The Criterion Collection, technical perfecter of some of the world’s great historical and contemporary films, recently released two works by French director, Louis Malle. The reinvented, illustrated covers that adorn Black Moon (1975) and Zazie dans le Métro (1960) were created by Yann Legendre. Criterion has not only continued to repackage these films with meticulous care regarding additional content and visual refinement, but they have also purposefully embraced graphic design as a way to add value for the consumers. Legendre’s fresh approach to image-making and typography help make these old films a new experience.
Two things we really enjoy doing when the weather finally turns warm in Chicago: grilling up some spring vegetables in the style of Provence for a backyard picnic, and designing the next Fall French Market poster for Lycée Français de Chicago. This year, Yann had several great ideas on the board to follow up his work over the past three seasons, and the dish he ultimately served up is a dandy. Two things you’ll need to do this summer: check back soon at the blog to find out how you can get your own 2011 poster, and make plans to attend the Fall French Market.
Joe Swanberg’s latest film, an effort to illuminate the private sexual lives of Chicago urbanites, co-directed with Adam Wingard, again relies on the provocative but playful illustrations of Yann Legendre to create a poster packing some visual punch. The fourth Swanberg/Legendre collaboration, Autoerotic follows work on the films Uncle Kent, Caitlin Plays Herself, and Silver Bullets, the film for which Legendre was recently awarded the SXSW prize for best film poster.
IFC Films should be congratulated for embracing a visual treatment for the film that is true to its content. The poster for the film, which was not approved for use on Apple’s iTunes store, is displayed prominently on the IFC website.
We’re on the verge of opening the 2nd Chicago International Poster Biennial—an initiative we have shepherded since 2007—at Harrington College of Design on July 14th. While we are absorbed in the many details of putting on a major exhibition and event, it seems appropriate to reflect on why posters are important to us, especially since they are, in fact, a very small portion of the work we do for clients.
The text from the introduction of the Biennial exhibition catalog speaks pretty well to the importance we place on posters in our work as artists and designers. Excerpted from “Letter From the President, Lance Rutter” in The Second Edition: Chicago International Poster Biennial.
With one word, define a poster.
Propoganda. Passion. Challenge. Chirping. Metaphor. Mechanism. Aphorism. Seduction. Dialogue. Monologue. Satire. Siren. Irony. Inspiration. Advertising. Protest. Window. Mirror. Love. Hate. Trash. Collectible. Ephemeron. Masterpiece. Placeholder. Plea. Icon. Eye-candy. Weapon. Battle. Signal. Pledge. Gift. Defiance. Obsession. Any of these will do.
Time, as Einstein and others have said, is relative. The same holds true for posters. What defines them is not nearly as much the ink and paper forming the message, but the circumstance of their time and place in the world. At a singular point in time, from a particular human perspective, within the right cultural conditions, any singular word above could serve as the central definition of a given poster. So on the day that the 2nd Chicago International Poster Biennial exhibition opens at the Harrington College of Design, that word which best defines a poster, for me, is that it is a “lesson.”
Students of design, take heed. If you learn to wield the power of a poster, no method of communication that man will ever devise will be beyond your ability to grasp and master. Do not fear the next Internet, the next smart phone, tablet, or the next device of any kind. Learn to make a great poster, and you will have learned to speak a universal and timeless language, based on meeting human needs and desires. Take your first lesson from viewing the posters within the cover of this book—posters from all over the world, created by a hundred artists who have each demonstrated a unique passion and purpose in their work. Learn to create amazing posters, and you will have learned to move people, who can, in turn, move mountains.
Fresh Ink, a series of product creations by Legendre+Rutter for the super-cool, contemporary retailer, CB2, explores the reinvention of the printed artifact, transforming functional communication pieces into a form of visual poetry for your home. For Fall, CB2 is presenting five original works by L+R, now available online. The products include Legendre posters Niki de Saint Phalle and The Birdman, a duvet and pillow case set inspired by a poster for the musician Richard Pinhas, a clock from the same series, and a rug that recreates Rutter’s poster for Les Liaisons Dangereuses. CB2 has made a blog post about the rug that provides some detail and very interesting photos that describe the manufacturing process. Made by hand, each rug takes 2 days to make.
Two of the newest anthologies from Inculte Publishing treat readers to the clever and provocative visual metaphors of Yann Legendre. While he has designed covers for countless Inculte titles over the years, these books, “The Art of the Insult” by Elsa Delachair and “The Food of Writers” by Mathias Enard and Johan Faerber, are filled from front to back with Legendre’s playful pen illustrations. Find out more about these and other Legendre-designed books (in French) and how to order at inculte.fr.
On November 20, I was asked to make a presentation at the 8th annual version of Seek, a student design conference held at Northern Illinois University. Regardless of whatever theme might be applied to such a conference, what trends might be emerging within the design industry, or what collection of professionals may appear on stage, students always “seek” answers to a very specific set of questions that impact the focus of their study and their ability to get a job. The questions are well known. Answers are well rehearsed. But what they also look for—without specifically asking—is to be inspired, energized… to feel like they made the right choice and are eager to charge directly across campus to their studio to start working. Well, I told them that I saw one way for all of us to ignite the flame and stay inspired.
My friend, Joseph Michael Essex, and others in design are known to proclaim that “design is a verb.” This infers that design is not a product, artifact, or solution, but a process for getting to the ultimate solution or product. They are perfectly correct. Design is a verb. My contention is that if design is a verb, then “art” is the subject, the noun, that completes any sentence that describes the value design brings to the “applied arts.” To be and remain inspired, designers need to not only hold onto their ability to create art (the thing that their parents identified in them as youngsters putting crayon to construction paper), but to celebrate and revere the work of the fine artists of the world. The ones who use their talents to communicate with their fellow human beings, many times with no other purpose than to bring joy. Work to “apply” the thinking of a fine artist, and “your work will always be authentic,” I said. Not innovative, not different, not trendy… authentic. A joy to behold and experience.
My first example of celebrating the ideas of the fine artist was a short film about the making of a recent Lexus television commercial.
In the ad (a prime example of an applied art discipline), a Lexus IS drives along a prescribed path and touches a series of actuators that play drums and cymbals. The resulting drum “track” is presented as proof of the car’s amazing precision. “The basic idea is, the car’s playing the drums,” the director says. Another on the set states that “the math… was the biggest struggle.” The math was so important to the ad, in fact, that the film team included a PhD in mathematics. But while the ad makers may believe that figuring out the math necessary to play a total of five seconds worth of simple drum beats was the biggest struggle in their creation, my contention is that the initial inspiration—the idea itself—was the biggest (and most important) struggle. And here it is:
If I were to have made a judgment regarding the ethics of repurposing Michel Lauzière’s idea in a Lexus ad, I wouldn’t have been serving the students at the conference or my intent in advocating “art, applied.” Besides, I could have pulled out 100 examples of this type of “sourcing.” Remember the AT&T ad that directly rips off the work of Christo and Jean-Claude in making their ad that talks about “coverage,” using orange fabric draped over structures and landscapes?
In this case, the televised ad ultimately displayed a text disclaimer at the end proclaiming “the artists Christo and Jean-Claude [had nothing to do with the ad].” That immediately meant two things to me: AT&T admitted where the idea came from and the artists were not compensated for the idea. OK. That’s the way the world works these days. Light-speed information flow gives us all the ability to find inspiration from any time and any place and apply it in almost any way.
There’s a whole lot of gray area when it comes to originality. Some believe everything has been done. Everything in art is a progression of steps, one idea building upon another. While “everything” is a serious word, this may very well be true. Even so, there’s one very important thing we can and should do to respect artists whose inspiration we interpret and use (apply). We should be authentic. By this, I mean use their inspiration as a spring board. Add your own experiences, opinions, knowledge, skills, etc. in a way that makes a modified idea relevant and meaningful—and inspiring in its own way. Make it authentic.
I provided the students at Seek with a few examples of my own work, citing the inspiration and describing my attempt to make the art relevant for my own application.
In 2006, I was in an art gallery on the campus of MSU in East Lansing, and I saw a kinetic sculpture very similar to the work of Harry Bertoia. It was a series of metal rods arranged on a gridded base which, when bundled together and then released, flexed and swayed and interacted with each other, creating an undulating musical sound. It was mesmerizing. Weeks later, while working on a website project for CUH2A, an architecture and engineering firm in Princeton, I found a way to apply this inspiration in a relevant way. In order to express the connective nature of web content, of landscape and architecture, man and designed spaces, I decided to create a “kinetic” web interface. As the user passes over nodes of content, connections are made to related content while the interface plays musical chords comprised of the tones associated with each content item. While not completely original, my creation was authentic, the design process used was sound, and ultimately, the website was a success.
While working on a craft project with my 5 and 7 year-old boys (feathered Mardi Gras masks for a school performance), one of them mentioned how funny it would be seeing a cat wearing a bird mask. He was right. This would be funny… and scary, I thought, especially for the bird who was fooled by this “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” This idea came immediately to mind again when the opportunity arose to make a poster about a stage performance of Dangerous Liaisons. I visualized Glenn Close, the leading actress in the film version, as a huge pink cat, luring unsuspecting, fragile, and innocent birds into her trap.
The result was a silkscreened poster, using pink, white, and gold inks on red paper to create the image. Since the printing of the poster, other applications of this art have been made, including a rug for CB2 stores. The art is an authentic translation of an idea that came from a 5 year-old. I respect and celebrate the creative source, and continue to search out this kind of inspiration daily.
As graphic designers, we think of design as a verb. But before using our design methodology to apply solutions, we mustn’t forget the noun that inspires and makes solutions authentic. We can’t forget the art.