Poster Gallery


The project also generated what its founder, artist George Biddle, termed "a real spurt in the arts." Until the 1930s, posters had been painted and lettered by hand. Like sales placards, they were unimaginative, featuring just-the-facts-ma'am centered lettering. If they included a picture, it was typically an apple-cheeked woman with a paralyzed smile.

Around 1936, FAP poster artist Anthony Velonis saw that he could adapt the industrial silk-screen process - already used for printing commercial displays and banners - for high-volume, multicolor poster production. In so doing, he invented a new medium: the serigraph, later used for thousands of fine-art prints by artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol.

Velonis and his colleagues created posters with naturalistic, three-dimensional images and a distinctly modern graphic sensibility. The FAP posters had no signature style but exploited asymmetrical formats, innovative lettering, and color that ranged from subtle to eye-slapping. Since the client was the government, with no "product" to sell but information, artists could be bold. Designers did not face the sort of lengthy approval processes that often turned murals into conservative, trite tableaux. They felt free to experiment.

The New York supervisor of the Poster Division, Richard Floethe, pushed the evolution of posters further still. Having studied design with Klee and color theory with Kandinsky at the Bauhaus, Floethe was well aware of the tenets of modernism. Under his direction, artists adapted geometric abstraction, cubism and collage into high-impact designs. Velonis recalled watching abstract painter Stuart Davis work on a mural in the poster studio day after day, as colleagues like Jackson Pollock and Philip Evergood visited to talk shop. "After a while, I was not too surprised to find myself painting hard edges with colors right out of the tube," Velonis said. Taking a cue from semi-abstract paintings, poster designers began creating stylized motifs to communicate quickly and clearly. Typography was bold, original - and high-concept, as in the poster that proclaims, "John Is Not Really Dull He May Only Need His Eyes Examined" in the diminishing type of an eye-exam chart.

See America
Alexander Dux (artist)
New York
And the messages were diverse: Some posters publicized plays by famous authors like George Bernard Shaw, others such forgotten morality lessons as Spirochete - surely one of the least felicitous titles in theatrical history. (The poster promises an informative production "on man's conquest of syphilis!) The project's travel posters also represented a curious paradox. Although times were hard, the mood is as upbeat as FDR's jaunty cigarette holder. Imagery, color and typeface convey the unlimited horizons of the West. In a dramatic "See America" poster, stalagmites dwarf visitors spellbound with wonder.

Indian Art of the United States
New York
In both concept and message, the posters waved the flag. But wartime patriotism sometimes turned to racism. One poster shows a valiant American eagle bombing a Japanese snake (endowed with slanted eyes and protruding teeth). The slogan, "Salvage Scrap to Blast the Jap," urges the collection of discarded metal to convert into lethal weapons. Other posters celebrated the diversity of America's ethnic groups. "Indian Art of the United States" includes a haunting Hopewell artifact: an elongated hand that would be at home in a German expressionist painting. The artist colored the palm and fingers with a stippled effect to imply antiquity. Yet the image hints of rebirth - the hand seems to sprout shoots from below the earth.

"Posters For The People"
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Poster Gallery
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