The Men Behind the Poster Boom
A single poster shop in London sold 300,000 posters last year: that's over 1,000 a day. Posters are notices, advertisements, propaganda, pretty pictures. They reflect the fashion in graphics and in ideals of the times: "Beat the breathalyser, smoke pot" hangs beside Beardsley's pornographic illustrations of Lysistrata in one book shop, while all over the poster market, Vietnam, Che Guevara, gangsters and the 1890s lay their claim to popular liberal opinion. Imported American and Polish posters advertising anything from bread to circuses have a wide appeal, and coffee-bars and offices leave their "psychedelic" posters up long after the occasion they advertise has passed. Some cinemas in Ireland still write their posters by hand, but in England and America subtle and skillful printing methods are used and experiments made with inks and paints.
|GEAR of Carnaby St. have been printing posters since 1965. Three of the directors: Ralph Bowmaker, Tom Salter (wearing a suit from Blades), and Ian Grey.|
|Christopher Logue writes and designs his own poster-poems.|
Often the psychedelic poster, is a non-poster, in that it doesn't advertise anything specific, and if it does it's message outlives the occasion it is advertising. More often than not, it is a reflection of the designers's personal interests and fantasies, the voice of his ideals, wishes, peaceable rebellion. Among all the designers who traffic in dream worlds, Mick English and Nigel Waymouth, both in their twenties, stand out. They work together and call themselves "Hapshash and the Coloured Coat", an innacurate reference to a god they found in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. They started doing posters for the now defunct club UFO and mostly now advertise pop groups. Their posters marry Hindu symbolism with art nouveau flourishes and with cunningly disguised erotica - butterflies on closer examination turn out to be genitals. The colours are delicate golds and silvers, or blazes of violent fluorescent paint. Their aim is total sensation, the total environment, with every sense engaged. Posters are only "a stepping stone towards mass visual awareness," says Nigel Waymouth. "The only intellectual thing about this is to try to get visual and consciously aesthetic values established in the street, to take it one stage further than TV, cinema and advertisements." Together, therefore they are embarking on a "total" programme. They design record sleeves, they've equipped a dark-room so that they can use photography in their designs, and they've cut a record themselves, called Following a fantasy or Nothing succeeds like sex.
Impetus for the psychedelic poster came not only from the American underground, but also from Australia. Oz, a monthly satirical magazine, moved to London from Sydney in January 1967. Since then it has issued posters inserted into it's pages, printed fold-out covers as posters, and even printed a whole issue on the back of a poster. The subject matter has ranged from a caricatured Wilson calendar to love-children offering their flowers to Tantric lovers in position 70. "We got lots of letters saying it was impossible". Martin Sharp, 26, brought up in Sydney, used to design for Oz. Now he works for it only when he feels like it, but the rarer strokes of the magazine are still usually his. He dreamed up the issue that was printed on the back of a poster, bearing the legend "Plant a Flower Child", but he also freelances as a poster-designer. His designs are crowded, detailed and witty. In the collage poster for the legislation of Marijuana Rally in Hyde Park last year, he cut out Red Indians from a 19th Century traveller's book of tales, and many innocent figures can be seen to be smoking intriguing and questionable substances. For him the attraction of posters lies in their cheapness and availability. " I think galleries are dying because they charge so much. Art is a very big business now, and people don't buy for pleasure but for investment." Martin Sharp's Bob Dylan fantasy is one of the best-selling posters in London., having topped the 10,000 mark. "That should bring in £300 to £400 in royalties, but of course I haven't seen any of it yet. It's much more than I ever got for a painting."
Shops specialising in selling posters are also opening all over the country. Managers such as Bob Borzello, 31, from Chicago who runs Hangup, and Mike Phillips, 24, of Forposters, are genuinely keen and enthusiastic about posters as art. As Bob Borzello says, "They're not just reproductions. This is a genuine Warhol, and this is a genuine Lichtenstein, because they did them as posters." Certainly the Tate agrees with him, for in its recent Lichtenstein exhibition, a huge poster advertising the artist's earlier show in Pasadena was hung alongside his canvases. But then posters have become a form of art after all.
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