Thursday, 26 July 2007

On Vacation

Another period of silence can be expected as your correspondent will be following the route of the Great Western Railway to sunny Kernow. If it stops raining for long enough there may even be the opportunity for a picnic as shown in this only slightly idealised image. Even on a picnic, the table settings must be just right and follow best practice as displayed in this fine painting by Liz Bruce (who has kindly given her permission for its inclusion here).

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Celebrity Endorsement – the Hollywood Female

Today it’s the turn of the female of the species to prove that when it comes to scattering their star quality far and wide, they have nothing to learn from the men. Hollywood’s finest were as much in demand as their male counterparts and had a key role to play in promoting cigarette smoking as a respectable activity for women. Both Joan Crawford and Lucille Ball were happy to endorse rival brands to demonstrate their impartiality. Deeply contrasting personalities, it could be argued that Crawford’s expression of barely suppressed anguish could have undermined the message whilst Lucille’s cheerfully vacuous features could have been made to order. Disturbingly, in the ad for Pall Mall, Lucille bears a strong resemblance to our own much loved New Labour politician, Hazel Blears. The gloves are a nice touch when it comes to smoking Chesterfield. James Rosenquist cropped the Crawford ad for Camel for his 1964 painting, Untitled (Joan Crawford Says), now in the collection of the Museum Ludwig, Cologne.

There can be no dispute about the charms of Royal Crown Cola with stars of the calibre of Rita Hayworth and Paulette Goddard on board. A femme fatale such as Gilda would have died of thirst before she let a drop of Royal Crown Cola pass her lips and would have made an unwholesome candidate for endorsing the product. Essential then that Rita steps out of character and assumes a breezily carefree persona quite at odds with her screen roles.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Celebrity Endorsement – the Hollywood Male

The undisputed number one endorsement slut would have to be Bob Hope. Hope’s promiscuity has been expertly chronicled by Chris Mullen at his Visual Telling of Stories (VTS) website. Bing Crosby was never far behind and VTS has many entertaining examples of Bing spreading himself thin. The vast majority of Hollywood stars who lent their prestige to the advertising industry in the Forties and Fifties are no longer with us but Kirk Douglas is one who survives to this day which is as good a reason as any for including him here. This type of publicity is still enormously popular with advertisers and when hunting for celebrities they continue to fish in the same pools – the world of sport and entertainment.

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.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Marilyn Monroe

Today’s treat is a trip down the road of celebrity endorsement in the glamorous company of twentieth century icon, Marilyn Monroe. Avoiding the inducements of the tobacco industry, Monroe gave her blessing to the rather more innocuous products of Westmore Hollywood Cosmetics. Dating from 1952 and 1954, the ads are tied in to forthcoming films, “Niagara” and “River of No Return”. These are among the earlier appearances of an image that would in the future become one of the most widely appropriated in human history. In design terms they are undistinguished but they mark the transition in representation from cheerful curvaceous blonde in 1952 to amorous temptress with parted lips two years later. To explore the world of celebrity endorsement in more detail there’s no better place than the Visual Telling of Stories where Chris Mullen presides over an abundance of extraordinary imagery.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

John Falter (1910-1982)

John Falter was a famously productive American illustrator whose prime came in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Between 1943 and 1962 his work regularly appeared on the cover of Saturday Evening Post where his genre scenes of American life in the cities, small towns and suburbia reflected a familiar world to the readership without the sentimentality that Norman Rockwell brought to the scene. For a comprehensive overview of Falter, the Alphabet of Illustrators is the place to visit.

These images come from a wartime advertising campaign for Pall Mall cigarettes for which Falter supplied the illustrations. The basis of the campaign was that Pall Mall represents all that’s best in contemporary cigarette design and manufacture and that, in comparison, rival brands are positively anachronistic. Falter’s brief was to devise a series of images in which servicemen demonstrate the superiority of Pall Mall to their colleagues with a simple visual aid. From the staff car to the firing range, from the aircraft hangar to the coastal battery, the argument raged. It is, of course, an exclusively masculine universe and there lingers a faint but unmistakable homoerotic frisson about the body language on display. An ungenerous observer might wonder how they made time for the rigours of battle.

“Design, brother, modern design is plenty important!” It’s a diverting thought that the American fighting man felt passionately about standards in contemporary design and even in the heat of battle would debate the relative merits of Walter Dorwin Teague and Norman Bel Geddes. This was not the copy-writer’s finest moment especially when competitors were successfully enlisting the stars of Hollywood in support of their products and employing cruder but more effective graphic devices in which to showcase their offerings. Ever the professional, Falter brought his full repertoire of skills in handling colour and tone to the task with nothing less than complete conviction.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Meccano Magazine on the rails

This is yet another selection of cover art from Meccano Magazine (1926 – 1930), this time celebrating the world of train travel. The development of steam traction was at the forefront of technological innovation and the train operators competed ruthlessly to achieve ever higher speeds. Readers were invited to stare with wide-eyed wonder at the sight of massive locomotives being manoeuvred around vast workshops as if they were weightless. The enormous bulk of American locomotives are displayed for the admiration of the British schoolboy. Rich in detail, with lots of highly polished machined metallic surfaces to delight the eye. In keeping with the mission of the magazine, most of the images focus on what happens behind the scenes and only two make the effort to communicate the sense of speed that was such a contemporary obsession.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Now where have I seen that before?

Above is a poster produced for Swiss chocolate makers, F-L Cailler in 1934 by Swiss artist Karl Bickel (1886-1982). Very fine it is too, crisp in design and execution; not at all dated, no lingering air of nostalgia. Look at the signature he employed (enlarged in box), formed from a reversed letter K and a B and compare with the logos below for the celebrated Bluetooth specification protocol. Not a lot of difference to be seen. There is more about this logo and the dire consequences of misuse at Wikipedia.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Lipton Tea

The Lipton brand was created in the 1880’s and developed from its origin as a retailer into one of the world’s major suppliers of tea products. A reputation for colourful and innovative publicity was established by the founder, Sir Thomas Lipton who paid for thin men to parade in the streets of Glasgow carrying placards bearing the words “Going to Lipton’s”; fat men were hired to display placards that read “Coming from Lipton’s”. A few years later, Lipton was selling monster cheeses inside which a number of sovereigns and half-sovereigns were concealed. When warned by the authorities that this could endanger public health Lipton published advertisements advising customers of the perils of choking to death on gold sovereigns. (Source: “Advertising in Britain”, T R Nevett, Heinemann, 1982)

It was common for businesses founded at the high water mark of Victorian power to assume an imperial style when publicising their activities and Lipton was no exception. This group of postcards was designed to impress with the global scale of the business and enhance brand awareness by endless repetition of the trademark, the message being that even in the most distant imperial realm the name of Lipton was proudly and ubiquitously displayed. The brand continues to flourish under the ownership of Unilever but despite a dominant presence in many global markets its British activities are not very prominent, being mainly limited to canned drinks of the iced-tea variety. The tradition of inventive publicity is not yet dead. To see how Lipton has been promoting itself in Egypt recently, please click here.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

H M Brock (1875-1960)

Brock was a prolific and very competent illustrator of children’s books in the course of a long career. The University of Reading holds about 2,000 items – click here for more information. The task of illustrating a book on Early Reading was a relatively humble one for Brock but nevertheless he put a genuine effort into engaging the interest of his young readers. The normal format for reading primers was dry and pedantic so Brock’s cheerfully boisterous drawings make a refreshing change. A sly sense of humour can be detected, for example in the contrast between the industrious housewife and the idle males lounging with their feet up. The approach of the nuns on the garden path bringing their message of self denial to suburbia is a mischievous touch.

It was unusual for Brock to be describing the contemporary scene. Most of his work was classic Victorian and Edwardian fiction. Note the comic opera admiral of the fleet (Brock did a lot of work for the D’Oyley Carte company) strenuously imposing moral discipline on a courting couple whose dalliance has led to the spilling of paint. Best of all is the disembodied hand that repels the impudent paupers while an expired rat in the foreground completes the picture. Did Brock secretly identify with the victims of social inequality? His own background was prosperous and privileged but in his work he takes care not to strip the poor of their dignity. Brock employs his robust style of drawing to great effect being especially proficient in the application of supple and subtle contours.

Words float over the images, drawing our eye to the surface of the page and cancelling the pictorial space. They appear as signifiers from another language and we scan them for hidden meaning beyond mere definition. The area where word and image collide has often been fertile territory for artists like Marcel Broodthaers who browsed through many a didactic volume in search of inspiration.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Schoolboys in Trouble

More road safety cards from Lavazza in which young boys find themselves in trouble with the forces of law and order. In our first example a young man has passed a No Entry sign on his bike and a friendly constable with just a hint of effeminacy about him, gently points out the error of his ways. An air of sweet reason prevails. Only the ghostly presence of Marilyn Monroe in the red car with the implausible perspective and the sinister orange package carried in the background strike an ominous note. Our second image is altogether more disconcerting.

The changes of scale from the foreground figures at lower left set up a vortex of movement that bears down relentlessly upon the diminutive cap-wearing schoolboy attempting to manoeuvre his unwieldy handcart laden with fruit and vegetables against all the oncoming traffic. A colonial style police officer, though dwarfed by the vast bulk of the blue car alongside him, employs the full weight of his authority to stop the unfortunate child in his tracks. But is it all too late? Can the driver of the green car somehow reduce the width of his vehicle so that he can safely follow the motorcycle through what appears to be an impossibly small space? Has the driver of the red sports car allowed his attention to wander with potentially lethal consequences? Are the pedestrians on the opposite pavement correct to assume that catastrophe beckons? Was there ever any possibility that the wretched child could successfully push such a badly designed conveyance? Should his employer be answerable to the law for dispatching him on his task without adequate training and support?

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Meccano Magazine Revisited

A further selection of cover art from Meccano Magazine (1926-1929), this time celebrating the world of powered flight. These images illustrate the extent to which aerodynamics rapidly came to define the popular conception of how technology would shape the future. The airship was still a viable concept and offered the prospect of matching the scale of ocean liners in the open skies. Aviation presented opportunities for the illustrators to exercise the imagination and devise some innovative and original ideas. The tail-less aeroplane and the airship as aeroplane carrier represent excursions into an exciting and dynamic future. The conquest of the air changed for ever the artist’s visualisation of the earth’s surface and it is fascinating to see this process at an early stage in these examples.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Eric Fraser (1902-1983)

It has been observed that the content of this space has been excessively frivolous and ephemeral of late and that it is high time that some more elevated material be served up. Which brings us to the art and illustration of the great Eric Fraser. A man of true seriousness of purpose, Fraser created a vast body of work over a period of 60 years of commercial and editorial illustration. A model of diligence and dedication to his craft, nobody could accuse him of lacking gravitas. This is a small selection of his late work for Radio Times, the publication with which he was associated for 55 years. The image above shows just how expert he was at uniting disparate elements into a tightly structured composition. Images of urban industry and rural bliss are contrasted to illustrate the unifying influence of the BBC. Line and stipple are deployed with equal precision to enhance the narrative.

This was almost certainly Fraser’s last cover for Radio Times in March 1981 produced at the age of 79. He rises to the challenge of “Lord of the Rings” with a feast of rhythmic surface agitation and a sombre palette. Fantasy and mythology were always an inspiration to him. Below are 2 more examples from Radio Times that are not seen at their best due to the practice of printing the magazine on uniquely awful newsprint at a time when virtually everything else was on coated paper. Fraser’s skills were especially valued for providing visual form for radio drama. Classical and costume subjects were among his favourites. Also on view here is a passion for the power of profile and masterly manipulation of contrasting linear rhythms in the creation of form. Eric Fraser was one of the very best of a talented generation and there will be more to come in the future.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Meccano Magazine

This is a small selection of cover art from Meccano Magazine (1925 – 1930) celebrating the world of heavy engineering. Aimed squarely at a schoolboy audience with a keen appetite for images of heavy lifting, tunnelling, bridging and constructing in steel, the underlying purpose was to generate interest in the engineering and model making sets made by the Meccano company. These activities had a certain glamour about them that today is almost completely absent. The visual conventions include a preference for large areas of flat colour as employed by the poster artists of the LNER (London & North Eastern Railway), most notably, the great Tom Purvis. Yellow and orange skies are typical Purvis devices. The images probably began life as photographs before the retouch artists applied their skills with a veneer of high intensity colour values.

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Jetstream UK

The North Atlantic jetstream has repositioned itself for a summer break over the British Isles which is good news for all those (mostly cod) who inhabit the area between Northern Scotland and Iceland where it’s usually found. In effect it serves as an atmospheric super highway for the speedy delivery of an almost unbroken sequence of depressions and rain fronts. Which is why this space is presently sheltering under the umbrellas of Gustave Caillebotte’s monumental “Temps de pluie”. There are some compensations and best of all are some of the dramatic cloudscapes to be seen as vast masses of turbulent air collide in spectacular fashion. There is rarely a camera to hand when these events occur but on Sunday evening at about 9.15pm I was in just the right place to take these photographs from our garden overlooking Lyme Bay in East Devon.

Monday, 9 July 2007

Weldon’s Fancy Dress

First, a short history lesson. The concept of “designer clothing” has always been intriguing. Attaching labels of ever greater prominence to items of little intrinsic merit was the first step in persuading consumers to transform themselves into mobile advertising at their own expense. To then charge a premium for the privilege was even better business. This marketing strategy seemed to enter the mainstream in the late Seventies since when it has met with little in the way of consumer resistance.

In the years before World War 2 advertisers and brand managers pioneered this concept by enticing consumers into fancy dress so they could party, dressed up as their favourite brand character. These pages come from Weldon’s Fancy Dress and feature many other more traditional historical and fictional characters to tempt their audience but the real fun is to be found in the contemporary costumes. Not only the brand characters but also the Traffic Signal, the Golf Bag and Slave Girl.

Opportunities for men were limited to either the sinister Futurism of Marconi Man or the constipated foppery of the Aristocrat of Marmalades. But the girls were spoilt for choice with the assertive jauntiness of the Odol Girl, the pastel toned femininity of Macleans Toothpaste and the bucolic Ovaltine Girl (for a Good Night) all competing for adoption. Plus, a once in a lifetime chance to go partying with a cucumber on the head, all in the name of Heinz and its 57 varieties. The manufacturers paid for advertising space to reinforce their brand values but also to market patterns to the public to help with making their costumes. It all seems like a throwback to a kinder, gentler era of marketing but in there was the germ of an idea which in the future would earn squillions.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

A Dark Secret

To follow up yesterday’s item about Ian Allan ABC books, here’s an excellent example of the kind of rough treatment which collectors find so off-putting. This scruffy relic is, I must admit, all my own work. Carefully underlined with ruler and fountain pen and annotated in code to record where each loco was first sighted. In appearance it is oddly reminiscent of prison cell walls where generations of inmates have recorded the infinitesimally slow progress of time incarcerated. As for the locomotives, almost all were destroyed by the end of the 1960’s as the nation’s railways were routinely convulsed, first by a ruthless programme of line closures and then by a single minded crusade to eliminate steam power in favour of diesel traction.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Ian Allan ABC books

There’s a confessional tone to today’s posting. I’ve long been acquainted with these books thanks to a childhood passion for railways that has never really gone away. Collectors pay very large sums of money to get their hands on unmarked examples free from the disfiguring underlining and annotations more usually found. A single mark annihilates the value by at least 90%. Very few buyers shelved their books in pristine condition; most stuffed them into backpacks, alongside their cheese and Marmite sandwiches, as they patrolled smoke filled urban wastelands in search of ever more elusive locomotives to record.

These books have a long history. First published in days of paper rationing in the Second World War, they survive to the present day, albeit in much modified form. They were produced to cater to the then fashionable pastime of trainspotting, decades before it became an indicator of social inadequacy. Masses of technical data and long lists of locomotives were compressed between card covers and updated with new editions every 6 months. Despite selling to a captive audience, the covers maintained an unusually high quality of design.

The earliest examples reflect a liking for streamlined stylisation and exuberant letterforms. These items from my collection come from the 1940’s and 1950’s and show how the style evolved in favour of ever greater descriptive accuracy. It has not been possible to tell if they are the work of more than one person but some of the later examples bear a neat signature, A N Wolstenholme, sometimes abbreviated to ANW. The original drawings appear to have been executed on scraper board, a very popular graphic medium of the time. The drawings of ANW can be found in other Ian Allan publications of the time and all share a sure touch and crispness of execution.