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POSTER OF THE MONTH - January 2011

Nagauta Shamisen: Asian Performing Music Arts/ UCLA 1981
Kazumasa Nagai (hand-signed)
40" x 29"

The graphic art of Kazumasa Nagai is distinguished by its tension between entities of extreme delicacy as emitting a stark, high-pitched overtone. The work shown here, for a concert tour(initiated by UCLA) featuring traditional Japanese music, has been visually keyed to the raspy, piercing sound of the shamisen, a guitar-like instrument, used to accompany Kabuki theater. The desolately random progression of such Nagauta ("long song") presentations concentrates to a surprisingly touching quiet and buoyancy.
In accordance with this output, Nagai shows a shower of cherry blossoms falling, in a weird cluster, upon three children's-dream hills dotted with flowers. Against the blackness of the night sky we have a nebulous planet earth and a cutting cluster of sharply resonant colors.

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POSTER OF THE MONTH - February 2011

Marken Muller 1948
Niklaus Stoecklin
50" x 35 1/2"

The Swiss "object poster" is a special occasion within the history of graphic art. It derives from a traditional dedication to precision craftsmanship (eg., Swiss watches), to the point of an acute contact with the exciting pulse of a labor of love.

Our artist here, Niklaus Stoecklin, was one of the pacesetters for deploying that sensibility in poster art enticements. This vintage poster, Marken Muller, promotes the output of a print and publishing concern specifically dedicated to designing and producing postage stamps (which represent especially delicate art and craft works).

The exciting object is most unusually and dramatically introduced in the bird's beak. Its visual powers take enhancement from the expertly rendered rich color nuances and textures of the bird's body. Moreover, the wittiness of the design--entailing a Carrier Pigeon, the species of which has been rendered obsolete by the modern postal service, adds to the showing of the entity's mystique. And the bird's paying tribute to the craft adds warmth to the inanimate beauty.

At the upper lefthand corner of the poster there is inscribed an illegible name. The source of our acquiring this poster has provided us with definitive information that this work is guaranteed to be by Niklaus Stoecklin.

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Castellammare di Stabia 1948
Giuseppe Riccobaldi
39" x 25"

Giuseppe Riccobaldi's poster designs often remind one of stage and movie scenes, where the drama comes to a memorable focus. In our poster of the month we have, in the background, the volcanic and ancient Mount Vesuvius casting a quiet but ominous plume of smoke while, in the foreground, "La Regina delle acque" ("The Queen of the Waters") restores bracing libations to a troubled landscape. What with the ancient military fortification in the morning light, it is pretty clear that the promotion for a site of healing waters links the project to the recent horrors of World War II, and touchingly finds in the situation some reason for hope. The marvelous artwork on the goddess-queen seems to confirm that such beauty will find a way to freshen a stale world.

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La Cote Basque 1957
Bernard Villemot
38 3/4" x 24"

Though not specifically about Spring, this is a graphic that seems almost to personify the season. In showing off the range of sports and recreational activities to be enjoyed along France's Southern Atlantic shore, it gathers up the tests of skill in a configuration paying homage to more simple gratifications.

The eighteenth hole has been fashioned as a cylindrical (and horse friendly!) mint green valley, the graceful trees of its edges accentuating a drop toward the beach and sea. Little inlets heading toward Spain invite us to meander at will, something easier to do on a fresh Spring day than when the Southern sun is really cooking.

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Gevaert Film 1946
Donald Brun
50" x 35 1/2"

The factor of subtle wit, so prominent in Swiss posters from the golden age, is alive and well in the work shown. A young girl (generally referred to as a boy in the literature, in view of where the buttons are [but families are flexible about sharing clothes amongst their children]), clearly not a techie, is delighted with the snapshots she's just had developed at the camera shop--where she has made a vital purchase of more Gevaert film, the photographer's friend. Camerawork, being a not-so-friendly rival to illustration in the area of advertising, there would be some trepidation about singing its praises in an illustrative poster. But the vignette goes on to imply, that, for kid's stuff, snaps are OK. And for maximum impact in the business world, you can't beat a great and full color graphic. The excitements of real-time require not only coloration (unavailable in those days for easy-going camerawork) but an artist's cherishing full-bodied life.

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Vintage French poster Aurore c.1938
62 3/8" x 46"

"Inimitable." That epithet in reference to a line of women's shoes, dares to imagine footwear that goes over the top, but with patrician graces. The dream-like illustration, dominated by a gigantic pump with vertiginous lift and ocean-liner angularity, melds Art Deco and Surrealism. By audacious and savvy compositional measures, it presents a devotee lithely kneeling before the dawning of the sublime that is Aurore products, and, at the same time, a sales clerk reaching for the match to a much sought-after shopping find.
In addition to its inspired modeling, there is a great roundelay (dance) of colors completing this towering celebration of beauty.

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Vintage French poster Ariadne 1958
Oswald Voh
39" x 28"

With this witty tribute to good times, we should broach the subject of enlisting movie celebrities to enhance the powers of graphic promotions. Here we have Audrey Hepburn, not described as such, but clearly a factor. Audrey was always at her best as a breezy good time girl, and here she's wrapped up in the myth of Ariadne (the name of the gleaming cruise ship shown on perfect waters and under perfect skies). As the larger-than-life bride of Bacchus (god of wine and wild revelry), she embodies the simple, sybaritic joys of cruising and characteristically brings along some delicious goodies for the trip. The attractive little catch here is that, in her sleek good health, she eschews the excesses of her lover and, like Audrey, keeps things light with a fruit diet.

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POSTER OF THE MONTH - September 2011

Vintage travel poster Pan Am San Francisco
Hawaii Overnight c. 1938
Frank McIntosh
27" x 41"
B+, L

This glowing panorama of heaven on earth is not only a design that haunts you with its evocation of middle-of-the-road exotica, but a fascinating snippet of Depression Era sensibility.
Sure enough, there are sunny blue skies and shimmering seas, palm trees and tropical flowers, growing naturally and arranged on the leis adorning beautiful women. We even get a glimpse of old Diamond Head across the Bay. But these gestures of glorious wildness have been left along the margins, upstaged by a visual paean to easy living. First of all, there is the truly divine, Boeing 314 Pan Am Clipper, as smashing in its way as the Normandie, having touched down at and floated up to the Pan Am Hotel along the shore. Not only graceful, but assuringly massive (and thereby proof against the otherwise daunting elements), this wonder dominates the scene and sets the tone for the kind of pleasure underway. The pasty-faced newcomers are all smiles in contemplating the salubrious setting, and in interacting with a welcoming party of natives and well-tanned fellow tourists, combining window-of-opportunity retailing, music and dance routines and interesting new friendships. The subtitle, "To the Orient," implies that the sky's the limit on this route. But the enjoyment of this work largely inheres in cautious lives cautiously discovering something else.

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POSTER OF THE MONTH - October 2011

Vintage French poster Le Petit Bleu 1898
Alfred Choubrac
47" x 34"
A-, L

The risque aspect of this Belle Epoque poster involves a treasure-trove of epochal transformations. First there is the masculine "Le" in the paper's name, being edged over by the figure's feminine "La." That social and sexual boldness so effortlessly captured by one of the greats of the first generation of French poster artists, namely, Alfred Choubrac (1853-1902), extends to her being conversant with the most dazzling, high speed (like swallows) communications devices, the telegraph and the camera. Armed with these tools and her all-conquering attitude, she proudly displays page samples of the product and takes wing as a new kind of goddess, confounding all the plodding habits and insecurity of a century about to disappear.
This work is a great early display of the sexiness of being in the know and up to speed, and how this energy can be deployed to sell a product, as we see today in advertisements for computerized devices.

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POSTER OF THE MONTH - November 2011

Vintage Japanese posters Graphic Design Today 1990
Kazumasa Nagai
41" x 29"
A, P

True to his heartfelt commitment to poster art, Nagai gives us a visual infusion of the cosmic and heroic adventure entailed in reaching out to others by graphic design. The flaming black arrowhead amounts to a resort to bold, seductive kinetic weaponry in modern times, a resort to high speed results. The delicate woman carried along by that riptide ushers us into the other side of the graphic action, namely, graceful mysteries on the order of moonlight that pierces hearts for their own good.

Keeping pace with this thrilling design is superb lithographic execution.

Several Nagai posters are in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, N.Y.

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POSTER OF THE MONTH - December 2011

Vintage American Poster Freedom from Want 1943
Norman Rockwell
56" x 40"

It's only too easy to strike a patronizing tone with regard to the lithos and magazine work of Norman Rockwell. He was the visual poet of an era the prosaicness of which elicits heavy salivating from chic and progressive quarters. As such his work is already far ahead of its resentful and self-satisfied critics.

In fact, Rockwell's keynote is accentuation of the positive, and the Thanksgiving poster in view here brims with that strength. The non-diverse and questionably urban family pictured exude low-key pleasure in their companionship and material well-being. From out of the era when doctors flogged cigarettes, this vignette subtly and brilliantly traces an inter-generational linkage by cropping the figures in such a way that their poetic energies (however stilled) make an impact that cogently touches upon the uncanny struggle implicit in their accomplishments.

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