Sunday, 28 October 2012

All Hallows’ Eve

Thanks to a sheltered middle class Anglican childhood I grew up with no awareness of the pagan festival of Halloween and when it finally impinged on my consciousness I assumed it was yet another cultural treasure that crossed the Atlantic from west to east to enrich our meagre existence. Not so – as this artwork by the dashingly named Clixby Watson confirms. Just a few months after the war a toothy pumpkin was bathing these juvenile survivors in its warm glow on the cover of Good Housekeeping. Today’s ever-expanding public appetite for the iconography of supernatural forces seems to march in step with the noisy intrusion of religion into public policy. Both have their roots intertwined deep in our collective past and every generation revives and cultivates them in its own way. These examples of mid-century advertising reveal the extent to which Halloween represented a commercial opportunity for the American confectionery industry. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

Dark is the Night

The rising prosperity of the Eisenhower presidency was overshadowed by Cold War tensions and the birth of the Civil Rights movement – full employment and an ocean of tempting consumer goods brought little peace of mind to the American public. Any sense of collective well-being was persistently undermined by anxiety about the Soviet menace infiltrating the American Dream. Public exposure of un-American subversives and the rush to build nuclear shelters were typical responses. Inside the family, parental discipline was increasingly challenged by mutinous teenagers empowered by the musical spirit of Rock’n’Roll – a disturbing inter-racial marriage of Rhythm and Blues and Rockabilly. Public expressions of resistance to the temptations of the flesh supported by a decorous cult of treacly romance were in serious decline - the counter-culture may have been in its infancy but the sense of impending and profound change was very real. The pages of Saturday Evening Post supply a timeline as self-discipline disintegrates into self-indulgence. Illustrators on the fiction pages captured the neurosis and insecurity of the period portraying the victims of a rising tide of violence, under assault in their cars. They also examined the romantic character of the age by representing the rites of passage in courtship – presentation of gifts, a trip to the beach, a passionate embrace. The disposition of light and shade was borrowed from the visual conventions of Film Noir, a Forties genre that enjoyed a significant afterlife in the Fifties, and the spatial organisation of foreground and background elements was equally cinematic. Ambiguous expressions and gestures abound and disconcert. Viewing these examples outside the context of the stories they illustrate brings to mind something that Brian O’Doherty wrote about Edward Hopper’s cinematic compositions and the sense we get of having walked into a cinema halfway through the movie.