Thursday, 30 August 2007

Wonders of World Engineering

While we seem to be embedded in an engineering groove this is a good time to share more evidence of the inter-war years obsession with construction and technology. These scans are from a companion part-work to the Railway Wonders of the World featured recently and share the same optimism about the power of scientific progress to produce an industrial utopia. The clarity of the images and the sense of overwhelming physical scale both make a strong impression. In America this genre was the playground of the Precisionist painters, foremost among them being Charles Sheeler whose passion for the forms and structures of electrical and mechanical engineering knew no limits. Nothing was so thrilling as the sight of giant turbines, capacitors or transformers and nobody, before or since has painted them with such almost erotic intensity.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

More Cutaways

No apologies for returning to this subject so quickly. Today’s cutaways are all the work of Leslie Ashwell Wood whose drawings were a regular feature in the Eagle comic each week throughout the 1950’s. The monochrome illustrations come from an Odhams Press book on railways (The World’s Railways and How They Work) published in 1947. This was a major commission for Ashwell Wood and included over 20 of his cutaway drawings. The production values are low, the quality of reproduction is poor but despite that it is well worth posting a generous selection for wider consumption. Above is a drawing in colour from 1959 published in the Eagle. It features an electric locomotive as employed on the Metropolitan line between Rickmansworth and Liverpool Street. These were a familiar sight to your Metroland correspondent as he travelled, with some reluctance, to a seat of learning in Watford.

As for Wood himself, Steve Holland did a brilliant, if inconclusive, piece of biographical research published on his Bear Alley blogsite. The bibliography reveals how prolific he was and it would seem a possibility that in his later years he became a self-publisher. These examples from his earlier work for Odhams gave him the opportunity to apply his talents to such diverse subjects as Grand Central Station, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and a Train Ferry, all of which were remorselessly dissected and labelled in the time honoured fashion. There will be more from this genre in future postings.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Anglo-Iranian Oil Company

Today’s car boot sale treasure is a 1953 brochure celebrating the completion of the Llandarcy Refinery in South Wales in a flourish of optimism typical of the time. A sense that science and technology can overcome all obstacles is everywhere and there are no concerns about sustainability to trouble the operators. The installation eventually closed in 1998 and it is planned that it will become the site of a new residential urban village. More detail can be read on the BP website. The cover and illustrations by Laurence Fish are reproduced here. Fish specialised in industrial subjects and produced posters for British Rail and covers for Flight magazine.

The first pair of images contrast the effort of the cloth capped proletarian on the left with the suit and overall on the right, engaged in quiet contemplation of the gleaming technological miracle before them. Stylistically the work is descriptive without being obsessively detailed in an idiom that would be familiar to readers of Fortune magazine. There is an interest in portraying technical complexity but atmospherically it all resembles a Garden City more than an industrial installation.

The second pair of images is transport related and the passage of time has lent a certain air of nostalgia to the rather brutish road tanker pictured on the right. Scammell trucks of this type have all but vanished from the roads of today although they endured for many years transporting fairground rides across the country. It must be observed that the rendering of the three cooling towers is distinctly half hearted and the hillside in the background is unconvincing. However, the illustration of an ocean going tanker on the left positively sparkles with a felicitous lightness of touch and saves the artist’s reputation.

Laurence Fish is happily still active today and an exhibition of recent paintings opens at the Priory Gallery, Broadway on September 29th. There is a useful biographical note on the gallery website.

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Bovril - Prevents that sinking feeling.

Bovril is another of those enduring Victorian products which are considered to be uniquely British. It is a beef extract that can be used as a spread or to make a hot drink. In recent years, cattle related food scares have created turbulent times for Bovril and for a while beef products were eliminated from its recipe. It is an unsophisticated product with strong associations with childhood as can be seen in the publicity.

The most iconic of all Bovril ads is the one produced by H H Harris featuring the slogan “Prevents that sinking feeling”. The pyjama clad castaway became something of a brand character and appeared in a wide range of gently humorous situations of which two can be seen here. Mawkish humour (“I hear they want more!”) and winsome children are common elements in Bovril advertising and examples of both are reproduced here. The splendidly named Septimus Scott (1879-1965), an especially prolific commercial artist of the early 20th. century was responsible for the examples below. The pairing of small child and beast was particularly favoured. Scott was an accomplished hyper-realist in his later years but in his earlier work here he borrowed from the pictorial vocabulary of Augustus John.

The finest artist to work for Bovril was the masterly Tom Purvis (1888-1959). These examples display typically muscular Purvis draughtsmanship and tightly organised compact compositions. The underlying link with health and childhood is strongly emphasised. Purvis is in my view the greatest of all British poster artists and will be the subject of a future study.

Finally two ads from the Second World War designed to appeal to patriotic instincts and associate Bovril with the war effort. Not enormously distinguished in graphic terms they nevertheless communicate an uncomplicated message to the public in an undemanding way. The drawing of the animated vegetables seems excessively crude and the spoon wielding housewife is scarcely more accomplished – only the Bovril jars have any visual presence.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Orient Line

The P & O shipping line had a long tradition of advertising its services in the pages of Illustrated London News, Country Life and Punch where there was a reasonable chance of reaching the affluent elite who could afford to travel the empire aboard their luxury liners. The image above shows contrasting styles from successive decades, the 1920’s and 1930’s. In the earlier example, Frank Mason (1875-1965), marine painter turned poster artist, has created a dazzling vision of imperial adventure. The advertisement for Orient Line is much less ornate and reflects an acquaintance with modernism in the simplified drawing style and the use of sans serif fonts.

Below are two examples of the work of Frank Newbould. Newbould (1887-1951) was a master of simplifying complex images into zones of flat colour, a style pioneered by the Beggarstaff Brothers and refined in Germany by Ludwig Hohlwein. The London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) made extensive use of his talents and his flair for good humoured, anecdotal imagery was especially effective there. Working for Orient Line he happily rebalanced his colour values to tropical and delivered some very attractive advertising.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

Imperial Advertising

The images above show contrasting views of India as an exotic visitor destination as visualised in the advertising pages of the Illustrated London News in 1935. On the left are the savage but majestic symbols of wildlife in abundance while to the right the image of the bustling city is celebrated with turbans and veils, triumphal arches and minarets all portrayed in the hot colours of our wildest tropical imaginings. The examples below are a sample of the visual treats to be discovered in the Times of India Annuals. They are a wonderful source of material on the early development of a consumer culture in a colonial context featuring advertising aimed at the indigenous population as well as the occupying power. The artwork for ‘Every Day Can Be Xmas Day’ has a beguiling handmade quality with a profusion of fonts and a jumble of upper and lower cases and comes complete with spelling errors (Greyere and Chadder cheese)! The Bright Star flashlight is clearly a vital piece of equipment for the alert Boy Scout when it comes to exposing episodes of immoral behaviour. The young lady wears no wedding ring and the young man has a lecherous air about him that does not support a reading that they are about to be rescued. There will be more from the Times of India Annuals in future postings.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

White Rock

Since 1894 the White Rock range of soft drinks has employed the services of scantily clad and decidedly suggestive “Psyche” to draw attention to their products. Over the years her appearance has evolved with the times and the changes can be seen on the White Rock website and at a White Rock Collectors site. These examples come from the 1940’s and positively leap from the pages of Life magazine when seen in the context of the editorial prudery typical of the time. The tenuous association with the values of Fine Art must have been just strong enough to insulate the advertiser from the wrath of the guardians of public morality. In the example below, “Psyche” has been co-opted into an Esquire magazine type of narrative and her dress code is restrained as she emerges from the fireplace to the astonishment of corporate man with pipe. Only the caption writer’s innuendo (“how much better one feels the next morning”) supports her risqué reputation.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

The Cutaway

The cutaway was a much used graphic device employed to take the spectator on a journey of discovery into the mysterious interiors of modern technology. For the advertiser this technique offered the chance to assume an educational role and instruct the audience and explain something of the wondrous miracle they were invited to buy. In the post-war years, a generation raised on the beautiful double page drawings of Leslie Ashwell Wood in the Eagle comic each week could be forgiven for conceiving the entire universe as a theatre for slicing, exposing and labelling.

In the 1940’s the New York Central railroad enthusiastically adopted this device for a protracted series of press advertisements of which 4 are reproduced here. These ads assumed a high level of curiosity on the part of the public and were based on a belief that a detailed knowledge of the inner workings was the key to building consumer confidence. If you wish to see just how widely the cutaway was deployed, a trip to the Visual Telling of Stories (VTS) is essential.

Monday, 13 August 2007

Swan Vestas, the Smoker’s Match

The Swan Vestas matchbox is a classic example of a design that has been subjected to a long sequence of minor amendments calculated to update without radically departing from the original. These examples come more or less at random and illustrate how the pack appeared before the war and in the 1970’s.

The ad comes from Cassell’s Magazine in 1928 and has the virtue of being simple and uncomplicated. There is a directness about it which can be seen in the work of Tom Purvis. What it lacks, sadly, is the manic exuberance which an artist of the calibre of Cappiello or Mauzan would have brought to the image of the swan.

The detail from a poster was photographed in Sheffield in about 1990 and comes from what was a rather sophisticated campaign for such a humble product featuring Hollywood stars of the Golden Age brandishing boxes of Swan Vestas. The brand name in recent years has wandered across a wider product range and can be found on cigarette papers and lighter fuel.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Cornish Stone

It is said that Cornwall has more Megalithic monuments than anywhere else on earth. A generous number of them presented their best face to the camera last week in the type of brilliant sunshine that was fast becoming a distant memory. Here are a few of the highlights in no particular order.

First up are the 19 Merry Maidens having a high old time in the sun, under what would be a perfect sky were it not for the degrading vapour trails of a succession of transatlantic jets conveying passengers from one X-ray machine to another. This is a popular location for contemplating modern man’s relationship to pre-history and there was no more than 20 seconds in which to snatch this photograph.

The Goodaver stone circle is on the heights above the valley of the River Fowey where it flows off Bodmin Moor. Existing as it does on private land, it has a wilder, more unkempt appearance than its well groomed brothers and sisters on publicly owned land. A half hour ‘open access’ climb through water logged fields and across barbed wire adds to the sense of achievement when it is finally located.

The Trethevy Quoit is a delicately balanced aggregation of massive granite slabs which effortlessly dominates its surroundings. Be prepared for an exhausting hike of almost 20 paces from the nearest car parking space on the outskirts of St. Cleer.

A short walk from the car park at the village of Minions on Bodmin Moor stand the Hurlers. Legend has it that in an earlier life they were participants in unauthorised ball games. Wild ponies crop the grass and find the stones make great itching posts. There are no less than three circles to delight the eye. To the west, two stones known as the Pipers stand as witnesses with permanently wet feet.