The career of graphic designer, Austin Cooper (1890-1964), may be characterized as enacting how British Canadians were, less than a hundred years ago. Born in the farming village of Souris, Manitoba, he hopped over to Montreal, and then to London, right after World War I was done. From there he became one of the leading lights of British poster art in the art deco period between the wars. Wielding a palette that included streamline and surreal resources, he would maintain a typically prosaic fixation upon just doing the readily accessible job of selling a product or service. His study of poster art, titled, Making a Poster (1938; revised edition, 1945), fits, characteristically, into a “How To Do It” series.
The book doubles as: first, a listing of practical resources and strategies; and, then, a survey of brilliant posters through its (at that period, especially) rather brief history. This glowing montage in homage to horsepower, by Edward McKnight Kauffer, gains its validity from powers our author downplays. “Forget the rather depressing thought that there is little new under the sun; all those fine old color schemes that gave delight in the time of Confucius or Mahomat have been in use ever since—but they still gladden the eye.”
Cooper abandoned poster art for a shot at fine art, in 1943. But his sense of the importance of “something new” was already operative in the selections for this publication. Here the new, in the form of the New World of America (which Cooper had had to abandon, to find graphic work) is richly installed in its sprightly strangeness.
Our copy, showing some geek’s exercise right on the dust jacket. “They shout for joy. They also sing.” is the title of this cover work, possibly a London Underground ad for an Allies’ musical celebration at the end of World War II. It’s tight modernist thrust and its glowing star give us an uncanny allusion to the drama of undercover action, and the glory of subway experience.