Monday, 23 July 2007

Billboard Artists – All American Heroes

The bill poster/painter was the last link in the chain in the display of commercial imagery that is such a distinguishing feature of the Great American Landscape. Antonio Petruccelli’s magnificent May 1937 cover for Fortune magazine portrays the billboard artists as authentic all-American heroes. Their high altitude brushwork giving pictorial form to perfect expressions of the art of selling. It was a job with a high mortality rate but against all the odds it still survives. To read about a practitioner in New Hampshire please click here. There are also those who employ traditional skills for the purpose of subverting outdoor advertising; to read about their activities, please click here.

Stevan Dohanos was a master of American illustration and a regular on the cover of Saturday Evening Post. There is much more about him at the Alphabet of Illustrators. Dohanos had a great eye for the vernacular and in this scene from 1957 two blue-collar sons of toil refresh themselves in a break from the task of painting an ad for air-conditioning in the middle of a summer heatwave. This cover was a companion piece to one he produced in 1948 that can be seen at Curtis Publishing. The third image is a 1950 magazine ad for Schlitz – the Beer that made Milwaukee Famous. One of a long series of ads on the same theme, the joke here is that the bill poster succumbs to the power of his own advertising and takes his first step on the slippery slope to ruin. Finally, at the Prelinger Archives a splendid film (To Market, To Market) can be viewed on the subject. Part 1 is an invaluable, if long-winded guide to the “scientific” approach to outdoor advertising while Part 2 (in colour and briefer) shows the posters and their installation.

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