HISTORY OF DESIGN & POSTERS



 

 
 

   CHAPTER ONE. Art Posters

CHAPTER TWO. Modern and Professional

CHAPTER THREE. Posters and Reality

CHAPTER FOU. Posters and Society

  

 

 

see also:

 

 

Jules Cheret
Theophile Alexandre Steinlen
Thomas Theodor Heine
Koloman Moser
Manuel Orazi
Georges de Feure
T. Privat-Livemont

Leonetto Cappiello

Will Bradley
Jan Toorop
Henri Van de Velde
Victor Moscoso
Cassandre
Jan Tschichold
Walter Allner
Herbert Bayer
Muller-Brockmann
Jean Carlu
Paul Colin
Jean Dupas
Georges Lepape
Tom Purvis
Ludwig Hohlwein
Hans Neumann
Charles Loupot
Milton Glaser
Herbert Leupin
Henri Gustave Jossot
Ruzzie Green
Jean D'Ylen
Heinz Edelmann
Franciszek Starowieysk
Alan Aldridge
Martin Sharp
Roman Cieslewicz
Jan Lenica
Tomi Ungerer
Tadanori Yokoo
Karel Teissig

Collection: Cards and Posters
(
G. BarbierR. Cramer, J. Harbour, R. Kirchner, C. Zander, d'Erte)

 

   
  CHAPTER FOUR
 

Posters and Society

THE POPULAR IDIOM

A poster can never be obscure. The designer cannot allow his work to express a private idea that subsequent generations may be able to unravel: he must achieve instant contact. To do this he must, like an entertainer, work with his audience. In many cases it becomes necessary to speak to the unprofessional audience in a popular way, although there are also times when an audience expects a degree of technical brilliance. Posters frequently reflect the popular idiom because their function is to communicate as well as to be decorative. Because visual communication is the first justification for their existence, it is the character and extent of popular influence on their appearance that establishes the peculiar nature of posters as such. In fact, it is in this area of expression that one finds the essential qualities of the poster as opposed to its near relations, the painting or the graphic image. Because of the technical problems of design - in actual printmaking as well as in the sphere of aesthetics - the appearance of posters is mainly governed by professional artistic factors: that is to say, fashions in style and means of expression. Some of these we have examined -
Art Nouveau, Constructivism, Surrealism. It is often thought that posters are necessarily a compromise of artistic styles, but we have seen that they frequently express visual ideas as well as paintings have done. In fact, posters have sometimes affected the other arts. When this reciprocal process has occurred, it is precisely the popular aspect of poster design that has caught the imagination of painters, for it is the expression of the popular idiom that gives the poster its unique place in the arts.

The popular idiom has two main directional currents. One flows upwards from the level of folk art and brings with it a common factor of integrity and a certain naivety. The other current flows downwards and is usually called mass culture; it is commercial or political propaganda, generally pre-digested and made palatable for mass-consumption. The dangerous aspect of this situation is that one current comes to seem like the other. In other words, the doctrinaire approach of the poster of the totalitarian state, which presents an image of satisfied, cooperative citizens and subjects (no less false than the exactly equivalent poster of the free consumer society, which presents material gains as a doctrinaire aspect of another type of regime), is made to seem a true reflection of the popular condition. It is not a reflection in either case, but a projection from the forces in power.

An example of a poster in the folk-art tradition is the design made by Fraipont at the turn of the century for the French town of Royat. It has the form of the cover of a provincial brochure or the decorative label of a cheese-box. Many of the posters made at this time for household products presented a world in which the consumer could recognize himself. It did not take long, however, for the advertiser to discover that he could project a more luxurious world which could be attained by the consumer if he bought the product. The effect of the poster that displayed the rewards of the acquisitive consumer society was summed up in the statement by President Sukarno of Indonesia that refrigerators are a symbol of revolution -to a community that does not possess them.

But whatever the nature of its sources, the poster in the popular idiom speaks the language of the mass of spectators - whether it contains the naivety of folk art or the pretentiousness of Kitsch. The popular poster seems to have proceeded from one situation towards the other, and we can begin to examine its history with the earliest pictorial designs, such as the nineteenth-century gallows literature, consisting of popular melodramatic material, which has its counterpart in lively circus, fairground and bullfight advertising. The popular designs of nineteenth-century broadsheets concerning the escapades of criminals have a stylistic parallel in the misadventures illustrated in the votive primitives of churches in Italy at the same time. All these startling images were brought together in the remarkable graphic work of Jose Guadalupe Posada (1851-1913), who added to the dramatic character of the genre the forceful imagery of Mexican art. This fierce, primitive quality is shown in La Terrible Noche. The history of bullfighting posters is a long one, and, as a source of inspiration for the poster, comparable to the circus and fairground designs from which Cheret derived part of his own experience. One of the most original is the circular design of Cartel en Circulo de Madrid: one of the most splendid examples is dated 1906, richly coloured in gold. Most of these examples of folk art have great professional artistic merit. In order to find posters that have the awkward quality of a popular attempt to create complicated allegories and elaborate compositions, it is necessary to look at the efforts of the printing establishments, such as Dangerfield and Co. in London in the 1890s.

Some of the designs of Dudley Hardy in England, such as his poster for St. Paul's Magazine, and of John Hassall in When Knights Were Bold (1900), A Greek Slave (1900) and Amaris (1900), all have this same quality, although both these artists could sometimes produce more professional works with greater unity and assurance. In France, where, judging by contemporary critical accounts, there was a higher standard of poster work, the popular idiom was conveyed by painters capable of producing posters that did not strain after style but expressed an easy, natural descriptive manner. Work such as that of Anquetin and Vallotton, of 'Pal' in Cabourg or Metivet in Eugenie Buffet (1893), demonstrates this. Many of the posters of Steinlen, as we have seen already in connection with his 'social' realism, were exceptional designs with a strong popular appeal. In Germany this type of poster was interpreted in designs of a more rounded, decorative kind, such as the posters by Ortmann: Heize mit Gas (1912) and Ode on of the same year. A work by the Czech, Ottokar Stan (Baska), as well as the posters of the Belgian designers who worked in a realistic idiom, such as Evenpoel, Rassenfosse, Duyck and Crespin, or the Dutch designer Cassiers, whose posters have the same general appeal, show that the anecdotal nature of popular designs could be interpreted by artists of real ability. It also indicates the fact that popular art is always conceived in terms of realism.

A straightforward, objective design will always have a general appeal and the clumsy, amateur design will always find acceptance with the public. These two elements arc constant factors when one considers the nature of the popular idiom in poster design. After the First World War, the public had become conditioned to accept many of the more sophisticated discoveries of professional artists who had made a contribution to the appearance of posters in the streets. The designs of James Pryde and William Nicholson, for example, which had at the turn of the century represented the exception in good poster art rather than the general standard of most hoardings, now became more generally acceptable. The convention of simplicity that they and great designers such as Toulouse-Lautrec had established now became part of what most people regarded as poster technique. Posters by Frank Newbould, Tom Purvis and Gregory Brown in England gave the experiments of the 'Beggarstaff Brothers' popular currency. But the development of the simple, economic statement had other justifications. The poster of the 1920s had to appeal to motorists as well as the more leisurely passer-by in the street. By 1956 a writer on advertising from the United States, H. W. Hepner, could say that in designing a poster 'one should assume that the people who sec it cannot or at least will not read it. It must tell its whole story in about six seconds.' Leonctto Cappiello, who held a dominant position as a designer in France from the start of the century until the '20s, was, as we have seen, one of the first artists to appreciate this new factor. His posters, such as Amandines de Provence (1901), seemed to many critics at the time to be merely abbreviated versions of fin-de-siecle designs. In fact, his contribution to the development of the poster lies in the way he and other designers reduced the image to a single element - often exaggerated - that could be retained by the memory at a glance. The value of an instant judgment with respect to more serious works of art had already been expressed by Baudelaire, who had spoken of 'certain irrefutable truths suggested by a first rapid and generalized glance' when writing of a painting by Delacroix. The instant summing-up of swift movement was in any case one of Delacroix's achievements. Much of this visual shorthand, both as a method and as a mental discipline, passed into the art of the twentieth century although, like Cheret, Delacroix may appear to be one of the last of a line of Old Masters rather than the innovator that he was in reality.

In order to translate this rapid, telegraphic message into permanent visual form it was necessary to make flat patterns of very simple shape rather than linear notes. While the line is quicker to record, the flat pattern is easier to assimilate and its block-like form is literally imprinted on the mind like an after-image. As the poster moved into the 1920s and 1930s it retained its popular effects in this new shorthand. At the same time, the more conventional designs for posters continued - work such as that of Poulbot and Dransy in France. The development from the popular idiom that has had the greatest effect on poster design was derived from the growth in size of the actual design itself. This was most apparent in the billboard designs in the United States. Partly the result of the need to shout louder, but also to meet the same increase of speed that we have just discussed, the American billboard established a new scale of image that was eventually imitated by the cinema in various developments of the wide screen. The designs that appeared on them were produced during the period when, as we have seen, the predominant style of poster as well as all pictorial advertising in the United States was realistic. These murals displayed giant girls in swim-wear, or plates of steaming beans alongside the highway network; they also obliterated the facades of city architecture, and established a form of urban decoration based entirely on the popular idiom. In the late 1960s two European film directors of distinction made films about the United States in which they showed long sequences of billboards. In Midnight Cowboy, John Schlesinger showed a startling image of urban New York, and in Zabriskie Point Michelangelo Antonioni presented, in clear-cut focus, the fresh colours and vivid presence of the art forms of the consumer society. The result of the incongruity of these images, although originally realistic in concept, has been to produce a new mythology and fantasy that painters have been quick to recognize as raw material for their own statements, and the popular billboard has been responsible for exerting an immense influence on the appearance of painting since 1945. At the same time, the original advertisements have come to be considered as desecrations of the landscape - Hawaii even banned their presence as early as 1927, Vermont since the beginning of 1970. The larger the billboard the greater the offence to sensitive planners, and the more compulsively fascinating the banal images become to many painters.

It becomes necessary, therefore, to examine the effect of the popular poster on painting and sculpture, in order to identify the exact nature of the popular idiom in the poster. As early as 1916-17 Marcel Duchamp adapted a Sapolin Enamel advertisement to read 'Apolin-ere Enameled'. The illustration showed a typically incongruous popular arrangement of a little girl wearing her best dress, painting her bed - a suitably ridiculous situation for Duchamp to parody. The popular poster for Savon Cadum (which was nicknamed Вebe Cadum) was often quoted by those who, in the early twenties, realized the comic possibilities of these solemn advertisements. It was used by Picabia and Rene Clair in their film Entr'acte in 1924 - one of the last manifestations of Dada - and was quoted by Cassandre in a description of Paris, gripped by advertising and illuminations, beneath the smiling baby and the glowing Eiffel Tower, in 1928. The Surrealists also made use of popular advertising, including that of posters. In 1936, in the exhibition of Surrealist art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York there appeared a design - The Lawn Party oj the Royal Worcester Corset Company 1906 - which shows a crowd gathered below a flying corset. The same exhibition made use of the window-display techniques of draped dummies. All these visions connect Surrealism with popular forms of advertising. Many of the original advertisements were Surrealist images in their own right - one needed merely to re-present them.

One of the most significant uses that an artist was to make of the popular poster image is Duchamp's secret work Etant Donne's prepared over a number of years from 1946 to 1966, and revealed only after his death in 1968. In his youth Duchamp would have been familiar with a series of popular posters advertising gas-mantles, which were a similar genre to the many cycling posters that existed in the early 1900s. In most cases the Bec-Auer posters showed a semi-naked girl holding a lighted gas-mantle. Examples of these posters include works such as that by Realicr-Dumas (1893) and Mataloni (1895). In the latter, a girl wearing a see-through slip, tucked under her bare breasts, holds a sunflower in one hand, while drawing attention to the glowing gas-mantle with the other. Around the border of the poster, the fashionable Art Nouveau tendrils of organic growth have been replaced by the complicated plumbing of the gas engineer. Faced with such formidable imagery, Duchamp prepared a tableau of this Kitsch image but took care that his finished work should be enshrined in an academic setting - the work can be seen only by peeping, voyeur-like, through two holes in a door in the Philadelphia Museum, where most of his work rests. The creative artist has to be on his guard against the banality of the commonplace and the life-lessness of respectability. Duchamp went to both extremes by taking a banal poster image and placing it in the museum: in this way he finds a solution to the dilemma of the creative artist in the twentieth century. He adopts a third position and creates art out of an attitude. Leger found a different solution:

In 1919 I painted a picture using only pure colour surfaces. The picture is technically a revolution. It was possible, without tone or modulation, to produce depth and dynamism. Advertising benefited first from the results. Pure colour, blues, reds, yellow, escaped from this painting into posters, shop windows, road signs and signals. Colour had become free, it was a reality in itself. It had a new life wholly independent of the object which before this period contained and supported it.
Legcr was himself also to derive much from the exchange. His use of the single, isolated object was borrowed (as Christopher Green noted in his introductory essay to an exhibition of Leger's work at the Tate Gallery, London in 1970,) from typical advertising layout as displayed in L'Illustration.

In 1924 Stuart Davis made a painting which was untitled but represented an Odol toothpaste poster design. This did not present the sentimental popular image of the Bebe Cadum poster but the modern pack of the toothpaste container, and therefore referred to a more contemporary form of popular advertising.

The really significant connection between posters and fine art came with the new American painting, and in particular with the size and flatness of these giant murals. Perhaps large paintings and large billboards were together expressive of a new immense continent forming a scale of visual imagery to suit its requirements. The paintings were mostly concerned with huge gestures, but at least one of the artists concerned, Willem de Kooning-born in 1906 in Holland, he moved to the United States in 1926 - has given us an interesting account of the effect of large-scale advertising in his work. De Kooning used pages of newspaper to remove surface areas of paint, and the pressure of the sheets left a faint imprint of the newspaper images -bathing beauties and small ads - on his work. If these passages were later left uncovered then some of the actual mass media material strayed into his painting. The sometimes pathetic details of domestic intimacy revealed by deodorant and lavatory-paper manufacturers produced a concept of banality that intrigued de Kooning. He was fascinated by the dummies in shop-windows and the characters from comic-strips and billboards made by unknown designers and craftsmen without artistic pretensions. There is a long account of de Kooning's interest in this aspect of the consumer society in the introduction by Thomas B. Hess to an exhibition of his work in London in 1968. Hess writes that the series Woman, of the 1950s, was conceived in terms of big advertising for a big audience:

de Kooning was thinking about the American female idols in cigarette advertisements (in one study ... he cut out the mouth from a 'Be kind to your T-zone' Camel ad and pasted it on the face), the girls whose photographs arc paraded through the city on the sides of mail trucks, pinup girls with their extraordinary breasts (a particularly lush example hung in his studio). Thus Woman's ironic presence was modified by his understanding of our modern icons; the Black Goddess has a come-hither smile.

In England, Richard Smith, whose paintings of the late 1950s explored the immense size of beer glasses and cigarette packs, raised the question of whether it was possible to separate the method from the content - and then proceeded to demonstrate that a whole body of work could be made on this assumption:

I paint about communications. The communications media arc a large part of my landscape. My interest is not so much in the message as in the method. There is a multiplicity of messages (smoke these, vote this, ban that), fewer methods. Can how something is communicated be divorced from what is being communicated, and can it be divorced from who it is being communicated to? We tend to look at primitive art in this way, we are unaware of the object's orientation socially and spiritually.

On the subject of
Pop Art and the popular, a statement by Roy Lichtenstein appeared in an interview with Gene Swenson in 1963. Asked 'What is Pop Art?' he replied:

I don't know - the use of commercial art as subject matter in painting I suppose. It was hard to get a painting that was despicable enough so that no one could hang it - everybody was hanging everything. It was almost acceptable to hang a dripping paint rag, everybody was accustomed to this. The one thing everybody hated was commercial art; apparently they didn't hate that enough either.

As a statement of a painter's concern with the eternal search for material that does not already have the deadening aura of acceptable taste, this comment by Lichtenstein is straightforward and honest. It docs, however, suggest that there is something spurious about the whole operation, which, although this is partly the intention of Lichtenstein's remark, also tends to obscure the perfectly valid sources of his art - the film cartoon and the magazine strip.

This artificial world, created by the advertiser from reality, has produced its own mythology which we, as public, are expected to accept as our reality. Artists such as
Mel Ramos, Wayne Thiebaud, Tom Wesselmann and Claes Oldenburg have made use of billboard imagery as a basis for their art. In his painting Smoke Dream No. 2 and his Highway series, Allan D'Arcangelo uses the effect of the actual position of billboards in the landscape and the strange combination of the enlarged realistic image and the natural world.

POSTERS AND COMEDY

Humour is used frequently in advertising for the obvious reason that comedy is an essential ingredient of life, and its association with a product extends friendliness and goodwill. Its application is also universal, and light-hearted foolery, like the presence of a court jester, is a valuable outlet in a complicated world. There is also something memorable about a pun or a subtle twist of meaning. 'Take the family for a spin' advises a poster for the prevention of accidents: and the resulting picture is likely to be retained in the mind whereas the tragic documentary evidence of a collision is pushed away by the memory.

Posters, as we have seen, evolved partly from the printed bookplate and partly from circus ephemera; evidence of the comic appears in both these sources. One of the earliest examples from the printed page appears in 1831 in an advertisement for a volume by Dr Ludoff de Garbenfeld against tobacco. It shows a girl suffering through the addiction of her suitor to a pipe, and another victim who is himself a sick man through smoking. Its counterpart is an advertisement of 1866 for Les Pipes Aristophane, in which pipes are given human properties; it includes an orchestra of pipes. Both these examples appear in Ernest Maindron's Les Affiches Iilustrees, Volume I, of 1886. In the same volume there is a reproduction of an illustrated advertisement of 1702 in which the artist shows an orchestra of cats. This sort of humour, which these early announcements share with the picture postcard, was carried into the first poster designs. Circus and music-hall posters, of course, contained the clowning buffoonery of the actual performance; an example of this humour is used in the poster by Leon Choubrac for the Cirque Fernando: Bal Masque.
 

Leon Choubrac


In Austria, a popular humorous poster was the type that showed inebriated men at a mass beer-drinking party. There are many variations of this by Schliessmann in works that he made in 1889. The same level of humour is reached by the mass baby-groups that also had such success on picture postcards at the time. A montage of Although their posters have suffered by comparison with French designs, one has to appreciate that their real strength lay in the fact that their designs were on the very popular level of comedy, and that far from achieving the homogeneity of the work of an artist like Toulouse-Lautrec, they produced designs that underlined the particular. A patriotic English critic at the time even tried to maintain that the versatility of Hardy was superior to the monotony of
Cheret. One of Hassall's most compelling posters was his design for Skegness (1909). Hardy's posters vary in style from the assurance of A Gaiety Girl (1895) to the particular design of Oh! What a Night! -a characteristic poster that represents a certain type of English stage comedy still in existence.

During the 1920s and '30s, the comic strip and the movie cartoon became new influences in visual humour, and these two elements were apparent in poster design. Mauzan's poster for Mago (1924), and Kosel-Gibson's design Humanic (1928) show evidence of these new effects. In 1927 Savignac produced his cartoon-like design, Моn Savon: the extrovert, simple idea of the image has been used ever since by designers wishing to produce a clear-cut expression to show surprise, delight, astonishment, happiness, and so on. Charles Loupot and
Cassandre both used comic-strip devices of this sort. A similar approach to humour was followed later by designers in England: the work of Tom Eckersley and Abram Games followed the same pattern. During the Second World War, the cartoon style of a Punch artist like Kenneth Bird (Fougasse) was used for posters that warned against 'careless talk'.

 

Tom Eckersley

Abram Games

Kenneth Bird


In the years following the war this type of design continued to represent the principal means of expressing a comic situation. But there was a sharp change in the nature of humour itself during the 1950s, which has continued to develop. This is the use of 'black' or 'sick' humour. This change of emphasis was not confined to posters but was also noticeable in stage and movie comedies. Kind Hearts and Coronets from Britain, La Traversee de Paris from France and Sedotta с Abhandonata from Italy all reflect a general acceptance of black comedy. Some of the productions of these and other comedies have also produced posters in the same idiom to advertise them. The posters of Heinz Edelmann are characteristic examples of this humour.

With the increased general interest in the bizarre, the images in posters during the 1960s became more far-fetched, and attempts to shock, or to reveal a lack of inhibition on the part of the advertiser or designer, left nothing to the imagination. The kind of humour that had developed in England, for example, in the seaside postcards of Donald McGill, now became source material for the more sophisticated satirical reviews and the posters issued by their presses. The Underground Press, with posters by artists like Martin Sharp, produced pornographic versions of vernacular humour, most of which took on exaggerated fantasy. Many of these posters are deliberately amateurish in appearance - in contrast to the style and wit, say, of Beardsley's drawings for Lysistrata. A great deal of the humour in the Underground posters is playing on the contrast between this new alternative society and the Establishment - in order to show how unrestrained one side can be in contrast to the monstrous character of traditional social order. Black humour tells of war and extermination, of love, life and death all at once in pictorial terms that are both fantastic and plausible. Much of the nonsensical humour of the Dadaists that was black indeed seems to have been adapted to an emphatic statement. Absurdity itself is proposed as a positive force, instead of a negative emptiness.

Commercial poster advertising has also been affected by this change of climate: much of its style is camp. Camp has been described as the answer to the problem: how to be a dandy in the age of mass culture. The nineteenth-century dandy affecting refined boredom has been replaced in the twentieth by a camp attitude. This has taken the form of adopting a position that delights in elevating some faded, fantastic or failed element to the level of an art work of consequence. Both the dandy of Huysmans' novels and the camp attitude of today prescribe an aesthetic solution to life's problems. The re-presentation of Kitsch consumer art by the painter or the camp re-presentation of highly stylized works of art (like much of Art Nouveau) can both demand a certain love and sympathy for the original on the part of those re-interpreting.
 

POLITICS, REVOLUTION AND WAR

The poster became established in society as a means of display and as an item for collectors. It was the industrialized world of the late nineteenth century that made its appearance a technical possibility, and between 1870 and the end of the First World War posters were associated with art and commerce. With the exception of Cheret's work and the posters of such artists as Toulouse-Lautrec and Mucha, whose designs contributed to art movements in painting, posters in general reflected fashionable styles of decoration or spoke with the language most likely to appeal to all. They were used during this time in politics and war, but because of the prevailing convention of what a poster was expected to be, the directives of those in power were presented within the accepted limits. This situation changed at the end of the First World War; the various political upheavals in Russia and elsewhere determined a new direction for the political poster. This change, however, was not appreciated by many governments - or even by those producing poster designs. The result has been that, even until the 1950s, political posters could still appear to be orientated towards the idea that they are only part of commercial persuasion or an 'artistic' form of advertisement. Perhaps the anachronism is best illustrated in Seymour Chwast's satirical anti-war poster - War is good business -invest your son. We arc therefore faced with two distinct phases in the history of the ideological poster, the first from 1870 to 1919, when advertising for war was considered in terms of commercial advertising, and the second phase, from 1919 until the present, when the true political poster started to make its appearance.

The war posters of the First World War invariably presented the conflict as a crusade. They fell into two broad categories - those concerned with recruitment, and those that solicited money in terms of the War Loan. In addition there was a category of posters showing war atrocities, in which each side presented a villainous picture of the other. In this respect these posters were certainly outside the usual commerical formula on which posters in general were based.

The most often quoted recruitment poster was that designed in Great Britain by Alfred Leete, Your Country Needs You, with a direct, pointing finger and an uncompromising frontal attack that was one of many similar approaches (for example, the famous one in the United States by Montgomery Flagg). Leete's poster, however crude it may seem, is succinet; he gives us the head, pointing finger and hand down to the cuff, but no more. In fact one is conscious only of the eyes and the tip of the finger of Lord Kitchener, the Recruiting General: it is sufficient. In fact, although this design has become a joke, its message has continued as an unmistakable reminder of that war. Other designs represented the struggle as a chivalrous affair - both sides calling on the image of St George. The posters of Kathe Kollwitz and of Faivre, in On les aura! (1916), are examples of well-drawn, stirring designs that are reminiscent of Delacroix's Liberty Guiding the People. Romantic imagery was also used in the United States when Fred Spear produced his poster showing a drowning mother and baby as a result of the sinking of the Lusitania. In Germany, Hohlwein produced a number of war posters that show great humanity - his designs were frequently concerned with prisoners of war, the wounded and the veterans. Leading designers in Germany - Bernhard, Gipkens and Erdt - also designed war posters.

Because of the seriousness of war, the lightweight element associated with household grocery posters was felt to be out of place. As an alternative to heroics, posters for war were designed in the other main form expected of them - the art poster. In Great Britain, Frank Brangwyn and Spencer Pryse produced documentary-style lithographed designs that gave a faithful and horrific account of the miseries of trench life. Pryse even carried lithographic stones with him in order to make his designs on the spot. By contrast, many of the war posters were compiled by printers, with very little regard for the relationship of image to lettering. In the United States a hint of the form of poster advertising that appeared after the war was shown in the work of
Charles Dana Gibson (creator of the 'Gibson Girl') and Howard Chandler Christy. American publicity had a reputation even then, for as early as 1886 Ernest Maindron had referred to it with the words 'nos maltrcs en publicite'. Christy used the image of a girl, painted in fresh, painterly brush-strokes, to encourage volunteers: 'Gee! I wish I were a man', says the girl in sailor's uniform, standing to attention in a stiffbrcezc. 'I want you for the Navy' was another Christy challenge in the popular idiom.

The most significant development in the history of political posters and one of the most important in the whole history of the medium, occurred at that time in Russia. In 1919 a new type of poster appeared there which is said to have been the work originally of Mikhail Cheremnykh. It was known as the 'Satire window of the Russian Telegraph Agency' (the title of this organization is usually abbreviated to the initials ROSTA). The windows consisted of illustrations with captions that resemble the cinematic sequence of the comic strip. The most famous of these designs are those made by the poet Mayakovsky: some of them include up to fourteen narrative illustrations with captions like sub-titles, usually stencilled. Camilla Gray-Prokofieva has noted the influence of the sacred icon and the lubok (a Russian folk-art design, popular until the end of the nineteenth century), with its combination of text and illustration, on the work of
Larionov and Goncharova. From this connection Mayakovsky, who had become associated with the renewed interest in native folk-art traditions, himself developed this remarkable combination of poetry and image. It is significant that the production of these designs was later carried out as a joint co-operative effort and that copies could be made and distributed rapidly for display in the 'windows', each bulletin being numbered, and therefore creating a sequence and pattern of information. The collective method of making posters is also paralleled in Berlin by the November Group, founded in 1918 by Max Pechstein and Hans Richter.

Constructivism has already been discussed as a formal art movement which influenced poster design, but its political significance has not been mentioned. Clearly there were two revolutions - an artistic one and a political one. That there were strong links is shown, for example, by the fact, that mass distribution of bulletins and propaganda (as in the Agit-Prop trains that printed and distributed information) was carried out by and for the Revolution. The 'window' technique of the ROSTA posters was also later built into the avant-garde architecture of newspaper buildings by A. Vesnin, that include provision for large screens on which front-page news would be projected daily. In the West it is widely thought that the new, startling designs of avant-garde art were synonymous with the new Soviet world. From the very start, however, Lenin hated the Russian Futurists and found the bohemian life and strange experiments of Mayakovsky an embarrassment to the idealistic aims of the Revolution. The avant-garde artists themselves either chose to remain in Russia where their work became less vital, went into exile, or committed suicide; a few were sent to labour camps. The whole movement ceased to have any consequence in the country of its origin, although its effects contributed to the development of art in other countries. The combined work of painter and poet was one of the products of the Revolution that made a real contribution to the history of posters, and promises to develop further in the future with the increasing interdependence of the arts.

The work of collective organizations in producing posters appeared again in Republican and Communist posters in Madrid and Barcelona in 1936 during the Civil War in Spain. Posters during the Civil War demonstrated new techniques, such as photomontage. The Fascist regimes that supported Franco's forces during that war had been making use of propaganda systems in the years just preceding it. Some of the official designs for Mussolini's regime consisted of monolithic three-dimensional sets, composed of lettering, that echoed the architectural splendours of Imperial Rome. Some of these constructions were used in commercial advertising: the architectural construction by Fortunato Depcro for Campari in 1933 and designs in the Salone del Motore of 1931 by Piero Todeschini. The work by Seneca for Buitoni Pasta also has the same character, and posters for Fiat cars use the familiar technique publicized all over the world in the design for the introduction of Twentieth Ccntury- Fox films from Hollywood. The poster by Xanti for Mussolini appears by comparison as conventional rhetoric. In Germany National Socialist Realism' was echoed in posters such as Voskuil's Olympics 1936. However, all the war posters of the thirties are reduced to insignificance beside the mural painted by Picasso for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris Exposition of 1937. Guernica can hardly be called a poster but when we recall the influence that poster design, with its emphasis on simple dramatic forms, may have had on Picasso's early work, we can see that this great mural outstripped any of the gargantuan billboards or advertising displays, and that Picasso had with great daring made use of his discoveries of the previous thirty years in this painting that measures over 25 x 11 feet.

The posters produced during the Second World War did not add anything to the achievements already established in the development of poster design generally. Mass communication methods had changed and propaganda flowed through the cinema and the radio. Consumer advertising was cut and posters showed the civilians of total war how to grow food, conserve their supplies and guard the secrets of their respective countries. Some distinguished work appeared in the United States from Ben Shahn, Henry Koerner, Glen Grohe and Jean Carlu. In Russia, Mikhail Kuprianov, Porfiry Krylov and Nikolai Sokolov produced a number of posters that were in the tradition of Russian cartoon and folk art.

Since 1945 a significant change in world opinion about war has caused a great deal of publicity to be given to anti-war posters.

Kathe Kollwitz's poster No More War (1924) has found a tragic echo in No More Hiroshimas! (1968) by Hirokatsu. But this change is one of content rather than style, for the use of realism or satire as a means of deterrent in advertising has not added anything to the appearance of posters. A new form is achieved when a special type of design appears, perhaps, for example, because the posters arc prepared by a minority group within a hostile majority, in which case the printing, distribution and posting has to be a clandestine operation - a fact that will affect their design and style.

The Paris rising in May 1968 was such an occasion, and after a hundred years of respectable development the poster suddenly appeared as a young, virile medium in the city where it had first been developed. Once again, as in the production of the ROSTA posters of the Russian Revolution, a cooperative system of choosing designs and printing them was shared by professionals as well as the inexperienced. The resulting series of posters was designed for use -any attempt to turn the output into a collectors' market was resisted by the students of the Beaux-Arts who were responsible for the work. The posters have the character of hastily prepared broadsheets: they brought back a feeling of urgency to a medium that, for instant information, had been superseded by radio and television. If coverage is not available on the complicated technical system of mass communications, then posters can have a strong effect -especially if they return to their primitive state instead of being the tasteful art works to which the public have become accustomed.

In the introduction to a collection of these works in book form, Usine-Universite-Union states that 'experience has taught us the danger of ambiguity and the necessity of incorporating slogans as an integral part of that design. Sincerity, fantasy, are only effective when they interpret and reinforce the attack made by the slogan.' In describing the Atelier Populaire the article says:

[It] consists of a workshop where the posters are conceived, and several workshops where they are produced (printing by the silk-screen process, lithography, stencilling, dark-room and so on). All the militants - workers, students, artists, etc. from the Atelier Populaire meet daily in a general Assembly. The work of this Assembly is not merely to choose between the designs and slogans suggested for posters, but also to discuss all political problems.
The main difficulty was to avoid endless discussion and to allow the process of designing and printing to move forward; the communal decisions could be added at any point. An example is shown on this page: La Chienlit e'est lui! of 19 May 1968 was produced in answer to de Gaulle's 'La Reforme oui, la Chienlit non!'
The posters of the Atelier Populaire had the direct impact of word and image; and the whole series maintains the traditions of good poster design - the popular sign and the broadsheet from which the medium grew.

By the end of the 1960s it became apparent that the development of poster design through the channels of commercialism had now found a strong alternative area of expression - in the posters of ideologies, whether these represented political ideologies or the ideals of a new generation. The posters, banners and paintings of the Communist government of Red China have made a spectacular contribution to the world history of poster design. As in the West, some of these designs have been developed from popular folk art. In China the nien hua, or New Year pictures of the Spring Festival, are part of the traditional Chinese imagery. They have been adapted for Communist ends, as is often the case with designs in the popular idiom: Communist iconography has been added to the folk image. At the moment, one wonders how successful this assimilation of propaganda is in such a popular form of expression. For example, the appeal of traditional designs is probably of greater significance than the added details of Party symbolism; in time, some of these elements will themselves become part of the tradition. The most exciting designs from China are the giant images of Party leaders and Party symbols. In their way, they arc of course comparable to the large-scale commercial advertising in the United States, but the propaganda of the East is different from that of the West - its imagery has not produced the same degree of banality. Perhaps this is because its methods are slower and less sophisticated, and the results must appeal to a society that is still concerned with more traditional, basic requirements. Political Pop Art in countries like Tibet, as well as in the Latin American states, still belongs to the traditional means of display. The United States, by contrast, has produced a society which created its own folk myths from the mass media - these images have been projected all over the world into cultures of varying degrees of development.

Nowhere has this dual influence been felt more acutely than in Cuba - so close to the United States geographically but so distant in terms of culture and ideology. The posters of the Cuban Revolution have become justly famous, and the most interesting aspect of this sudden flowering of talent lies precisely in the duality of posters that borrow their style from the West and their message from the East. Cuban designers have been given much more freedom of expression than one has come to associate with a society based on Communism. Their posters include frequent quotations from the commercial advertisement and from psychedelic, Pop Art, comic-strip and film posters of the United States consumer society. There arc also quotations from Picasso and from the theatrical posters of Poland. A number of works exist that deliberately confuse images produced in different situations but which have a visual link in other ways. The colour red for example is the link in an image showing a face smeared with blood but which suggests that it is a lipstick advertisement.

The contrast of tough brutality, on the one hand, and the fashion still on the other, is echoed in the paintings of Erro (the Icelandic artist Gundmunder Gundmundsson) - in a series from the late 1960s. In this the contrast is made between the suburban interior, with its 'Sears Roebuck' furnishings and its apparent invasion by Viet-Cong guerrillas. This is achieved by representing one wall of the trim, domestic scene as a poster-mural which literally spills out into the room. The same idea of using two elements is given the more familiar combination of sex with violence in William Weege's Fuck the CIA! (1967), a poster from the United States.

Poster work in Cuba has been described by Edmundo Desnoes, the Cuban writer and critic:

In the houses, on the walls and windows, the new posters and billboards have replaced the painting of a flamingo, the North Ameri- can calendar, magazines and advertisements for consumer goods and have introduced a new vision, a new pre-occupation, without appealing to or exploiting sensationalism, sex or the illusion of aristocratic life.

'The illusion of aristocratic life' has done a great deal to make the poster generally seem to be linked forever to consumer society advertising. The development of an alternative body of poster designs in Cuba to that of the consumer society, that nevertheless makes use of contemporary design ideas, has given posters a new justification.

In examining the contribution of these posters we must realize that their editions are limited by the technical problems of reproduction. Thus their rarity has given them a high market value - although those responsible for producing them have maintained that no collector's market exists, that the posters are used and enjoyed and then perish. It is also interesting that frequently they arc not designed out of a need to 'sell' anything. Even cinema posters, which form an important section of this output, are virtually unnecessary for, although there are many cinemas in Havana, they are attended to capacity in any case. The ideological posters arc displays by a socialist society for a socialist society, and the competitive hysteria of Western commercial advertising is absent from them. In addition, all poster artists in Cuba are employed by the government in various agencies.

Cuban poster designers are freer of official restrictions than those in Soviet Russia or Red China. In both latter countries, strict limitations are placed on the nature of the designs and, in the case of China, there are precise conventions that define the actual method of interpretation. The posters also reflect the total anonymity of communal decisions about their composition. In Cuba all traditions in the history of poster design are open to the individual designer, and a survey of recent poster design in that country reveals that artists have made full use of the established language of the poster from one end of the world to the other and from the whole hundred years' range of the poster's existence.

Such plagiarism might sound as though Cuba had produced a weary anthology of trends - like some international design award annual - but the Cuban posters are unique because of the fusion of the decorative styles of the West without the incessant economic pressure. The result is often a design in which the creative expression of the painter approaches the language of communication associated elsewhere with the work of professional graphic designers. This development has reached impressive heights in the large, simple designs expressing the spirit of the Revolution. The bringing together of fine By narrowing the division between both groups of people [those who go to museums and those who do not] we narrow equally the division in the idea that claims the existence of two plastic manifestations, one for the learned and one for the ignorant. . . . An easel painting is intimate as much for the spectator as for the painter. . . . There is, furthermore, the idea that the painting is the painter's (his ideas, his problems, his joy) while graphic work (billboards, book covers, magazines, posters) is informational and is consequently indebted to the movies, the theatre, to ideas, etc., and remains subjected to a theme which did not originate with the artist; it is work executed on demand. To all this we must add the act of the personal touch in the execution of the painting, and the collective work in the production of graphics. . .. There is no distinction in quality between the utilitarian and the artistic work. The more artistic a graphic work is, the more useful it is. Of course all art work better fits its purpose when it transcends its original function. . . . The established stylistic interrelation between graphics and painting is part of a growing tendency which will be useful in making their differences disappear.

(Translation by Dugald Stermer in The Art of Revolution, 1970)

One of Cuba's prominent painters, Raul Martinez, has turned his attention increasingly towards graphic work. From his paintings he has developed designs that seem to have a connection with indigenous 262 Cuban art forms. As in the development of posters in most countries from France to China, a connection has had to be made in the folk art of the country in order to find a real means of popular expression.

(The Pop Art of consumer advertising constitutes a camp style that is entertaining but of too recent origin.) Martinez' poster Lucia shows how this traditional Cuban style acts as a basis for more recent influences; the result is less of a pastiche than some of the other quotations made in Cuban posters from different sources. Martinez has turned away from painting towards graphic design because he feels more in touch with the people in this way. He has been quoted as saying: 'Up to now, painting in general aims towards responses and solutions of problems which the artist himself has posed, whereas the graphic artist answers the problems that are put to him.' In fact, in all parts of the world today, objects and attitudes in painting and sculpture are moving towards mass-communication methods. Conversely, advertising, as always, makes excursions into styles that arc developed in the fine arts. Chairman Mao has said: 'we are against. . . the tendency to produce works in the "slogan and poster" style which are correct in their political views but arc weak in artistic expression. We must, in literature and art, conduct the struggle on two fronts.'

The two fronts are moving closer together; perhaps in Cuba there is only one front. For many years, Soviet Russia pursued the policy of producing heroic posters and paintings in the naturalist style, and it is against this tendency that the Cuban situation has been evolved. In 1925 Lenin, whose views on certain attitudes of the avant-garde have already been mentioned, said: 'Art belongs to the people. Its roots should penetrate deeply into the very thick masses of the people. It should be comprehensible to these masses and loved by them.' What the Russian masses, however, were getting in poster design, as well as in painting, was a form of strict naturalism. John Berger has referred to 'Socialist Naturalism masquerading as Socialist Realism' - naturalism in this context being a rather unselective replica, as opposed to realism, which Berger defines as a much more ambitious attempt to grasp total reality. Soviet art was also academic and self-conscious. The masses were being given 'mass-art' from above; they were not allowed to participate; this was not the art of the people. The cooperatives of the old ROSTA window posters, the students' posters of May '68 in Paris - these were attempts to produce a genuine pattern of popular art, even if there was direction.
It is important to see that official direction on a large scale produces poster work and painting naturalism that pretend to be reality. In other words, the mirror held up to the public is in fact an image and not a reflection: 'This is how we want you to see yourselves.' The West regards official propaganda in the Soviet Union in this light, the East looks at the consumer society advertising of the capitalist West in an identical way. The popular idiom in advertising ranges from the genuine folk-art image to the 'camp' of mass culture, from the controlled society of the East to the free-for-all of the West.

Art of the people and art for the people may be two different areas of expression. The poster is the means of conveying both graphic messages; whatever its claims as art it must first speak to the people.
 

 

Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

 
| privacy