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Ladislav Sutnar Graphic Input

March 18, 2019

Ladislav Sutnar was born in 1897 in Plezn, Czechoslovakia. A Renaissance man, like many in his era, his activities were multidisciplinary and he studied painting at the School of Applied Arts in Prague, architecture at Charles University, and mathematics at the Czech Technical University concurrently.

This silkscreen print was published as a promotional kit for the Build the Town building block set Sutnar designed between 1940 and 1943 while living in the U.S. This print is 1 of only 2 promotional materials Ladislav produced for the modern toy design market.

Starting in 1924, Ladislav designed toys consisting of simple geometric structures of animals and puppets.

He attempted to introduce modern aesthetics into children’s toys by developing a building kit that consisted of sawtooth roofs, cones, and pieces in the colors of red, blue, and white (this remained a prototype).

The 1960s proved to be a difficult time for the designer as he turned to publishing Strip Street (1963). It was an album of 12 erotic silk-screen prints. He organized two New York gallery exhibitions of his nudes, In Pursuit of Venus (1966) and Venus: Joy-Art (1969). These works outside of his norm still included his hierarchical design approach as a father of modern information design. The term “posters without words” refers to Ladislav’s distinct poster-like design that characterizes the individual prints of this series.

His racy Strip Street compilation has relatively been forgotten. He wrote an essay to accompany these works. “In these disturbed times of cool and alienated society,” he wrote, “if the paintings can inject the feeling, the mission is accomplished.” An influence of Pop is notable despite Sutnar’s dislike of Pop and Pop Art. His paintings are reproduced today in a 392-page monograph.

Ladislav Sutnar is most notably a pioneer in the field of information design. He worked with many media including print, painting, products and interior design.

He went to school to learn how to make utensils, pots and other ceramic works. In 1923, he became the professor of design at the State School of Graphic Arts in Prague, and was later made its director. At the same time he worked as a designer at other firms too. Ladislav also did much work in exhibition design for a number of World Fairs, including the one in 1939 located in New York where he was to design the Czech pavilion. The exhibition ended up being cancelled due to the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. Still, his work brought him to America, where he began a new chapter in his life.

Ladislav transitioned from industrial designer to graphic designer during his time in the States. He responded to the chaotic nature that he saw in American graphic design, starting his influence in information design. His work brought simplicity to the complex. His personal philosophy on visual design was that it should not “sink down” to the level of public taste, but rather inspire the general public to improvement and progress. He believed designers are called to perform to their fullest capacity and should “think first, work later.”

He placed a heavy emphasis on precision and clarity in information display, and on simplifying the complex.

His style reflected this philosophy in many ways, using grids and a strict layout, as well as a limited color palette and choice of typeface. He often used geometric form to guide layout, and also asymmetrical compositions to draw visual interest. Ladislav was also greatly inspired by movements such as Modernism, Bauhaus, and De Stijl. He used vivid colors, especially with his penchant for orange. A distinguishing feature of his work is the use of punctuation symbols to organize information.

After settling in America, Ladislav became the art director at F.W. Dodge’s Sweet’s Catalog Service in 1941 until 1960. His contributions here are seen in use even today. To replace the messy design that originally characterized Sweet’s pages, he created business-friendly templates and layouts for clarity of vast amounts of information and easy consumption by the general viewer. He contributed graphic systems to several companies and manufactured items. Also among his innovations was the use of double page spreads as opposed to only single pages. He was also the one to put parentheses around the area code in the American telephone numbering system.

Ladislav’s contributions to the practice of information design are still applied to graphic design today. The components of web design and navigation today can be accredited to his methodical Modern-style graphics, which are widely borrowed and applied. His designs transformed the face of business data, organizing massive amounts of information into not only comprehendible but visually interesting displays.

Though far from a household name, Ladislav Sutnar is a giant in the history of design. A Czech American who had a prolific career in his native Czechoslovakia in the 1920s and ‘30s and subsequently in the United States. He was an innovator in graphics, product design, exhibition design, and information design—a forerunner of web design. He is particularly known for his work in typography, including the innovation of adding parentheses around area codes in phone numbers, a seemingly small change that makes long strings of digits easier to read and remember.

 

Fishink In Edinburgh Part 2

March 11, 2019

Welcome back to part two of my recent travels to Edinburgh. I was lucky to see two more exhibitions whilst here. The first features the photography of Robert Blomfield and is on at the City Art Gallery until March the 17th, the end of this week.

Robert Blomfield practised street photography across the UK from the 1950s to the 1970s, beginning in Edinburgh, where he studied medicine. He adopted an unobtrusive fly-on-the-wall approach, seeking interesting or amusing scenes in the rapidly changing post-war period. An engaging manner and healthy disrespect for authority allowed him to get close to a myriad of subjects, taking photographs that are in turn tender, bold and humorous.

A subsequent medical career meant that Blomfield’s vast collection of striking images – which carry echoes of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Vivian Maier – remained largely unseen, until a stroke forced him to put down his camera in 1999. Timed to coincide with his 80th birthday, this first large-scale display of his photographs will provide an opportunity for Blomfield to receive the recognition he rightly deserves.

The exhibition displays a selection of this stunning private archive, documenting the dramatic shifts taking place in Scotland’s urban landscape during the 1960s. It includes candid portraits and group shots, children playing amongst crumbling tenements, public gatherings, student life and evolving architecture, offering a rare opportunity to reappraise our understanding of Scottish culture at that time.

If you like Robert’s work, you may also wish to view my post about Vivian Maier.

Such a fascinating insight into life in Edinburgh in the mid sixties.

The second exhibition, I was very lucky to catch before it finished on Feb 23rd at the Scottish Gallery was Mark Hearld’s solo exhibition called “Studio Life”.

A wonderful collection of his paint and collage work.

Wonderful to see such an array of themes and sizes. Painted ceramics too.

It’s hard to appreciate the layering and texture that goes into Mark’s work without seeing it close up.

He still appears to be passionate about the birdlife he sees around him.

A friendly fox.

And a possible whippet too, Boo will be pleased.

More ceramics.

And a few close ups of details.

Great to see some of St Judes Fabrics with Mark’s designs in the exhibition too.

I felt very lucky to see Mark’s show and I always love the Scottish Gallery too, such a great space and friendly staff too.

I think my dog Boo enjoyed her first Scottish trip too. Hilltops, beaches and woodland walks, she had them all.

It was a fab time to visit with all the spring flowers in bloom too. Thank you Edinburgh, see you again soon.

Fishink In Edinburgh Part 1

March 4, 2019

We were lucky to grab a few days up in Edinburgh last week and even decided to take the dog with us!

What a beautiful city it is. This must have been, easily my tenth visit over the years and every time I’m there, I’m reminded just how much I love it’s vibe, and the buzzy cafe/art culture.

Everywhere you look there are intreaguing little details that help paint the portrait of this city.

Talking of portraits did you know that the beautiful Scottish National Portrait Gallery (which has recently been refurbished) is showing the BP Portrait Awards at the moment.

The Gallery was designed by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson as a shrine for Scotland’s heroes and heroines. It opened to the public in 1889 as the world’s first purpose-built portrait gallery.

The last few times I’ve visied Edinburgh it’s been closed, so it was great to see inside and appreciate its hidden treasures.

The portraiture prints and drawings collection consists of 20,000 prints and around 2,000 drawings and watercolours dating from the 16th century to the present day.

The print collection comprises Scottish, English and foreign sitters whereas the drawings are almost exlusively Scots.

Sculpture, painting, splendour, exhibitions, food , gifts and a bookshop…. all in one building !

It feels like your almost in a painting yourself.

Also don’t forget to drop in on the BP Portrait Awards exhibition itself.

Miriam’s portrait of her mother gained her first prize and when you see it infront of you, with it’s wonderful clarity, you can really appreciate why.

The BP Portrait Awards 2018 are open until March 10th (i.e until the end of this week) at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, hey it’s even free, so do pop in!

Two further exhibitions are featured in part two of my Edinburgh blogpost, join me on Monday to discover who they’re about.

Derek Yaniger Modern-retro styles

February 26, 2019

Contemporary illustrator Derek Yaniger is a creative guy who has a history with Cartoon Network and Marvel Comics. Nowadays however he works on his own illustration. You can head over to the wonderful Korero Press for an interview with Derek that tells you everything I would normally tell you personally. Needless to say I love his creativity.

His work explores the area of Tiki Art.

Lots of cool dudes and smart hipsters.

Cocktails for the kids, non alcoholic of course!

Musical beatniks jamming.

A few shifty characters too.

Such a great style and you can see more on his Instagram account.

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Elya Yalonetski Ceramics from another age.

February 18, 2019

Elya Yalonetski is an award winning Berlin-based artist. Her work appears to stem from another period in time, yet not one that you can easily put your finger on.

A mixture of Greek mythologies, Chagall dreamscapes with a nod to the worlds of folk myths and fantastical wonder.

I smiled as soon as I came across it. I also love how she creates such large pieces carefully balanced on such tiny points. For me this also gives her work a sense of wonder and fascination.

I can’t imagine how long each piece must take to create, such detail and fine line work, I’ve a feeling Elya must be quite a steady handed, patient ceramist.

Her photographs also are like mini stage sets, they show her work off quite beautifully.

This wonderful Edwardian couple and their tiny tattoos.

Her tower of Babel must have taken weeks with all those characters. Amazing work, don’t you agree.

Elya says:- ” I have been working with ceramics for the last 20 years, successfully combining my initial traditional education from the Abramtsevo Art school in Russia with the Baroque and Renaissance elements in my sculptures and figurines. For me ceramic is a very mystical art medium. Being very fragile it can still survive over ages and epochs. Having mostly unknown authors each ceramic piece keeps the personal aura of its creator and whole cultures are named after certain ceramic styles. With over 1000 objects sold to the collectors around the world, I hope that some thousands years later someone will be able to “read” the feelings from my artworks like I can feel them admiring the work of ancient craftsmen in some archaeological museum.”

You can see more from Elya on Facebook and purchase some of her wonderful work here.

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Michael English From Pop Art to Hyper Realism.

February 11, 2019

Michael Jeremy English was born at Bicester, Oxfordshire, on September 5 1941 and educated at boarding school before going on to Ealing School of Art, west London, where he studied under some of the leading British avant garde artists of the day.

After graduating in 1966, he embraced the hippy movement that was then starting to hit London. He painted the shop fronts of two of the most famous boutiques of the era, Hung On You and Granny Takes a Trip, both in Chelsea. With Nigel Waymouth (a partner in Granny Takes a Trip), he also produced psychedelic posters under the name Hapshash & the Coloured Coat.

Some of the posters were used to promote gigs by bands such as Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and Soft Machine.

From the beginning they both understood what each other had to offer and, in sharing their talents, they were certain that they could produce a style that was both unique and exciting. English’s talent lay in his ability to balance an unrivalled attention to detail whilst creating the most fluid designs. Waymouth brought to the work a strong imagination bursting with romantic ideas and a facility for figurative drawing. Their very strong sense of colour was also important, given the cost limitations and the strictures of the silk-screen process. At a time when the prevailing fashion was for an indiscriminate use of rainbows and any clashing colour combination, they strived for maximum colour effect without sacrificing balance and harmony. To this end they introduced numerous innovations that have since become common practice. Expensive gold and silver inks had not been used much on street posters before but they made it a regular feature of their designs. English and Waymouth also pioneered the technique of grading one colour into another on a single separation. The effects were startling, bringing an explosive vitality to the fly posters on the London streets. Nothing like it had been seen before or since. Looking at a whole block of some twenty or thirty of a single Hapshash poster was a powerful visual shock. It was not long before people began to tear some of them down in order to decorate their own walls. It was eye candy to match any psychedelic experience.

In hindsight, they now realise that what they had done was to bridge a gap between Pop Art and tagged graffiti. The posters often contained subversive elements, including sexually explicit graphics, mystical symbols and dissenting messages. They regarded each poster, whatever it was promoting, not only as an aesthetically pleasing design but also as a pro-active concept. They got away with it because the posters were so charming to look at and the contents, including the words, required closer attention than people could give at first glance. Their immediate audience was the younger generation, sympathetic to the spirit of the times but they also wanted to brighten the lives of people going about their everyday business on the grey streets of London.

In 1967 English and Waymouth released an album, Hapshash and the Coloured Coat: Featuring the Human Host and the Heavy Metal Kids.

Artist and Designer John Coulthart says : – ” This was a bitter blow coming at a time when I’ve been working on something inspired in part by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, the 1960s design duo comprised of Michael English and Nigel Waymouth. The two artists, together with associate Martin Sharp, are indelibly associated with the London psychedelic scene of the late Sixties. Whereas Sharp’s posters were often loose and dramatically bold explosions of shape and colour, the Hapshash posters were more carefully controlled in their curating of disparate elements borrowed from Art Nouveau—especially Mucha and Beardsely—comic strips, Op Art, Pop art and fantasy illustration. Their work perfectly complemented the very distinctive atmosphere of the capital’s psychedelic scene which, for a couple of hectic years, saw an explosion of new bands (or old bands in new guises) fervently engaged in a lysergic exploration of Victoriana, childhood memories and frequent silliness. UK psychedelia is generally more frivolous than its US equivalent which had the Vietnam War and civil disorder to deal with; English and Waymouth’s graphics captured the London mood.”

By the early 1970s the hippy movement was all but dead, and English ventured into other avenues. He produced limited edition prints for mass production, which sold incredibly well and in 1973 began to paint, abandoning the hyper-realism of the prints and concentrating on the dichotomy between man-made products and the natural world.

During this period he created minutely-detailed close-ups of machinery, as in Fanjet (1978); sometimes the man-made objects were treated as pollutants, as in his painting No Deposit, No Return (1979), in which a fractured Coke bottle litters a rich green background of vegetation and small stones.

In 1978 he created sets for the Ballet-Théâtre Contemporain at Sadler’s Wells.

In 1988 English made the first of several visits to the island of Praslin in the Seychelles, where the rainforests became a new inspiration for his painting. With his wife Jaki, he took photographs which were later worked up into acrylic paintings on canvas. By the end of his life he had completed about 20 of these pictures, which he viewed as the most important project of his later career.

To finance it he had produced dramatic and colourful advertising posters for some of the world’s leading companies, among them Swiss-Air, British Airways, Porsche, McDonalds and Bertolli. He also created two sets of stamps for the Royal Mail, one based on early buses and the other on old motorcycles; both sets proved highly popular with collectors.

In 1995 English was invited by the BBC to take on the role of artistic director for a projected serialisation of Mervyn Peake’s novel Gormenghast. For the first time he was working with digital imaging, and he scanned in concept paintings to build virtual sets and landscapes within which the actors would perform. The mounting costs of this complex process, however, forced the BBC to call a halt to the project.

Examples of English’s work are held by the Arts Council, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the British Council, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, which in 2000 mounted a retrospective exhibition of his work with Nigel Waymouth as Hapshash & the Coloured Coat.

He published a book about his work, 3-D Eye (1979), and The Anatomy of Illusion (1989), a short volume about airbrushing. English was still working until the last week of his life, busy with inkjet silk screen prints which feature a poem by the beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

Michael English is survived by his wife Jaki (née Abbott), whom he married in 1983.

Thanks to Bamalama Posters, the Telegraph and John Coulthart for their thoughts about Michael, that made this post possible.

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Happy Chinese New Year

February 6, 2019

Wishing all my readers a healthy and wealthy New Year of the Pig.