japonisme: 11/30/08 - 12/7/08

05 December 2008

the alternate shaping of reality

while some 60s poster artists looked to french art nouveau, others looked to vienna. particularly when it came to lettering, alfred roller's font was nearly ubiquitous.

"The lettering by Alfred Roller in this poster he designed for a Secessionist exhibition in 1903 was the major source of inspiration for Wes Wilson and the other San Francisco poster artists of the 1960s period." 1

other designers of that moment included kolomon moser, but even on his own posters, he used variations of roller's fonts.

david goines borrowed from wiener werkstatte fonts (along with many others) in his posters as well.

when i was living in the haight-ashbury district of san francisco in the late 60s, my favorite poster artist was mari tepper. her work was so different from the rest, but now i see echos of vienna here as well.

why, you might ask, should there be such a strong influence from secession vienna on bay area artists? patience, grasshopper. all will be shown in the end.

beyond the letter- ing, we saw the alternate shaping of reality which may easily explain the way the fonts look different in the hands of wilson versus their originator. what do you think?

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04 December 2008

02 December 2008

the temporary aberration

roxy reminded me in her comment after yesterday's post that many of you probably never thought about that moment in US history when everything changed: the first baby- boomers graduated from high school, everyone started smoking dope, and you could buy posters everywhere. posters were such a big new thing that life magazine devoted a whole cover story to the subject.

i was aware of this, and wondered if there had been some technological advancement had occurred which allowed the manufacture and price of big beautiful four-color posters to be within nearly anyone's reach; i recalled that part of what began the first poster craze was, in part, just this kind of thing.

i asked the brilliant poster designer and printer, david goines, about this and i'll quote you some of his response. One thing that may have had an influence was that while most printing was done by letterpress (newspapers, magazines & books), printing of large images, especially complex ones, such as maps, and cheap ones, such as boxing posters, was done by offset lithography, which was the poor cousin of the much more expensive letterpress process.

The intermediate process of Mimeograph was used for text-only (sometimes with minimal illustration) such as school newspapers, leaflets, class handouts, but wasn't really useful for images. Ditto (spirit duplication) was useful for very small quantities of illustrated class- room handouts (grade-school teachers used it a lot).

In the early 1960s technological innovations began to make offset lithography not only competitive with mimeograph, but actually replaced it by around 1966. (more from david to come....)

Interest in Art Nouveau underwent a revival in the Seventies when reproductions of posters of Sarah Bernhardt by the Czech designer Alphonse Mucha became popular. The Art Nouveau revival is understandable in the context of the magpie approach of Pop graphic designers. Spurred on by museum exhibitions of the work of Alphonse Mucha and Aubrey Beardsley, British designers took up the style to the extent that Queen magazine was describing an ‘Art Nouveau fever’ in 1964. 1

In its brief heyday around the turn of the century, the tendrilous international style of art nouveau swept over Europe, dominating the design of everything from the Paris Metro stations to ordinary knives and forks. The inevitable reaction against it was particularly violent, and the whole movement was dismissed as a rather ludicrous, if temporary, aberration. Artists like Alphonse Mucha, if remembered at all, seemed as dated as gaslight and their work as decadent as Oscar Wilde's sun flower. But lately art nouveau has been getting a new look. Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art had a big show of it three years ago, and in London last week Alphonse Mucha was once again a big name with simultaneous shows at the Grosvenor and Jeffress Galleries and the Victoria and Albert Museum. 2

i'll be examining further these mentioned exhibitions, and the particular effects they had depending on where they were held. and there were many other regional happenstances that bear mentioning. to come. we'll look also at the wider picture of art nouveau, as well as more on posters.

david byrd is a brilliant poster artist who has worked in many media and in many styles. as we've seen, mucha's style was a prototype for many of the artists, and for some even more than that. david's web site says this one was inspired by a muybridge series, but i don't know.

check out another mucha piece, some preliminary drawings 4, and let me know what you think. even if you agree with me and find it irredeemably mucha-ish, the hand that made it is clearly also a master.

you also may be beginning to understand how many questions are involved in this one. not just the return of mucha himself, but of his many shadows too.

temporary aberration? uh... no. i just don't think so.

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01 December 2008

inna gadda da vida, baby

i've begun to wonder about the resurgence of interest in art nouveau in the 1960s; there aren't easy answers because, as it turns out, the questions aren't easy!

i had read somewhere that a collector with a huge collection of art nouveau treasures which had become all but worthless arranged for a museum exhibition, thus reviving value in what he owned. but even if i could find that reference again, which i have not, i am beginning to think it's apocryphal anyway: it's a story with as many roots as did the original movement itself, and i hope i can untangle some of them.

to give you an idea of what i mean, let's take rock posters, for a start. seeing them juxtaposed like this with those from 60 years earlier, it's almost hard to tell which are more "psychedelic," but the influence is obvious. but! what do we mean when we say influence? style? lettering? direct theft?

over the next number of posts we'll look at all of these, as well as the many others that arise. as usual, i'm learning as i go along, hoping to assimilate. i have books coming from the library, letters i've written to the artists themselves, etc. and of course rock posters is just the beginning. what about that mucha poster you had on your wall in 1969?

i think this is going to be fun.

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