Art and craft

A little bit of Ravilious for you on a Friday, yet another thing which I have unearthed on the bookshelves as a result of the move.

British Art BBC talks pamphlet Eric Ravilious

I particularly like the little electric transmission logos at the bottom.

Sadly there is no further Ravilious to be found inside, although there is a collection of wierd and wonderful things, including an iron age shield, an Eric Gill sculpture and Winchester Cathedral.  The artists’ tools on the cover seem positively conservative in comparison.

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Today’s lesson

Which is, don’t move house if you own lots of posters.  The picture below is the corner of my study.  There are some more Quad Royals behind the sofa too, and a ton of smaller ones scattered everywhere else.

too many posters

Most of those aren’t going to make it onto the walls in the forseeable future either.  This is a) because we’ve moved to a rented house for the moment in the hope of finding a lovely renovation project which doesn’t seem to exist at the moment and b) the walls of the aforementioned rented house are made up of equal combinations of old plaster and air, and so wouldn’t stand most of what we’d like to throw at them.  Anyone got a hotel for sale?  The corridors would be ideal for poster hanging.

Now that we’ve moved out, I was going to post some pictures  of the old house so that you could see the posters in situ without too much of my life being out there on the internet.  But when I came back to look at the photos, it seemed that the estate agent had prioritised the rooms rather than the posters.  Can’t think why.

Tom Purvis travel poster on our old walls

The one above is the only real exception, and it’s a bit out of character too, what with the poster being pre-war rather than post war.  Never mind.

A normal service should be possible from here on, with some news of poster auctions ahoy either tomorrow or Tuesday, depending on how it all goes.

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A post of a copy

Or indeed a copy of a post.  Because the post I’ve pulled from the archives today is indeed all about reproduction.  The subject came up again in the comments here recently, so I thought it might be interesting to revisit this. The eBay links no longer work, but the argument still applies, I hope.

Exhibits A and B for today’s argument come from eBay.

This is a London Transport poster by Abram Games from 1968.

Abram Games London Transport poster repro

Except it also isn’t.  Here’s the description from the listing itself.

“Sightsee London” by Abram Games 1968. This is an authentic LT poster printed by Sir Joseph Causton & Sons in 1971 for sale in the LT shop and carries the line “this is a reproduction of a poster designed for London Transport” – it is not a recent reprint.

So, I don’t want to buy it because it says all over the bottom that it’s a reprint.   An old reprint, true, almost as old as the original poster, but still a copy.

There’s another one too, a rather natty bit of swinging 60s design.

1960s London Transport poster repro

And I’m not going to buy that one either, for just the same reason.

But why should this matter?  It’s still an old poster.  Come to that, why don’t I buy a giclee print of whatever poster I fancy instead of spending time and money in pursuit of the originals?

Mr Crownfolio asked that question the other day, and I didn’t have a good answer.  If we buy posters for the good design and because they are lovely images to have around, a reprint, of any kind, shouldn’t be an issue.  I could have this Lewitt Him for £30 from Postal Heritage Prints,

Lewitt Him post early GPO vintage poster 1941

which is considerably cheaper than the amount we actually paid for an original copy.  And yet I still don’t want it.  Why is that?

There are some relatively straightforward answers, like the thrill of the chase and the bargain, and that the originals will make much better investments.  That’s all true, but there’s more at stake here than that.  And to explain it, I may have to use some theory (but don’t worry, there will be nice pictures as well along the way).

Back in 1936, the critic and writer Walter Benjamin (in an often-quoted and pleasingly short essay called ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’) argued that the original work of art had an ‘aura’ – its presence, uniqueness, history and associations.  Now this, for me, is what an original poster offers.  Its past life, its direct connection with the artist and their times, its apparent authenticity compared to a giclee print, all of these make a poster more interesting than a later copy.

F K Henrion, Post Office Savings Bank poster, 1944
F K Henrion, Post Office Savings Bank poster, 1944

Seems sensible, but it would have had Benjamin foaming at the mouth with fury.  He believed that even fine art works would lose their aura once high quality printing and photographic reproduction could make them accessible to everyone; while modern creations like films and photographs (and, by implication, posters) would have no aura at all, because there could be no original.

McKnight Kauffer, Explorers Prefer Shell, vintage poster 1934
McKnight Kauffer, Explorers Prefer Shell, 1934

And without an aura, he thought that art would have to change entirely.  Being of a Marxist persuasion, he thought that it would have to be about politics instead of reverence for the individual work.  Which is why he’d be so infuriated by my faffing about, worried about which London Transport posters are original and which are not.  Somehow (the mighty and indistructible powers of capitalism in all probability), we have managed to transfer all of our myths and beliefs about individual art works on to these reproduced, never-original copies.  Benjamin must be spitting tacks.

John Tunnard Holiday School Print 1947
John Tunnard, Holiday, School Print, 1947

The sad thing is, he came quite close to being right.  In a very British, watered-down way, ideas like the ‘School Prints’ series were an attempt to put his theories into practice.  In the late 1940s, fine and avant-garde artists including Henry Moore, Picasso and Braque created lithographs that were designed for reproduction and offered to every school in the country, making the best of modern art available to everyone who wanted it (nice article here if you want to know more).  These artworks were designed to be reproduced, in theory infinite in number, just as Benjamin would have liked them to be.  This should have been art without an aura, easily encountered on the walls of schools and hospitals rather than art galleries, in a political gesture very typical of the egalitarian post-war period.

Michael Rothenstein School Print Essex Wood Cutters, 1946
Michael Rothenstein, Essex Wood Cutters, School Print 1946

But, of course, it didn’t end up as he had hoped; we now collect them, value them, treasure them for their limited availability.  The Henry Moore is worth close on £1000.  If you can get hold of a copy of course.

The School Prints were not alone either.  The late 40s and early 1950s were a Benjamin-esque frenzy of art for all.  Lyons Tea Shops commissioned prints from modern artists between 1947 and 1955 with much the same motivation. (Like the School prints they are now valuable, collectable unique items.  There is a slew of them on offer today at the Christies auction, as mentioned a few weeks ago.)

john nash landscape with bathers lyons print 1947
John Nash, Landscape with Bathers, Lyons print, 1947

And I’ve already blogged about the way that London Transport Shell and the GPO commissioned fine artists and avant-garde designers to design their posters both before and after World War Two with some of the same motivations.  Art was no longer the preserve of the privileged, it needed to be made available to everyone in this new, modern, reproducible world.  All these prints and posters were Benjamin’s theories made flesh.

Night Mail Pat Keely vintage GPO poster
Pat Keely, Night Mail, GPO, 1939

But each and every one of these objects are now unique, collectable, valuable.  They’ve all acquired an aura.  And so I do mind whether or not I get a print, whether my poster was printed in 1968 or 1971.  I am, frankly, a lousy revolutionary.

Two other points to bear in mind.  One is that I used to work in a museum, so there are other reasons for collecting old things as well.  I’ll blog about them one day too, when I’ve articulated what on earth they are.

I also need to admit we’ve bought a couple of these reprints before now. Like this Carol Barker.

Carol Barker London for children vintage poster London Transport 1968

(I’d like to blame this on initial naivete, and some slightly dodgy eBay listings, but I think lack of attention to detail may have had something to do with it as well.  Repeat after me: I must read descriptions more carefully.)

Once again, the reprint is only a few years later than the ‘original’ but it still wrong and we’ll probably sell it on at some point.  Walter Benjamin would be very disappointed in me; I just can’t help seeing auras.

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Amidst all the chaos of moving, a pleasant surprise, in the form of this Lewitt-Him children’s book, which was discovered squashed between two bigger poster books on the shelves.

Lewitt Him Little Red Engine gets a Name cover

Now I’ve blogged about their books before, and even mentioned this in passing but I had no idea we owned a copy of it at all.  Not even Mr Crownfolio, who tends to be less surprised by these discoveries than I am, knew it was there.  It has now been put in a safer place, because it is truly delightful.

Lewitt Him Little Red Engine gets a Name illustration

I’m afraid I can only show you the single illustrations. There are also some great double-page spreads too, but unfortunately the long thin format doesn’t fit on the scanner, so you’ll just have to believe me on that one.

Lewitt Him Little Red Engine gets a Name illustration

Still, as well as those there are some smaller pictures in the text which do fit.  I am particularly fond of these sheep.

Lewitt Him Little Red Engine gets a Name illustration sheep

I used to be on the train, whizzing past that arrow.  Now I think I’m more like the sheep.

There is also an entirely accurate preview of the state of things here at Crownfolio Towers right now.

Lewitt Him Little Red Engine gets a Name illustration suitcases

The removal men arrive later today.  More news when we come out the other side.

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AP Again

As the piles of boxes grow around me, here are some more Artist Partners delights from the archives.

Today, a second helping of the AP2 Artists Partners book.  (Is it a brochure?  a catalogue?  I’m not entirely sure how to address it).

Artists Partners cover image Patrick Tilley

I ran through a few of the obvious highlights by the big names like Hans Unger, Saul Bass and Tom Eckersley last time, but there are plenty more treasures for your entertainment.

In fact, the sheer quantity of other stuff is one of the notable things about the book.  Most of what would now be seen as the big names are in the creative design section, but there are six other categories in the book, including realistic figurehumour and whimsy (section cover by Reginald Mount)

Reginald Mount AP2 artwork

fashion and sophisticationphotography ( a wonderful graphic by Heinz Kurth)

AP divider photography Hans Kurth

scraperboard, still life and industrial,

scraper board and industrial divider ap

and finally architecture, landscape and nature.

It’s a reminder, once again, how easy it is to recreate the past in terms of what we like best now.  For every classic bit of graphics, one equal and opposite bit of kitsch was created (although this is not just any old figure illustration kitsch, it’s Artist Partners kitsch by Rix).

AP tripping with dripping image

Good to know that about the dripping, too.

But that’s not to say that there aren’t some stylish things in the other categories too, such as this Christmas card for ABC Television, by Bruce Petty.

ABC christmas card AP

Or once again, Patrick Tilley, this time with a cover for a Shell almanac, filed under Humour and Whimsy.  No one would ever admit to doing whimsy any more, would they, it’s hardly cool; I think that’s rather a shame.

PAtrick Tilley for shell almanac graphics

Almost as strange as that career change are these two window displays by George Him, for De Bejenkorf  (which seems to be a department store in Amsterdam).  The first one in particular, looks almost impossibly modern.

George HIm Shop Window AP

The second is just brilliantly odd.

George Him shop window 2

More of this kind of thing please.


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Sealion is believing

Truly, everything imaginable is on eBay.  And also a few things that I really had not ever got round to imagining at all.

truly this is an unnecessary thing

I am afraid that your eyes are not deceiving you and that really is a ‘collectable’ china reproduction of a poster by Tom Eckersley.  It comes with a certificate of authenticity although sadly not a statement of the reasoning behind creating it in the first place.  What’s more they want £50 for it too.

Here’s the real thing, just to make it all a bit better.

Tom Eckersley 1950s guinness vintage poster sealion topiary

Fortunately, proper posters by Eckersley also out there on eBay too, in the shape of this 1955 design for the GPO.

Vintage GPO poster 1955 Tom Eckersley shop early post early

It’s teeny tiny (6″ x 8″) and costs £35 on a Buy It Now.  Which I would say is an entirely reasonable price, but then we did buy the first one that came up for sale a few weeks ago.  They clearly had two, lucky old them.  And now you can have one.

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