Posters: Loud and Clear
13th December 2012
This article was written for the Art, Antiques and Luxury Design Blog:
POSTERS: LOUD AND CLEAR
My Russian grandmother used to say: You say a word you loose a piece of your mind. These days we do talk a lot not only by verbal but also by written means. The power of the word is dwindling and becoming diluted but there used to be a world without the television and social media. The only way to get a message across was by displaying it on the walls. The only way of communicating the message to a wide audience at that time was the poster.
Posters used to be quite dull using mostly words, before French artists elevated them to an art form at the end of the 19th century. I believe it was initially a way for them to make extra money and then, as the artists got the flavour for this medium, their works became an art in itself. Posters present the artist with a challenge of distilling an idea, product or message in one striking image that will grab the attention of passers-by. The artist is restricted by the size of the poster sheet and can only use a limited amount of words, so the visual has to be strong. The art of cabaret by Toulouse Lautrec and the elegance of art nouveau by Mucha really drew attention to posters. Collectors and other talented artists followed suit.
As posters developed they absorbed and distilled styles of the era and form a major part of our social history. Given they were not meant to be kept it is a miracle that any survived at all. Designed to be plastered on walls and removed or overlayed with another poster, they were often printed on thin paper and easily deteriorated. The ones that survived are mostly left-over stock from print shops, treasured collections of early enthusiasts or souvenirs from people involved in the trade.
In Great Britain poster art bloomed at a later stage, in part due to snobbism of the art elite and the critics’ belief that it is below the true standards of an artist to be involved in something as vulgar as advertising. But the new generation of designers led by the Beggarstaff Brothers (William Nicholson and James Pryde), as well as growing popularity of this art form changed this perception and the British poster evolved. Some of the most iconic designs were created in Britain to advertise the London Underground and educate masses during the WWII.
At the same time the Bolshevist Revolution happened in Russia and a newly born Socialist Government needed to convey its message urgently to a largely illiterate population. Posters became an ideal medium for communicating to the masses. It was an exciting time for the artists in Russia – censorship was largely abolished (as long as the Government was still supported) and the idea of a State built for the people really electrified the creative minds. A new art movement – constructivism was born with the belief that artistic talent should be only applied to creating useful things – architecture, furniture and, of course, posters. Some of the most striking designs were created during this period. Posters of the most prominent artists from this art school – A. Rodchenko, L. Lissitsky and the Stenberg Brothers fetch high prices when they turn up at auctions.
Speaking of money – where and on what should you focus if you decide to collect or invest in posters? As with any art, you should buy what you like so you can appreciate the design and reap emotional dividends from the piece of art that you see hanging on your wall every day. Certain poster themes have been steadily appreciating over the last few years – skiing, for example, especially those promoting the most popular resorts in Switzerland and France; cult films, James Bond and early cinema classics have also been on the rise recently. Other areas to watch are WWII posters, and mid-century design pieces.
ROYAL COLLEGE OF ART
Sadly the art of the poster is now becoming extinct. Television and the digital revolution are largely replacing this media with animated and interactive ads. There are still a few talented artists around but commissions are sparse and most of them work purely out of love for this media and the subject of their design. Keep an eye on artists like Craig Drake who designs alternative film posters for classic films and Mark Fairhurst who designs great sport posters. I hope that art schools will get on the bandwagon and, at the very least, start commissioning posters for their events like this one [read original article for image] made for 1928 Exhibition at the Royal College of Art.
Featured Image: Philips Autoradio, 1950s