Friday, 20 January 2012

Hotel Excelsior, Berlin

This is a follow-up to a post from last March on the subject of the Anhalter Bahnhof and the Hotel Excelsior, Berlin bei Nacht. Europe’s largest station and Europe’s largest hotel were connected by a pedestrian tunnel that ran underneath Askanischer Platz. Today we have some artist’s impressions of the underground connection found in a publicity brochure from the Hotel Excelsior. The tunnel opened in 1929 and sealed the Excelsior’s reputation as the most modern hotel in Berlin. The convenience of a seamless transition from train to hotel transformed the fortunes of what had been an ailing facility. The illustrations present an exciting subterranean world in which the great and the good could insulate themselves from the great unwashed, untroubled by the need to queue for a ticket having made use of the rail ticket desk in the hotel foyer. The end came in April 1945 when Allied bombs destroyed the Excelsior – it never re-opened and was finally demolished in 1954. The fate of the tunnel is unknown – perhaps it remains intact, awaiting rediscovery at some point in the future.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Van Gogh the Salesman

Separating the work of Van Gogh from the acres of verbiage devoted to the tragic legend of unappreciated genius is no easy task. Critics, journalists and film-makers have created a romanticised and mostly invented picture of a solitary artist mentally wrestling with demons through which all Van Gogh’s drawings and paintings are filtered. This crude characterisation leaves little room for consideration of Van Gogh’s many artistic subtleties and exposes the work to popular exploitation. Advertisers have noted that Van Gogh has just about the highest level of public recognition of any artist with two key facts, the saga of the missing ear and the suicide in the fields. This trio of examples is not especially tasteless despite an attempt to comment on the artist’s self-inflicted lack of stereo hearing. Gentle parody is as far as it goes but equally, none are especially inventive in their use of the artist’s image. There’s a school of thought that any use of Fine Art imagery in advertising is a desecration but that seems excessively narrow minded given the free use that artists have made of advertising imagery over the past half-century.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Modern Wonderland with L Ashwell Wood

Today we revisit the pages of Modern Wonder magazine in 1938-39 and focus on the work of Leslie Ashwell Wood. The editors of Modern Wonder had a team of highly skilled illustrators at their disposal but nobody brought such a stunning exactitude to the cutaway drawing as the man who signed himself L Ashwell Wood. The brilliance of his graphic eviscerations made him the first choice as cover artist in 1938-39 as this selection shows. When he delved beneath the surface of everyday reality, as in the petrol station drawing the results were every bit as fascinating as his responses to the great engineering wonders of the age. A sure and certain indicator of a mid-century middle class childhood was a subscription to the high-minded Eagle comic. This was the respectable face of comics but one of its greatest features was the weekly cutaway drawing from L Ashwell Wood that formed a double spread across the centre pages. Like many of my peers I was absorbed in these infinitely detailed images while elsewhere in the town others of my contemporaries sharpened their invective skills via the scurrilous humour to be found in the pages of The Topper, Beezer, Dandy or Beano. Many of the Eagle drawings have been anthologised and republished in recent decades but the Modern Wonder drawings, the very best he ever produced, remain unpublished as yet.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Mr. Peanut in Postcards

Mr. Peanut took the fight for market share to the very heart of New York City with a dedicated store and gigantic neon sign on Broadway near Times Square. A twenty-foot likeness in neon lights greatly enhanced his powers of persuasion with the sophisticates of Manhattan’s theater district. He even caught the eye of quintessentially Parisian photographer, Brassaï, on a visit to New York in 1957. The consumer on vacation was not forgotten and easy access was offered to the delights of Mr. Peanut’s portfolio of products in another Planters emporium in Atlantic City. A conscientious brand-character never rests and Mr. P conducted himself with exemplary dignity and decorum in all his assignments as product ambassador. With his cheery disposition and raffish air he won a special place in the affections of the American public that seems to endure to the present. He has yet to become the subject of a Broadway musical or have his spindly form carved into the slopes of Mount Rushmore but it may be only a matter of time. For now, follow his progress in the upcoming Republican Primaries – he has the makings of a fine President.