SPEAKING OF PICTURES: A VINTAGE GRAPHICS BLOG

SIGNS OF SPRING, SITTING PRETTY IN OUR COLLECTION

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Maudit Vent GBT 1914;Pierre Brissaud;9 1/2″ x 7 1/2″;A,P

The spring season means various things to many people. My most vivid childhood memory of spring in Arctic Winnipeg was racing wooden matches along the still-frozen gutters awash with mountains of melting snow. These days, however, I favor a more moderate, colorful and variegated interaction with the visitation. Still waiting for that magic in this year’s maudit (censored) spring, here we let ourselves go by virtue of snappy and arresting lithographic homages to what can be the greatest time of the year.

We start with a pochoir, now more than a hundred years old, coming to light when April in Paris was beauty itself; but it could be nippy, and windy hell for those wearing specially chosen hats. Continue reading

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PIERRE BONNARD’S GUIDE TO THE BELLE EPOQUE STREETS OF PARIS

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La Petite Blanchiseusse       Plate 42

Paris, an amazing repository of the height of sensuous excellence, tends thereby to send us to the firmament. But artist/graphic designer, Pierre Bonnard, in the portfolio titled, Bonnard Lithographe, prefers the streets to the sunsets—leading to an upshot, as I hope you’ll see, of mundane moments plunging to depths you could explore for a lifetime.

Our first glimpse is called “The Little Laundress.” Were we to go with the literal title, we’d suppose that the figure in question (seen from behind) is a youthful sprite. A close look, however, shows quite the contrary. She’s “little,” largely due to ageing and the hardness of a widow’s life (nothing chic about the blackness of her wardrobe) reduced to the bent-over exertions of restoring a freshness (to fabrics) which she will never know again. Or will she? Though she braces herself with her umbrella as she negotiates the cobble stones of a quiet side-street in the metropolis, en route to her client’s door with the perfectly laundered whites, her attitude is jaunty and her attentions go out to a little mongrel (passing by without looking her way) with whom she commiserates.   Continue reading

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FERN BISEL PEAT—A REMARKABLE AND UNSUNG DESIGNER

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We have had, for quite a while now, in our to-show-soon drawer, a little gem of vintage children’s book illustration. Now, in finally focusing on it, I realize how great a master of visual expression has been resting there, patiently waiting to be discovered.

The book is Round the Mulberry Bush (1933) and the illustrator is Fern Bisel Peat. Whereas the writer, Marion L. McNeil, has produced a rather precious and humdrum tale about a grandmother reminiscing to her two granddaughters (told by one of them, now an adult), she has, all the same, in setting up a perspective  telescoping far back in time, given an opportunity for an alert, sensitive and supremely skilled illustrator to, in a context of poignant ageing, bring to us a rich and vibrant sense of the beauties and joys of life beginning to bud.

Here we have one of the grandmother’s older sisters delighting in ironing at the playhouse their father built for them. The modelling of sister Harriet’s face and the chromatic and textural features of her clothes speak to the bracing thrill of discovery and development touching each and every generation. An unobtrusive framing in pale green catches the perky ribbons in her hair and close to her intent consciousness. Continue reading

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THE ABSORBING CITY LIFE OF PIERRE BONNARD

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plate #3

The subtitle, shown on this book cover (by Pierre Bonnard [1867-1947]) which graduated to fine-art lithograph, in 1892, runs “Ways of Decadence” [the Demi-Monde]. Though the smashing portfolio of Bonnard’s studies of Paris life covers much more than that dimension, it is the moments of far from perfect tuning which are of special interest to this posting. We love Paris not simply for its abundant prettiness but for the denizens’ so forthrightly and passionately expressing life as hugely out of control.

So we have, from the portfolio of glorious printed works–Bonnard Lithographe (Monte-Carlo, 1952)–“Reine de Joie,” the novel and the paragon, not having a good day. But her presence as trying to detach itself from a swamp of messy business (even if fairly upscale) gives us a wonderful day of truth, indeed. The color distribution is a model of classiness in the service of distress.   Continue reading

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BASQUIAT: MORE THAN MEETS THE LAZY EYE

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At the Art Gallery of Ontario these days, we come face-to-face with the puzzling phenomenon of Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988). Starting out in the 1970s as a teen-aged New York City graffiti presence in the anything-goes Lower East Side, he graduated to graphic paintings which lifted him, meteorically, to remarkable heights of fame and fortune, only to crash and die at the age of 27.

The painting shown above, rather presciently titled, “Fallen Angel,” could be approached in many ways–his Haitian roots, for instance, and the casual arrestingness of voodoo hysteria; Surrealism, for instance, and its invocation of life “more real” than common sense comportment; and, for instance again, the anguished compromise of blacks in world history. But although all of the above and others besides can be seen in the extended parade of an exceptionally inquisitive young man, I think there is about the initiative of this unlikely researcher a truly remarkable content which is well aware of the enormous difficulty of his very unusual metier.   Continue reading

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GRAPHICS TAKING US REALLY FAR! TWO GREAT CRUISES BY CANADIAN PACIFIC!

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Round the World Cruise;Empress of Scotland (1926-1927);Maurice Logan; 10¾”x18 ½” B+, P; Cover; Booklet 48 pp.;22 full page color illus.

Our focus today is upon a remarkably conceived and printed booklet promoting two Canadian Pacific cruise tours (in 1926-1927)–one for the Mediterranean (by way of the Empress of France); and the other for the whole globe (by way of the Empress of Scotland). As we peruse the splendid art work of that exceptional designer, Maurice Logan, we’ll key our remarks to the peppy and incisive text. Of the Empress of Scotland–“She has the variety and comfort and cuisine so essential to a four months’ trip. Passenger elevators connect the eight decks of the vessel, and the oil-burning engines mean that there is freedom from dirt, dust and soot, and the annoyances caused by coaling or shifting coal at ports. Of the Empress of France–“The lounge-ballroom follows a scheme designed by Sir Christopher Wren, for the Royal Apartments at Hampton Court Palace…”

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UNDER GRAND CANADIAN SKIES–VINTAGE CANADIAN TRAVEL GRAPHICS ON ONE OF OUR WALLS!

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We’ve never before been able to concentrate in this way such a wealth of graphic designs exploring one field. We’ve found, to our delight, that such a quantity, bolstered in frames, exerts much more attraction than a single item! Skimming across the installation, we’re drawn to the motif of the great outdoors and the various inventions for pleasurable exploration.

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CANADIAN PACIFIC CRUISE SHIPS VIA NORMAN WILKINSON

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Our treat today is to luxuriate with not only one zone where brilliant graphic design is a given–namely, Canadian Pacific marketing–but a second powerhouse, namely, the masterful, Norman Wilkinson (1878-1971), one of the treasures responsible for the great stature of British Rail posters (and also a brilliant watercolorist and optics genius–devising camouflage for British ships during World War I).

Wilkinson was most memorable in mustering landscape and seascape atmospheres that went to the heart of the rapturous powers of panoramic space. His commission (in the 1920s) to illustrate an extensive booklet spotlighting the Canadian Pacific fleet of ocean liners manages, within the constraints of small size and offset printing, to evoke reveries of those moments of the elements taking over which we’ve all been touched by, however briefly.

Here we have the Empress of France making its way to the Atlantic by way of the St. Lawrence River. The publication wants prospective passengers to understand that a significant percentage of the voyage from Montreal to Europe benefits from the placid waters of that river. This nocturnal moment of vintage celebration has been provided with the serenity to absorb the depths and quiet sparkle of the vast night. The craft’s signature gold smokestacks basking in moonlight emit a signal of “all is well.”   Continue reading

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MANY GRAPHIC SMILES ACROSS CANADA!

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Manitoba Calling Nov,1946;Anonymous;9 1/2″ x 6 1/4″;A,P;16pp

Enlivening the dead of winter, here comes our heat wave in the form of many Canadian graphics to warm our hearts. This excitement coincides with the unprecedented Canadian graphics gallery that launched yesterday, February 2.

Wouldn’t you know it?! Some of the most absorbing images and concepts emerge from our long-ago home, Manitoba, the heart of the Continent! Here we have the first of three instances of the graphically apt, funny and poignant radio station promotions, called Manitoba Calling. Included in this issue—over and above a glimpse, on the cover, of a world where a ten-year-old would be crucial to protecting children on the way to school from urban traffic—is a report on all the summer visitors to the CKY studio there were, from the US Midwest and the Prairies. Also included, with a muddy little photo, is a report on the T Eaton Company’s Saturday morning Good Deed Club, broadcast live from 10:30 to 11.  Continue reading

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THE MEDITATIVE ARCHITECTURE OF MARLON BLACKWELL

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St. Nicolas Eastern Church  Fayetteville, Arkansas

 

In a hive of architectural design like Toronto, you get the distinct impression that we’re blasting away from life as it was until quite recently. Sheer glass, astronomical size and eye-popping details comprise a way out rather than a way back in.

The design practice of Lafayette, Arkansas-based, Marlon Blackwell, has concluded that such an evacuation is not the best route to the future. He is (almost) as intent upon the need for change as his flashier colleagues; but his vision requires active involvement of physical and historical givens in order to display the most fertile constructions.

Shown here is a design opportunity touched by not only that interest in fusion but also touched by a less than mega-bucks market. Blackwell was approached by a Greek Orthodox church in his home base which had to make do with this less than fabulous structure while at the same time concerned about apt beauty and dignity.   Continue reading

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