A graduate of Randwick Technical College in Sydney, Marita Leuver began her graphic design career at the age of eighteen, and, led by a self-acknowledged desire to be ‘famous’, at the age of 21 had set up practice solo in a shoebox-sized studio in North Sydney. Inherently social and clever with business, Leuver’s award-winning practice is characterised by progressive, colourfully bold interpretations of Sydney and Melbourne’s urban cultural events and illustrative typography. Most noted are her designs for the Festival of Sydney, the Sydney Film Festival, the Sydney Food and Wine Fair, the Sydney Opera House, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Melbourne Art Fair, and the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Many of them have been awarded locally and internationally by significant institutions including AWARD and D&AD (UK).
Leuver and her twin brother Peter were born in Sydney in 1964 predisposed for design. Her parents were Dutch-born art director Peter Leuver (1939-2019), and Australian illustrator Joan Leuver, nee Malone (1937—). After meeting at ‘Amalgamated’, an advertising agency in Sydney’s Kent Street, Peter and Joan married and had five children, each born gifted drawers. Surrounded by art directors, photographers and stylists as a child, Leuver understood the persuasive potential of visual languages early. She likens her childhood to the American television drama, ‘Mad Men’, and remembers packets of Woolworths Textas as a favourite gift. Typographic experiments dominated her school work. ‘I discovered early that if I made my school books look okay I could manage good marks ... essentially bluffing my way through with great headings and drawings of science experiments and history’. Suggesting Leuver’s transition from primary school to professional success was a matter of aligning visual engagement with a purpose, one teacher wrote at the bottom of a lined page, ‘What do these colourful patterns have to do with ‘pollution’, Marita?’
One of forty-five successful applicants, Leuver excelled as a student of the two year graphic design course at Randwick Technical College, Sister and one-time co-designer Thérèse Leuver remembers, ‘the best students’ projects were showcased in the long hallways on Level 4, and Marita’s work was selected and featured practically every week’. Here she developed rapports with typography teachers Ross Renwick and Ethna Gallacher. ‘Gallacher taught me how to hand draw type. To this day, when kerning, I still hear her Scottish accent, “avoid rivers and lakes”’.
Her professional life began in 1982 at Ross Renwick’s Billy Blue Magazine followed by a stint at the Davis Farrell studio, and hit its stride working independently alongside significant contributors to the fashion, entertainment and cultural industries. Over the years, these have included curator Juliana Engberg, artistic directors Paul Dyer and Neil Armfield, and festival directors Gayle Lake and Nashen Moodley. Her decision to commence solo practice received a boost in Davis Farrell’s intimation that she may not succeed. In 1989, Leuver was invited to talk about Australian graphic design at the ArtCenter College of Design’s European campus, ArtCenter Europe in Vevey, Switzerland, and, aware her career had just begun, declined their offer of a teaching position. She teamed with her three graphic designer sisters to form Leuver Leuver Leuver & Leuver in the 1990s. ‘Leuvers’ bash was a blinder!’, the headline of an article in the Sydney ‘Sunday Telegraph’ reflects the sisters’ inherited ability to blend social ease and business, circumstances in which Leuver learned to balance creative potential with pragmatism. One of the company’s most publicised contributions was the 1995 revisioning of the Sydney Opera House logo, originally designed by Reno Design in 1983. Briefed to strengthen the logo’s presence, Marita reversed the existing sail silhouette from a black square, removed the linear reference to water, and modernised the typography from a serif typeface to Helvetica. ‘It’s all about simplicity. When you think not only about graphic design but architecture and furniture design, its generally a simple, classic, beautiful piece of design that lasts the test of time’.
Her current business Leuver Design was established in 1997. Around this time, more than ten years after the discipline had commenced transitioning from analogue to digital technologies, Leuver taught herself to operate an Apple Macintosh computer. Typical of graphic designers trained prior to 1990, hand techniques figure occasionally in her work. Both the 1983/84 logo designed for the Sydney paper merchant Jaeger Fine Papers, and the logotype designed for the Sydney Food and Wine Festival in use between 2008 and 2011, were conceived composing torn or cut paper shapes by hand.
Leuver keeps her company small. Between 2011 and 2014 she directed large-scale branding campaigns for the Sydney Film Festival, the Biennale of Sydney and the Brandenburg Orchestra, among other projects, with the assistance of only one or two full-time staff. ‘The mind boggles at the work-loads and deadlines we would get through’. A testament to her adaptive capabilities, Sydney gallery director Roslyn Oxley has collaborated with Leuver since the opening of RoslynOxley9 Gallery in the early 1980s. ‘Her graphic design has permeated every aspect of the gallery’s communications … including the design of our first website in 2000. Whilst in 2021 we are accustomed to a wide range of software tools to ease the presentation of design ideas, her work back then in creating a bespoke website for us was a truly innovative achievement given the technical constraints … in the early days of the internet’.
To close her presentation at the 2011 agIdeas International Design Conference, Leuver posed a collaborative concept of designing to an audience made up mostly of young designers. A reflection upon decades interpreting and communicating artistic values, Leuver promoted a life in design as a means for binding people and communities; ‘Creativity takes you places. Creativity can get you through school. Creativity breaks down barriers. Creativity speaks all languages. Creativity opens doors to places many only dream of. Live it well.’
AGDA Hall of Fame Committee
Content for this biography came from various sources, including: The Sydney Morning Herald, July 26, 1995 and October 28, 2000, re:collection.com.au, agIdeas International Design Conference, 2012.