One my great passions is poster art, as anyone who knows me is well aware. I love the combination of illustration, advertising, referential imagery, typography, and stylistic variety I see in so many posters for film, tv, bands, and events. One of the biggest downsides to being interested in poster design is that so often artists are not credited for their work- I’m often lucky if I can make out a small signature to go by, especially on older designs. With a lot of independent films turning to illustrators and fine artists for their posters, it’s even more disappointing this is so frequently happens today.
As an art form, posters have been popular in Poland since their development in France in the 1880s and 90s, whether advertising gallery exhibitions and theater performances or promoting travel to foreigners. After the region gained political independence in 1918, industrialization and the new trade market led to a barrage of advertising and product-specific posters, incorporating new styles (mainly Cubism) and techniques. After World War II, Poland came under Soviet rule, and an official “Polish Poster School” was founded to spread propaganda through poster art. (In the USSR, graphic designers were actually considered better than fine artists, because they produced useful objects, as opposed to bourgeois painting and sculpture that served no function.)
One of the earliest but most enduring posters that helped establish a new style for Cuban design is Antonio Fernández Reboiro’s 1964 poster for Hara-Kiri, which won an honorable mention at the 1965 Film Poster Exhibition in Ceylon. The multi-talented Reboiro began as an architecture and design student at the University of Havana, and moved on to become a graphic designer, film director, architect, set designer, and magazine editor. In the words of Claudio Sotolongo, his “personal signature entails what seems to be the casual association of elements of diverse origin and of different representational styles.”
Between the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the People’s Republic, China experienced a wave of social and political change that at times resulted in an identity crisis as Chinese citizens were sandwiched between centuries-old traditions and an influx of Western trade and influence. Commercial art and design of this period- especially magazine and book covers- reflect this duality, as experienced by many Chinese artists fighting for a new modern aesthetic that maintained a recognizable national flavor. Aimed at members of the growing urban middle class in the 1920s and 30s, these designs reached a greater and more diverse public than traditional painters showing their works in galleries, art schools, or private collectives.
There are few things that make me as excited as movie poster design, unsurprising since it combines my two favorite visual media into one beautiful genre. I went through graduate school hoping I could write about posters but rarely getting the opportunity, until my final semester when I took a course on Latin American art during the Cold War. I immediately seized upon the chance to research Cuban film posters, which are truly fascinating both for their surrounding context and unique visual approach.