Off-the-wall art

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MODERN TWIST Saint Joan by Saul Bass harks back to medieval times, while the armoured yet broken torso reminds one of the tragic end of Joan of Arc
MODERN TWIST Saint Joan by Saul Bass harks back to medieval times, while the armoured yet broken torso reminds one of the tragic end of Joan of Arc

Posters have been a powerful medium of expression for both popular and highbrow artists for over 150 years

From its lowly beginnings to its elevation as high art, posters have been part of our cultural landscape forever - well at least for the last 150 years. Wikipedia defines posters as "any large piece of paper which hangs from a wall or other such surface. They are a frequent tool of advertisers, propagandists, protestors and other groups trying to communicate a message."The poster, with its connections to the delightfully sordid worlds of advertising and cinema, is often dismissed as lowbrow, occupying the same slot as, say, pulp fiction vis-à-vis the poem or epic. The creation of the three-colour lithograph in Paris 1850 kick-started the development of the poster. Jules Chéret, considered the father of the industry, developed the poster into a cost-effective communication tool. His Maitres de l'Affiche (Master of the Poster) series between 1895 and 1900 was a commercial and critical success.With a poster, one could tell the populace of coming theatrical attractions, sporting events or even what is selling at the store. This jolly marriage of art and commerce attracted artists of every persuasion who needed to earn their daily bread.By the 1870s, there were poster art specialists and the sidewalks of Paris had turned into a gigantic art gallery. Theatre stars would personally choose artists to do their publicity material. Poster art came to its own with a major exhibition in Paris in 1884. By the 1890s poster art had spread throughout Europe and with artists like Henri De Toulouse Lautrec trying their hand at the art form, poster art had gained currency and legitimacy. Artists such as Eugene Grasset and Alphonse Mucha used the principles of art nouveau for their posters. There are different kinds of posters, including the propaganda posters (for recruitment), the pin-ups, comic book posters, protest posters, affirmation posters (with edifying text and scenery) and educational posters or charts.With the Lumiére brothers little invention, the moving camera, movie posters were born. The posters though printed on cheaper paper to coincide with the shorter run of the movie, were in themselves works of art. From the watercolours of the Italian masters to the pop art style of the '60s, each poster spoke of different eras in filmmaking.That consummate showman, Alfred Hitchcock, would feature himself on the poster. Stanley Kubrick worked with illustrator Philip Castle for the visual branding. In A Clockwork Orange, the modernist aesthetic of the film finds an echo in the poster.The poster is a kind a still-life of the trailer - you could either sell the mega star cast with all the actors on the poster or if it is the director you want to sell, his name would appear prominently above that of the stars. If the film has an unusual theme then that is highlighted.Roman Polanski's China Town echoes the noir elements of the hardboiled detective and the femme fatale in art nouveau style to represent the 1930s and of course lots and lots of cigarette smoke. With our star system, we usually have the stars' faces covering the whole poster - a notable exception was Sholay where the theme of embers was in the foreground with mug shots of the actors at the bottom. Even the recent The Da Vinci Code poster has a huge Mona Lisa smiling cryptically as numbers fly about revealing the code while Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou run for their lives in the corner.And before you make fun of people who are obsessive collectors of posters remember on November 15, 2005, a poster of Fritz Lang's seminal film Metropolis (1927) sold for $690,000! MINI ANTHIKAD-CHHIBBER

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