the boat as well. But an unfortunate event (with a happy ending) happened. I was in Melbourne to work with Paul Fuog [of Melbourne design studio Coöp] and Bones stayed with my girlfriend's parents in Sweden, where he tore a ligament in his knee and had to get surgery. He needed almost 10 months to recover, and by that time my girlfriend's parents and Bones had bonded so strongly that I came to realise that living on a sailboat is not the life for a dog. As much as I miss him, I know that now he has the perfect dog life.

You worked with Paul Fuog on a project for Feld Magazine's final issue. Can you tell us more about that?

Paul and I been working together off and on for many years. I love working with Paul, but now the distance makes it difficult. I had been designing literature pages for Feld Magazine for some time. The final issue was an abstract from Jean Amery, a philosopher who wrote about suicide and also committed suicide. His writing is very dark and mystic. We selected some quotes, turned on dark and sad music like Sisters of Mercy, and let the rest happen. 

These are the translations of the quotes: 'Absurde Todeslogik einer nicht weniger absurden Lebenslogik' (Absurd death-logic of a not less absurd living-logic); 'Welt der Torture und des Wahnsinns' (World of torture and insanity). 

"We selected some quotes, turned on dark and sad music like Sisters of Mercy, and let the rest happen."

When did you first become aware of typography?

I suppose when I was 15 and started getting into graffiti. Also, I remember my teachers complaining that I would constantly change my handwriting. I didn't know it at the time but I guess the interest was already there.

What have you been working on lately?

I was recently in Berlin working on a rebrand for the German Telekom. I just finished a type design for the Fortune 500 Magazine. That was fun. Next on the list is redesigning and structuring the identity of the clothing label TWOTHIRDS.

Are there some clients you wouldn't work for?

Yes, some projects or companies I wouldn't work for for moral reasons. And also there are some people I would never work with again – like the guy I did the YSL packaging design concepts for, he sued me for showing my own designs. Luckily after two years of legal battle, the court decided in my favour.  

How would you describe your approach to design?

Conceptual experimental.

Where do you see graphic design heading in the coming years?

Hard to say. It seems like graphic design is split up into lots of different categories. 

Let's make an example... Graphic design is like sports. There are many different types of sports, with completely different mentalites, ideologies and people behind it. There are also different levels of professionalism – regional league, world championships, Olympics. There are classic sports like rowing but also new sports like parkour. Some sports are highly commercial and others not at all. Some are about physical strength and others about strength of the mind. Some are for old, some for young. And so on. 

I think one has to choose his sport and become the best in it. In graphic design, I don't mean that you have to pick your field, as in web design or packaging for example, but you have to determine your design approach and beliefs. 


Album on repeat in the studio?
Leonard Cohen – Old Ideas.

Winter or summer?

Best place for a coffee?
By the waterfront where I can see if the anchor is holding.

Worst fear?

Last typeface used?
Syntax Bold.

Favourite quote?
'The pessimist complains about the wind;
The optimist expects it to change;
The realist adjusts the sails.'

– William A. Ward 

Last book read?
Deadly Waters by Jay Bahadur.

First gig?
Must have been some small hardcore or punk gig, probably at AJZ Bielefeld. Nooooooo, hold on, I remember now: I snuck out when I was 12 or 13 and went with the big boys to a House of Pain concert in Dortmund.



Beverage of choice? 
Kinnie, Malta's national soft drink.

Weapon of choice?