Roy R. Behrens

Professor Emeritus

Distinguished Scholar

graphic design

Dugald Stermer in Communication Arts magazine [1985]: “[Roy Behrens] is one of the most original thinkers involved in design, particularly printed communications, anywhere around. He thinks and writes about subjects tangential to design with amazing insight and wit.”

Guy Davenport [1981]: “[Roy Behrens] is a rare example of the graphic artist who is also wonderfully skilled as a writer. His sentences are hale and athletic, alive with sense and excitement, and go about their business with an admirable briskness…Such brave forthrightness is rare in discursive writing.”

© R. Behrens / Hartman Reserve Poster Series 2019

© R. Behrens / Hartman Reserve Poster Series 2019

© R. Behrens / Hartman Reserve Poster Series 2019

     Roy R. Behrens (1946-) is a writer, designer and artist who taught graphic design, illustration, and design history at the University of Northern Iowa from 1990 until his retirement in 2018. Prior to that, he taught for many years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Art Academy of Cincinnati and other schools. During the Vietnam War era, he was a sergeant in the US Marine Corps, following which he earned a graduate degree at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Throughout his career, as a writer, designer, or editor, he has been associated with a range of periodicals, among them Leonardo (MIT Press), Journal of Creative Behavior (Buffalo), New Art Examiner (Chicago), Gestalt Theory (Vienna), and the Journal of Biological Psychology (Ann Arbor). For more than two decades, he was a contributing editor for Print magazine (New York), the preeminent newsstand magazine for graphic designers. As a long-time art director at the North American Review (twice, during two distinct time periods), he illustrated the books, short stories and poetry of prominent writers, including Jerzy Kosinski (cover of The Painted Bird), Guy Davenport (Christ Preaching at the Henley Regatta), Joseph Langland (The Sacrifice Poems), Joyce Carol Oates, Barry Lopez and Margaret Atwood

© R. Behrens / Celeste Bembry Recital 2017

Arthur Koestler [1971]: “[Roy Behrens] writes with great clarity and incisiveness on subjects about which most art historians ramble and waffle.”

Rudolf Arnheim [1995]: “I have long admired Prof Behrens’ original research… It takes a true scholar to trace and to carefully collect so much entirely new material and to give it the original visual slant only an experienced artist can provide.”

© R. Behrens / P.D. Whitson Pencil Sharpener Exhibit 2016

In 1985, while teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he launched a “periodical commonplace book” called Ballast Quarterly Review (the title is an acronym for Books Art Language Logic Ambiguity Science and Teaching), which he continued to publish for twenty-one years. In the same year, Ballast was selected by Milwaukee Magazine as “one of the best things in Milwaukee,” and he himself was named one of “the 85 most interesting people” in the city. His quarterly was also praised in the Whole Earth Catalog, AIGA Journal, and in Communications Arts magazine in a review in which he was described as “one of the most original thinkers in graphic design.”

As a writer, he has published several hundred articles and reviews, and eight books, among them Design in the Visual Arts (1984), llustration as an Art (1986), False Colors: Art, Design and Modern Camouflage (2002), Cook Book: Gertrude Stein, William Cook and Le Corbusier (2005), Camoupedia: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage (2009), and Ship Shape: A Dazzle Camouflage Sourcebook (2012). 

He has frequently contributed to international encyclopedias, as well as to book anthologies on topics related to art and design, including DPM: An Encyclopedia of Camouflage (2004), Animal Camouflage: Mechanisms and Functions (2011), and Camouflage Cultures: Beyond the Art of Disappearance (2015). His most recent book is Frank Lloyd Wright and Mason City: Architectural Heart of the Prairie (2017).

Innes Cuthill 

Professor of Behavioral Ecology,

University of Bristol

“[False Colors] is the definitive text on, but also the best possible introduction to, the 'social history' of military camouflage and the key role that artists played in its development. Roy Behrens writes beautifully and with complete authority. As a biologist, this is the book that broadened my horizons from an academic interest in animal camouflage to the broader context in which contemporary theories of camouflage evolved.”

© R. Behrens / Camouflage Exhibition Poster 2017

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