New Jersey-based Gall’s first paying job was as a sign painter, making placards for a grocery store. Later, he landed his first design job, working for a mass-market book publisher. Both roles required him to make work within very specific parameters: the space of a commercial sign, on one hand, and that of a book cover, on the other.
Since then, Gall has designed countless book jackets, from those blanketing classics penned by Vladimir Nabokov, to all of Haruki Murakami’s novels, to the latest best-sellers like Jennifer Egan’s Manhattan Beach (2017). For Gall, the limitations that book design presents—like crafting a compelling image within a six-by-nine-inch rectangle—are appealing. “Since the format is so structured and limited, anytime you can do something ‘new’ is a special victory,” he explained.
The designs Gall has produced over the course of his lengthy career are eclectic and routinely touted
as inventive and smart. In 2012, one editor called
Gall’s cover for Michel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory
“so different from anything else that it begs to be studied closely and then taken home” and one that “strides boldly into the realm of fine art.” At its center is a captivating, if confounding, photo collage, in which a hand and half of a face meld into one. The image levitates behind the book’s title and against a snowy backdrop.
Many of Gall’s most riveting covers layer found, vintage images inspired by his passion for collage. A redesigned cover for Nabokov’s The Eye (1930), for instance, resembles the kind of box that holds taxidermied insects: The title of the book looks as if it’s pinned atop an illustration of an eye. The concept was sparked by Gall’s knowledge that Nabokov was not only a writer, but a butterfly collector, too.
Since 2012, Gall has been the creative director for Abrams Books, where he recently shepherded his fellow cover designer Paul Sahre’s memoir, Two-Dimensional Man (2017), into being. Among many other projects, he is currently editing and designing a book about ink-making (“Yes! You can make your own ink!” he quipped), as well as piecing together a publication featuring his own collages, many of which hint at the process and motivation behind Gall’s best cover designs.