Monday, 26 May 2008

Brigade Venceremos - Reboiro 1969

This is a very rare poster designed by Antonio Reboiro in 1969 to promote the Brigade Venceremos in the US. The Brigade Venceremos - "young Americans sharing the life and work of revolutionary Cuba" - was part of the Cuban effort to find sources of labour. Reboiro designed this poster to look like an American hippie poster. He succeeded in capturing the psychedelic style but again this is typically Cuban. This poster was produced in very small numbers to be distributed in the USA. Venceremos means "we will be victorious".
venceremos brigade antonio reboiro 1969

Monday, 19 May 2008

Solidarity with Africa - Forjans 1969

Another African statue by Jesus Forjans for OSPAAAL. This striking image of powerful traditional warrior is set against a background of modern weapons. Another dramatic OSPAAAL poster and typical of the late 1960s as Cuban artists moved away from photography based posters to a vibrant and very confident style.
cuban poster ospaaal solidarity with africa

Solidarity with Zimbabwe - Forjans 1973

This is a great image and a nice mixture of the traditional and the modern. Here Jesus Forjans' african statue is equipped with an AK47, the symbol of revolutionary freedom, set against the OSPAAAL logo. At its best, Cuban poster art uses some of the simplest ideas to create some of the most striking designs. This is economic in its message but very powerful. The statue represents the power and tradition of the Zimbabwean people in the struggle for independence from Great Britain.
ospaaal solidarity with Zimbabwe

Nixon in Vietnam - Mederos 1971

René Mederos has combined playful graphics, photo montage and an element of surrealism to create this sinister, dramatic image of Nixon as a bird of prey ripping the heart out of North Vietnam and Laos. The bird has the look of a Nazi-era eagle.
ospaaal poster rene mederos

Go American GI - Rostgaard 1971

Mad pop art stylings from Alfredo Rostgaard make this poster one of my favourites. His crazy use of cartoon graphics and colour bely the seriousness of the message. The monstrous American GI is controlled by the capitalist. 1971 is the mid-point of the Vietnam war and a time when the American war machine was in overdrive. Massive spending and major escalation was becoming less focused and more desperate. I have included detail of the face below. As you can see, this poster has heavy creasing.
ospaaal american gi rostgaard cuba poster

ospaaal american gi rostgaard cuba poster

Monday, 12 May 2008

El Salvador - Luisvega 1973

The film El Salvador (The Saviour or Le Sauveur) is French, set in 1943 and features a young girl who harbours a foreign solder who she thinks is English. On being captured by the Nazis she discovers that the soldier is actually German. The film plays out the corruption of innocence against a backdrop of World War II. The half tone head and bright halo are nice touches of colour in this otherwise stark black poster.
cuban poster icaic el salvador

Primero Dejar de Ser - Mederos 1968

This is a text only poster by artist Rene Mederos. Although stylistically this is very simple it still manages to look good. Translation: Better not to be, than not to be revolutionary.
cuba poster

Mas Revolucion

Mas Revolucion (More Revolution) is a text only poster proclaiming war on a variety of imperialist traits - vice, egoism, exploitation, individualism, etc. Compared to a lot of Cuban posters this is very restrained but it still makes great use of scrapbook style cartoon font - once again a playful and fun style for a serious message.

I don't know the date, the agency that issued this or the artist. I suspect Bachs but similar font style turns up in posters by a number of artists.
cuba poster revolution cuban bachs

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Interview with Reese Erlich

Reese Erlich is an independent journalist, reporter and radio producer. For four decades he has documented world politics and events from a liberal perspective. He is a jazz enthusiast, former University of California at Berkeley (where he was suspended for organising anti-Vietnam War demonstrations) student and an outspoken member of the San Francisco counter-culture movement of the 1960s. His books include Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You (co-authored with Normon Solomon) and The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and The Middle East Crisis. He has travelled extensively in Cuba and has written about and reported on the country's political and social situation.

I first came across his name in Ramparts Magazine's feature on Cuban posters. The magazine, published in 1968, contains the first mention of Cuban posters outside Cuba and the article features some great designs. Although the article is by Dugald Stermer, who was art director at the time and would go on to write the classic book on Cuban posters, a footnote mentions that the posters are from the collection of Reese Erlich. I asked him how he came by the posters:

"In 1968, at 21, I travelled to Cuba as a reporter for Ramparts magazine, with a group of students to experience the country. At the time the embargo prevented travel directly from the US to Cuba so we had to fly to Mexico City then on to Havana. In Cuba, I saw these incredible posters all over the place promoting solidarity, movies, plays and cultural events."

Hailing from San Francisco Reese was impressed by the Cuban's appropriation of artistic styles. "They had it all going on. Pop art, op art. They were using so many artistic styles, some of it like the Fillmore and Avalon posters that I saw at home." The Cuban government used the poster, and public art generally, as the primary medium for conveying the message of the revolution. "I was impressed at how beautiful and funky the art was, and how different to political graphics from the Soviet Union and other [socialist] countries."

Havana 1970

Havana 1970

Public art in Cuba mixed socialist ideology with funky graphics. Two images from 1970 and 1971 showing examples of political graphics in Havana.

During the trip Reese visited the poster workshops of the ICAIC and OSPAAAL and although his memory of the trip is hazy he remembers the atmosphere. "They were staffed by enthusiastic people in their 20s, very busy and with a real sense of purpose." He also encountered in the young revolutionaries an interest in the US. "Where I was asking them all about the politics of Cuba they were very keen for me to tell them about the situation in the US."

Havana 1968

A 1966 speech by Fidel in Plaza de la Revolution in Havana. Note the Soviet style graphics which were soon to be replaced by a distinctly Cuban style.

In 1968 Cuba's revolution was nine years old. Major changes had taken place and the country was becoming reliant on Soviet support. Reese was a fan of the country: "I had a very romantic view of Cuba. Even though I was only 21 I had a world view. Here was a country that had actually had a revolution. And it was a cool revolution." Although the revolution had made big claims and Fidel was in the midst of a drive for a record sugar harvest Reese noticed a number of problems in Cuba. "There were shortages even then. The stores had very little for sale and if you went to buy something and it wasn't in the store you did what the Cubans did and came back tomorrow."

Havana 1968

A 1968 parade in Cuba shows the revolution's typically fun use of images. Note the massive political mural in the background.

Reese collected a number of posters direct from the workshops before returning to the US. He showed his boss at Ramparts magazine Dugald Stermer who was impressed at the quality of the posters and put the article together. A year later in 1969 Dugald Stermer and Susan Sontag wrote the classic Art of Revolution which featured 96 of Cuba's best posters. I spoke to Stermer some time ago and he told me that he left the posters that were used for the book with the book's publishers, from where they have disappeared. Luckily Reese still owns the posters he collected. "In the past I have had them on my walls in my apartment but now they are in a portfolio. Maybe it's time to get them out and look at them again."

Havana 1968

Havana 1968

Layouts from Ramparts magazine featuring Reese's collection.

Reese Erlich is now researching and writing his next book, Dateline Havana, which looks at his 40 years of reporting from Cuba. It will be published in the U.S. in January 2009.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

OSPAAAL - The Art of Solidarity

OSPAAAL The Art of Solidarity is my research bible. It lists every OSPAAAL poster, many of them in colour, by year and with details of the artists where they are known. The book was published in Italy with help from Dan Walsh and Lincoln Cushing of the Cuba Poster Project and assistance from the Havana National Library and Editora Politica. A vital book, a great reference tool, and a collection of beautiful images. A classic book for Cuban posters.
1969 ospaaal solidarity book posters cuban poster

1969 ospaaal book cuban poster

Alfredo Rostgaard - Wikipedia

I wrote a short bio on Alfredo Rostgaard, a key Cuban poster artist, for Wikipedia. Here's the original text which I'll try to improve once I have more time.

Alfredo Rostgaard is a Cuban graphic designer and artist. He is one of the leading designers of revolutionary Cuban film and political posters through his work for the Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográfico, Organisation for Solidarity with the People of Africa, Asia and Latin America, Casa de las Americas, Comisión de Orientación Revolucionaria and other Cuban agencies. Rostgaard's work has been exhibited worldwide and he has received a number of awards and recognition for his designs. Referencing pop art and psychedelic poster art, Rostgaard's work also includes figurative painting and Warhol-esq commercial graphics. The majority of his designs are playful and fun, a product of the artist's ability to incorporate a sense of humour into sometimes very serious subjects. He is one of the most prolific of the revolutionary designers that contributed to Cuba's massive output of posters during the mid 60s to mid 70s. Born in Guantanamo in 1943 Rostgaard studied at the Jose Joaquin Tejada school of art in Santiago de Cuba. In 1963 he was appointed artistic director of Mella, the magazine of the union of young communists. He also acted as caricaturist for the magazine where he learnt to mix humour and politics. After arriving in Havana in 1965 he began designing posters for the ICAIC and became artistic director of OSPAAAL in 1966 where he resided for nine years. From 1975 he worked for UNIAC, the Union of Cuban Artists. As well as posters he has also designed book and magazine covers and layouts. Rostgaard's work has been widely exhibited and he has won a number of awards for his designs. Rostgaard died in Havana on December 27 2004.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Solidarity with Japan - Menéndez 1969

Here's a great design for OSPAAAL from Guillermo Mendéndez for a poster for the day of solidarity with the Japanese people. It's a busy but stunning design using both photography and an unusual collection of shapes and colours. August 6th is the day of the bombing of Hiroshima. This is a rare Cuban poster.
1969 ospaaal solidarity with the japanese people cuban poster

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Illuminacion Intima - Nico 1968

Illuminacion Intima (Intimate Lighting or Intimni Osvetleni) is a classic of the Czech New Wave from 1965 and focuses on life in a small village where music is a preoccupation. Through a number of loosely connected comedy scenes the men of the film neglect their wives due to their obsession with music. This is another confident and colourful silkscreen from Nico.
illuminacion intima icaic poster nico 1968

Golgota - Nico 1968

Golgota is a Romanian film from 1966. And that is all I know about it. Nico's 1968 poster for the ICAIC is great but doesn't give much away about the film.
golgota poster cuba poster cuban

El Gran Robo del Tren de San Trinian - Bachs 1968

El Gran Robo del Tren de San Trinian (The St Trinians Great Train Robbery) is a 1966 British comedy about the pupils of a girls school who thwart the attempts by the great train robbers to recover the loot from their heist, which happens to be stashed in the girls' school building. Bachs' 1968 ICAIC silkscreen poster is a classic with simple but effective cartoon graphics and his trademark homemade text.
icaic poster bachs 1968

This poster is printed on brown paper rather than the usual white.

1 Mayo - Dimas 1973

This 1973 poster for the ICAIC is unusual in that it is not for a film but for the 1 May celebrations - Labour Day and a celebration of the revolution marked by long speeches, revolutionary songs and a parade in Havana and other Cuban towns and cities. This is a simple and fun poster by little know artist Dimas.
icaic i mayo revolution dimas cuban poster

Here's a YouTube clip of the recent 1 May celebrations in Havana:

El Azote de Dios - Bachs 1968

El Azote de Dios (God's Whip or Bicz Bozy) is a 1967 Polish comedy. Regular ICAIC designer Bachs has gone for a very crazy cartoon style with this poster with the text at jagged angles and a lot of playful graphics.
cuban movie poster icaic bachs

Here's the original Polish poster for comparison:
polish movie poster bicz bozy