One of the most gratifying things about the exhibit I had of my 20 Lines drawings a few years ago was the chance to have my very own art exhibit poster. I’ve always been fond of this particular subcategory of graphic design and decoration and I think Martín Vitaliti, the artist who designed my poster, did a really nice job coming up with a simple and effective layout:
At the opening of my show the gallery gave posters away to whomever wanted them and later I brought home a small roll of them to give away or sell, depending on the occasion. I like to my imagine the different ways that prints of my poster will get pinned, taped, or framed on walls around Barcelona and who knows where else.
Art posters are humble objects that are part decoration and part status marker. As we move through our lives we decorate the places we inhabit. We stick posters from art exhibits, movie posters, tourist posters; framed photos of family and friends; paintings, prints, and drawings, postcards and pictures torn out of magazines. Some of these objects are full of personal or artistic significance for someone in the household; just as often, they happen to be the right size and color to hang in a certain space until the next renovation.
When we’re kids we have our environments decorated for us by our parents, our teachers, our relatives… There is a cumulative significance of this background visual information that becomes part of our autobiography without our noticing. Think about the walls where you grew up: can you remember all the images that hung there? How many of those photos, drawings, phrases (like “Friesland is Mooi, Houen Zo!”, a nonsensical—to us—phrase on a Dutch tourism poster that my brothers and I used to enjoy reciting out loud) get lodged in our memories and how much do they guide—if not determine—our later tastes or aversions?
A few years ago I started documenting all the art posters and prints I could remember being in my house when I was growing up. One that always fascinated me (and which I have with me now in a flat file in Philadelphia) is this poster for the German contemporary art festival Documenta which was designed by the Californian artist Ed Ruscha, if my research is correct:
I remember being enthralled and creeped out by the realistically drawn ants the make up the lettering and crawl away from it towards the edge of the poster. My parents never went to a Documenta and I have no idea how this poster ended up on our wall.
Here’s another poster, one that took pride of place over our fireplace for several decades and currently hangs in the apartment of one of my brothers:
I have rarely encountered Vasarely‘s work but I did learn when I was in college that it was called Op-Art for it’s optically dazzling juxtapositions of colors. And I do feel a sort of affinity for him, these clashing geometric shapes having been such a constant feature of my visual field for so much of my life.
For a long time I’ve had a memory of a poster I grew up with which featured a block of lavender art deco typeface over this woodcut, “La Paresse,” by Felix Vallotton.
I can picture it hanging on the landing halfway up the front staircase, hiding in that discrete, shady nook of the house. However, I recently went rooting around my parents’ attic and uncovered the original poster, no longer framed, mounted on foam core, slowly fading away. To my great surprise, it was not the Vallotton print I had expected but rather a very similar composition by the French fashion illustrator Georges Lepape!
You can see why I might have conflated the two images in my mind. Ironically, while I have no particular love for Lepape’s work, Vallotton—who worked his way as a counterfeit memory into my nostalgia—has gone on to be an important visual influence on my own drawing in comics and illustration; someone I come back to often to study and imitate. This is less the case with Vasarely, but I do circle back to him from time to time, such as when I recently read Josef Albers‘ The Interaction of Color (in its excellent iPad edition, which I highly recommend) and could see how Vasarely built his works using a lot of the principles that Albers elucidates in that book. And though I would consider myself to inhabit at best the outer fringes of the contemporary art world, I was pleased to learn as an adult about the Documenta art fairs (Documenta 5 having been reportedly a rather rambunctious year) and later to find out that it was Ed Ruscha who drew that iconic poster as I feel a certain kinship with him because of his conceptual approach to art as well as his affinity for series (as in his photo portfolio, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, from 1966).
I’m not sure where my parents got most of these posters (why are two from Germany, for example?). They don’t follow contemporary art but maybe they saw these shows when they were traveling or maybe my mom bought them in a gift shop or museum store at some point, simply for their pleasing decorative qualities… (I asked her recently and she confirmed that it’s mostly for that latter reason that they bought these posters. However, it was a European art collector friend gave them the Documenta poster.)
As I entered my teens I asserted my own design and decoration sense and like a lot of kids, I wanted cool rock posters on my wall. I spotted this Jimi Hendrix poster (also from Germany—what’s up with that?!) at a shop near my grandmother’s apartment in Manhattan and hounded my mom for months until we finally went back and bought it:
All of these images are part of my autobiography. The ones I’m sharing here affected me directly but many others never caught my fancy while others escaped my notice—which is not to say that they aren’t lurking in my internal database, ready to resonate strongly with some new input. Now I see my own children growing up around the (comics-heavy) posters and prints that adorn our walls and I wonder how it will influence them—if at all—in the future.
If you happen to have ended up with one of my 20 Lines posters from the etHall gallery and have it hanging somewhere I would LOVE to have a photo of the poster in its setting, no matter how arbitrary, whether it’s nicely framed or sagging from its greasy masking tape stains. Please send me an image on my contact page.