by Art Chantry:
though now considered obscure, during his lifetime, frenchman raymond savignac was generally thought of by people who studied graphic design (and especially poster design) to be the very best poster artist on earth. hands down, no contest. he existed in a territory that was populated only by himself. he was the gold standard. his wit and his conceptual work (aka “ideas”) and his execution were so wonderful that you often gasped when you saw his posters. perfection doesn’t really describe how good he was.
i first noticed his work when i bought my first old GRAPHIS design annual. it was the late 1970′s and the annual was fom the mid-1950′s. it was a eurpoean annual (actually a “world” annual, since usa was included as well). the design work in it was so utterly different than what i had ever seen before. even in the 1970′s. the world of 1950′s european design was like looking at life on another planet. the technology was different, the ideas were different, the styles were different, everything was different. for me, it was like discovering life on mars.
savignac’s work stood out like a sore thumb even back then. he was a cartoon illustrator and a designer. so, naturally, he executed his ideas as cartoon illustrations in his design work. even during his heyday, his basic style was considered old school. he was working in crude line drawings for something like 50 years, never changing. his work drifted into and out of contemporary style norms over and over again. but, his stuff was so killer, that his work was applauded as it defied convention. it always WORKED.
yesterday, i wrote a little bit about saul steinberg (another nonconformist thinker). this photo is also from that same little book i quoted from in the steinberg piece. it was simply called “POSTERS”, by w. h. allner (1952, reinhold). there is a profile of savignac where he writes his thoughts about poster design in general. when i read his remarks as a young beginning designer, it blew me away. i spent the rest of my design career trying to live up to his words. i was already working solidly in his path, but he defined what it is i do to me better than anything i’ve ever found before or since. i’m just going to reproduce some of the comments here for you to read (with some editing for length). i treasure these comments by raymond savignac more than anything i’ve ever read about graphic design anywhere:
“the idea is the spice of a poster. the idea makes a poster lively, gay, tragic, unique or commonplace. whereas the form affects only the retina, the idea penetrates the mind and the heart… the solution which seems so exceedingly simple AFTER it has been thought of.
a poster is a visual scandal. one does not look at it; one sees it. the optical laws determine its form. its message must be grasped instantaneously. the man in the street must perceive what it says in a fraction of a second. it’s esthetics qualities are secondary, if not superfluous. paintings, etchings, drawings are works of art which engender tenderness and meditation. one looks at them, one appraises them, one studies them, ONE LIVES WITH THEM, to the point where one no longer sees them. one cannot live with a poster. it is esseentially ephemeral. but there are some ephemeral things which leave pleasant memories.
a poster is optimism carried to the extreme, like life with no digestive difficulties, no neuroses, no kidney disorders, no more sentimental failures…
the loud and provocative attitude of a poster and its violent nature are so exaggerated that they transcend the limits of bad taste, and actually give it a certain style. moreover, there is something even worse than bad taste, and that is GOOD taste. 900,000 people in paris (note, this was written in 1952) are stuffed with good taste. 60 bi-weekly reviews spill it in profusion; the radio blares its daily formulas. the result is a depressing monotony, a flatness of expression and language which is th opposite of character, imagination, vitality. it transforms good and decent human beings into trained monkeys. it is called FASHION. a poster is ANTI-fashion. if it is to be noticed, it needs to be designed boldly (which does not mean crudely)…
i like to think that
s process is instinctive rather than reasoned. i am convinced that any work, major or minor, artistic or scientific, must contain a large portion of the subconscious mind in order to be valid. a good poster shatters the wall just as a great actor shatters the screen. any means for achieving this goal is justified: lyricism, caprice, eroticism, tears, mystification, bribery, cynicism… anything but modesty.
a poster is to fine arts what a wrestling match is to good manners.”
’nuff said, ray.