Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Art of Revolution - Dugald Stermer and Susan Sontag

Dugald Stermer was art director for the left-leaning Ramparts magazine during the late 60s and came across Cuban posters when Reese Erlich, a reporter on the magazine returned from Cuba with a collection that he had acquired. Following this discovery Dugald put together a subsequent collection and produced this classic book on Cuban posters using his own text covering details of the agencies that were producing posters in Cuba. Susan Sontag also contributed text offering her views on poster production (which differ from mine in many ways).

The book itself is the best record of Cuban posters. It is a very large book and all the images are full colour reproductions covering a single page each. I guess this is the result of Dugald's influence. As a passionate and enthusiastic art director he must have been keen to preserve them in as big a format as possible. When I asked Dugald what happened to the posters they used for the book he told me they were left behind at the publishers, where they may have ended up in the bin.

If you collect Cuban posters this book is essential.
96 posters from Cuba

Havana 1970

Havana 1970

Havana 1970

El Nino del Ingenio - Reboiro 1968

Reboiro borrows heavily from San Francisco psychedelic art for this rarity of a poster for a Brasilian film about a boy sent to live on a sugar cane plantation in colonial Brazil. Menino de Engenho (Plantation Boy) is long forgotten black and white film with a serious message about the exploitative economics of an imperialist regime. Reboiro's decision to copy the poster art of San Francisco (which was almost certainly unavailable via any official channels in Cuba) is a statement of non-conformity by an artist who had seen his family's livelihood suffer under the revolution. The freedom that the Cuban film poster artists enjoyed under their guardian and protector Saul Yellin allowed them to draw on artistic styles that were anathema to the Cuban government. Once again this is a poster promoting a serious black and white socialist film using a flamboyant, confident and colourful design.
El Nino del Ingenio icaic reboiro 1968

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Ella y El - Bachs 1969

Bachs' poster for this Japanese drama Kanojo to Kare (She and He) is minimal and classy, using bold colours and simple shapes to illustrate the subjects of the film. The drama focuses on the growing stature of the female protagonist as she explores new interests and love, becoming more independent while her husband's status diminishes. Bachs illustration has her looking sassy, bold, colourful and in charge, while her husband is reduced to a character-less head, barely included in the design.
icaic pieza inconclusa para piano mecanico reboiro

Pieza Inconclusa para Piano Mecanico - Reboiro 1979

Channelling the surrealists, Reboiro makes good use of his trademark etching style mixed with a 70s pop art feel to illustrate this Cuban poster for the Soviet film Neokonchennaya Pyesa dlya Mekhanicheskogo Pianino (Unfinished Piece for the Player Piano). This is a Chekov-style family love story featuring an undercurrent of political themed support for the rights of peasants and workers. It is rich in philosophy and symbolism with some strange surrealist touches. I don't know the significance of the hand holding up a hand with a hole in it but the design is superb and this is a classic poster.
icaic pieza inconclusa para piano mecanico reboiro

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Samurai Asesino - Oliva 1968

Oliva, an artist who relished in copying the style of the psychedelic poster art of San Francisco, takes a more cartoonish approach to the design of this poster. The film, Samurai Assassin is a Japanese classic of clever plotting and swordplay and the subject matter appropriately features a time of revolutionary activity which saw the power of the Japanese classes diminished. The poster uses a very playful and childlike design aesthetic to illustrate the traditional samurai sword, in contrast to the dark subject matter of the film.
icaic oliva asesino samurai

La Cura y La Muchacha - Bachs 1968

This is a really nice poster by Bachs demonstrating how the most simple of Cuban poster designs can often be the most beautiful. This is a poster for the Brazilian film O Padre e a Moça (The Priest and the Girl) about a passionate relationship between a young priest and a girl in a small town. The poster isn't too subtle in its interpretation of the subject of the film - two hearts against a cross - but the execution is excellent and this is a vibrant and pretty poster design.
icaic la cura y la muchacha

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

La Masacre de Chicago - Navarro 1972

This poster, for the 1967 Roger Corman gangster flick The St Valentine's Day Massacre, ignores the conventions of the prohibition era tommy guns, big suits and wide brimmed hats and instead references Warhol-esq pop art. The artwork by Navarro is minimal but efective being based around the obvious heart motif, echoing the American poster (below).
icaic chicago navarro masacre

icaic chicago navarro masacre

Sunday, 2 May 2010

No Somos De Piedra - Nico 1969

Here's a simple and effective colourful poster from Nico for the 1968 Spanish comedy No Somos de Piedra (We are not made of Stone) which examines traditional gender roles within the Catholic chuch. The plot revolves around the use of birth control pills and looks at the financial impact of children born through unplanned pregnancies. Hence the solitary female subject of the poster positioned in insecure pose, with the title positioned in the womb.
icaic no somos de piedra

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Sokolovo - Reboiro 1976

The battle of Sokolovo in 1943 saw the Red Army and Czech forces fighting together to hold back the Nazis. The film is a war film detailing the battle and highlighting the cooperation between the Soviet and Czech forces. Reboiro's poster seems to shy away from the imagery of war altogether and focuses on the blood red flower and 70s colour scheme. There is a possibility that this was one of those days when the artist didn't have time to see the film before he designed the poster. Or Reboiro's flower symbolises the bloody union as two armies joined forces to create bloodshed and massacre in the name of victory. Check out the difference between Reboiro's design and the Czech original below.
icaic reboiro sokolovo

icaic reboiro debemos saber

Debemos Saber - Reborio 1979

Once again this a great poster for a short film that is now long forgotten. Debemos Saber (We Should Know in English) is a 15 minute documentary by Cuban director Ramos. And that's all I can find out about it. This is a shame as the image of the eerie face has a mysterious look, making the film look very interesting. Again, this is typical Reboiro making use of complex detailed black and white technical illustration and adding a colourful Cuban twist.
icaic reboiro debemos saber

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Roble Maxima Urgencia - Reboiro 1976

This is a great moody poster by Reboiro for Roble Maxima Urgencia which is a 1973 Romanian war film originally called Stejar Extrema Urgenta. I can't find much detail about the film so I don't know the significance of the gun on a fish hook but the image is really nice.
reboiro roble urgencia icaic poster

El Brigadista - Reboiro 1977

Another of my fave posters displaying all the cliches of Cuban film posters by Reboiro. The 1977 film El Brigadista is a feature film that highlights the early days of the Cuban revolution and the efforts of the authorities to improve literacy among the population. The flower, one of the most common metaphors for the development of the people in Cuban poster art, is growing from the fertile flower bed of letters. Around the border is an army-style text with stars conveying the military aspect of the film's subject matter. The illustrated flower is set against Reboiro's trademark rainbow colour bands which feature in a number of his posters and are derived from psychedelic art of the late 60s.

Stylistically this is bold, confident and very colourful, representing the confidence and triumphant feel of the revolution during its heyday in the 60s and 70s.
reboiro el brigadista icaic poster

Thursday, 7 January 2010


Here are four mock-ups that I acquired from Florida based Cuban poster collector Irina, who in turn got them from the damp basement of the ICAIC in Cuba. Each one is painted on artistic board and provides the original artwork for a Cuban poster. These would have been passed to the printmaker who would have had to painstakingly cut the shapes out in each colour to do the silkscreening.

They are in rough condition but are unique and it's great to see some of the techniques of Cuban poster production revealed. On the back of each one are details of the colours specified by the artist and these would have been selected by the printer. The boards are all different sizes indicating an approach to poster production that relied on the materials available at that time. Where there is text to go on a poster the artist has used a randomly cutout piece of text from a publication and stuck it on to indicate where the text should go. The artists have also used cut out letters for the poster title and the printer has subsequently replaced these letters with the font of his or her choice. Bachs' posters use his own trademark lettering and these would have been cut out for the screening.

There are some interesting details on the reverse of the boards which I've tried to illustrate.

Here are the poster mock-ups and their backs:
Los Herederos - Niko
niko icaic poster

niko poster mock up

Senales Sobre la Ciudad - Nico
bachs vieja dama icaic poster

bachs vieja dama icaic poster

Las Senoritas de Rochefort - Reboiro
bachs vieja dama icaic poster

bachs vieja dama icaic poster

Las Tres Noches de un Amor - Bachs
bachs vieja dama icaic poster

bachs vieja dama icaic poster

On the back of Bachs' poster for Tres Noches de un Amor is the instruction "20 affiches [posters] 4 Fidel" which may be an indication that some were destined for the Cuban leader. The jury's out on this one. Here's the close up:
Fidel cuban poster

We can also see a numbering system in place. I assume that each poster got a number and that these were controlled by the man with the purple crayon. Here are 428, 468, 639 and 651:
Fidel cuban poster

Fidel cuban poster

Fidel cuban poster

Fidel cuban poster

And colours. Here are a list of colours, and a list of colours that clearly didn't work:
Fidel cuban poster

Fidel cuban poster

Two of the four mock-ups that I have also have the signature of Saul Yellin who was the supervisor and pseudo-protector of the ICAIC artists. He was responsible for approving the design of the posters. Yellin's approvals allowed the Cuban film poster artists' style to deviate further and further from what was considered appropriate for a socialist revolution.
signature approval icaic

cuban poster cuba

To see how small the originals are versus the finished poster I have taken a shot of these four against a full size poster:
cuban poster cuba icaic