Source collection Hallway of the Subjective Narrative
Around 1850, commerce was quick to recognize the potentials of printed posters for advertisement. A range of products and services were popularized by artistically designed color prints. The Parisian painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1964 – 1901) was among the first artists to master the technique and create expressive, well-designed compositions of images and lettering in an artistic quality.
Avant garde artists Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse defined the developments in early 20th century western art. Their work was often inspired by vernacular culture, poster art, the popular mass culture and folkloric representation. They researched ways of creating new meaning by abstraction, altered perspective and the combination of existing images into montages, using modern reproduction techniques to multiply their art.
The French poster artist A. M. Cassandre (1901 - 1968) believed that the poster is the visual equivalent of the telegram: a compact message that should convey information as simply and efficiently as possible. He was among the first ones to design posters that were optimized for reading from moving vehicles. His works, often advertising products of technological progress and mobility, as the poster for NE-NY-TO, the Dutch industrial exhibition (1928), carry the visual characteristics of futurism and cubism.
Lucian Bernhard (1883 – 1972) was a German graphic designer, type designer, professor, interior designer, and artist during the first half of the twentieth century. He was influential in helping create the design style known as Plakatstil (Poster Style), which used reductive imagery and flat-color as well as Sachplakat (‘object poster’) which restricted the image to simply the object being advertised and the brand name. He was also known for his designs for Stiller shoes, Manoli cigarettes, and Priester matches.
In the time period when the Hitler’s party was gaining power in Germany, John Heartfield (1891 – 1968) pioneered to use visual art as a political weapon of the resistance. He created photomontages with powerful visual narratives that critiqued the Nazi rule and made anti-fascist statements
While post-war Swiss graphic design was characterized by the international style, advertisement posters by Herbert Leupin (1916 - 1999) display a special use of imagery. Described as magic realism, he combined images – the real with the fictional – to create new meaning.
Henryk Tomaszewski (1914 – 2005) is considered as the father of the Polish Poster School. In the post-war years he was asked to movie posters, but due to material shortages the traditional photographic technique was not possible. Instead, he developed narrative compositions by using collage, large, bold-colored surfaces and playful lettering. Rather than showing a scene from the film, he suggested the mood or the essence of the story.
The formative years of the Polish-French designer Roman Cieślewicz (1930 - 1996) were defined by the Polish Poster School. After a some years of working in Krakow he moved to Paris, where he set up his studio. He introduced this style to the French design scene. Cieślewicz’s work is characterized by the daring combination of information-loaded images with bold use of typography. According to him, “The idea is contained in the image, and it is the relationship between the image and the text which gives it force.”
The Danis painter, sculptor and printmaker Asger Jorn (1914-1973) was one of the key personalities of the CoBrA movement. His painting is recognizable by the use of intense brushstrokes, bright colors and powerful, abstract shapes. He believed in the importance of social participation in art, and the mobilizing role of art in society. In the 1960s he was deeply involved with the Situationist movement and, among other activist works, created posters in support of the protests of May 1968.
On May 19th 1968 art students of the occupied the workshops of the École de Beaux-Arts, Paris. Operating under the name Atelier Populaire, they used the screen-printing facilities in order to produce posters in support of the 1968 uprisings and worker’s strikes. The posters of the Atelier were reflecting the themes of the protests and tackled issues of social inequalities, poverty, unemployment etc. The posters were created anonimously and were distributed free of charge.
The artist-designer collective Grapus (1970 – 1991) carried a heritage of the Polish Poster School – through their internship at Tomasewski’s studio – and roots in social activism – through their involvement in the May 1968 movements and engagement with socialist-communist ideals. They believed that graphic design belonged to the public space. Their works intended to create a discourse: between citizens and government institutions and between form and message.
Michael Quarez (1938-) completed his training as graphic designer at the l’Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, after which he worked for a year with Tomasewski as an inter in Warsaw. The principles of the ‘Polish Poster’ are well recognizable in his work, yet his style is unique by the intuitive use of analog techniques, most characteristically painting. His posters often find their topics in his direct environment of the Paris-suburbs, tackling social issues present in the neighborhoods.
Provo was a counter-culture and resistance movement in the mid-1960s in Amsterdam. Their actions were non-violent, yet with the purpose of provoking the authorities, and by doing so, protest the unfolding social issues of post-war era. An important part of their activities was the creation of DIYstyle printed publications and posters to communicate their ideas and generate discourse. This served as an example of Dutch design-activism, and became a reference for designers to come for decades.
During the World War II Jan Bons (1918 – 2012) used his craft to fake passports and create clandestine publications. After the war he continued working as a designer, advocating freedom and democratic values as prerequisites for doing good work. His work itself breathers an air of freedom and playfulness. His designs – as in the identity of de Appel or the IDFA – are recognizable for his intuitive use of torn paper shapes.
Amsterdam-based graphic designer Anton Beeke (1940 – 2018) was involved in the Provo movement, and learned the craft as an apprentice for Jan van Toorn. He became famous for his posters for cultural institutions – among these his collaboration with the theatre collective Toneelgroep Amsterdam – in which he constructed provocative image narratives using photography and montage. According to him, a poster should stir up public opinion and generate debate.
Social activist movements of 1960s deeply influenced the work of the Dutch designer Jan van Toorn (1932 – 2020). In his diverse graphic work he developed a unique, informal style, by which he sought to facilitate a dialogue. He often worked with a collage technique where the elements stood in debate with each other and used the ‘image as a subjective narrative and interpretative element’
Gunter Rambow (1938) studied design in East-Germany, but moved to West-Germany before the Berlin Wall was built. Yet, he remained to speak up for his socialist ideals, well articulated in his work, that combines photo montage with typography in powerful, questioning images. He believed that design is a political institution, and that “individual communication can only take place when it has a socially meaningful basis. Otherwise it is just decoration and tinsel.”
The Japanese post-war era was characterized by the dismissal of nationalism, commercialization and westernization, which meant the adaptation of the neutral international style in graphic design. The then young designer Tadanori Yokoo (1936) came to question this condition of denying history and identity by his provoking posters, in which he constructed complex, confronting arguments. He combined from different visual traditions – East and West, past and present – to create a space for contemplation about supressed fears, unbearable thoughts and taboos.
Abounding with warmth, character, diversity, irrepressible charm, and wit, the work of Seymour Chwast has always been the antithesis of the Modernist aesthetic. In 1954, he co-founded the influential Push Pin Studios with fellow Cooper Union alumni Milton Glaser, Edward Sorel, and Reynold Ruffins. Their expressive approach, which explored and re-interpreted design and illustration of past eras to form an experimental and highly distinctive brand of imagery, redefined graphic communication in the 1960s and ’70s.
The Dutch squatters’ movement saw for itself the most important function of combating housing shortage and speculation. Many cultural initiatives are organized by squatters, often in squats themselves. The posters of the movement, announcing cultural events, informing the public or calling for action, have their own style and design: simple cutting work and hand-drawn imagery and lettering, mostly silkscreen printed or stencilled in one or two strong colors.
Wild Plakken is a design studio that expressly took the form of a collective; the core was formed in 1977 by Lies Ros, Rob Schröder and Frank Beekers. The designer collective had an explicit social and political mission to contribute to organizations that work for social and political progress. Wild Plakken formed a new generation of designer collectives with Hard Werken from Rotterdam and De Enschedese School from Enschede, which in the 1980s brought innovation to the designer world with an “eclectic, unconventional and experimental style.
The poster artist and collector Gielijn Escher (1945). has been interested in graphic ephemera since his childhood, when he started collecting these – orange juice labels were the first. Escher emphasizes the importance of craftmanship in graphic design: he himself works without a computer, making all elements of his posters by hand and with care - from illustration to lettering.
From 1990 to 2014, graphic designer Lex Reitsma (1958) created the visual identity for Dutch National Opera and over this period of twenty-four years he designed no fewer than 196 posters for this commissioner. The Dutch National Opera granted Rietsma considerable freedom and the well-informed opera audience had no trouble fathoming the complexity and multilayeredness of his designs.
Metahaven is a research and design studio founded by Vinca Kruk and Daniel van der Velden based in Amsterdam. From the start they wanted to undermine the dominant corporate design language and in their visuel retorics they incorporated the style of popular digital culture and its symbolism. In 2010 they made a series of posters to promote themselves in order to find commissioning by activist groups. This reinterpretation of the ‘Woonlasten’ design by Wild Plakken is one of them. But for that purpose the series proved unsuccessful: Metahaven was asked more and more by museums in the role of an exhibitor rather than as a designer.
Poland’s design community has been part of the country’s fight for true democracy for over a century, and today’s designers are showing no signs of letting up. Political poster initiative Pogotowie Graficzne (Graphic Emergency) was originally set up in 2016 in direct response to the abortion law and the resulting “Black Protests,” and has since built up an archive of designs that have engaged with the issue over the past four years.
In 2020, in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight against racism, the Stedelijk Museum was putting its words into action. The insitute commissioned the Amsterdam artist Farida Sedoc to design a poster in dialogue with the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Sedoc has developed a powerful, clear and highly distinctive visual language through which she explores themes such as the dynamics between cultural heritage, political power structures, money and globalization processes.
The 2020 Rietveld Graduation show campaign was designed by graduates Victoria Allakhverdyan, Pablo Bardinet and Maxime Selin. The concept behind it in their own words: “Our aim was to create a visual lens and capture the nature of graduating from an art school. The dreamy world of the semi-abstract landscapes that we have created is populated with adjectives that represent the various emotional states that we go through over the course of an education. Liberated, dazzled, wasted, delighted and many more. We wanted to create a campaign that evokes gentle, melancholic feelings for all the students graduating during the strange year of 2020.”