After forcing you to endure yesterday's lecture, which I have now dubbed 'Leif Peng's Theory of Meritorious Illustration Relativity', I figured I had better come up with a concrete example of what I was talking about. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Savignac.
Fortune magazine, under the art direction of Leo Leonni (there's that name again) had some of the most progressive illustration of the 1950's both on its covers and as interior content. Even more remarkable for a staid business and industry publication, Fortune regularly included a portfolio section showcasing the work of a specific artist. In November 1951, Fortune presented the remarkable Parisian, Raymond Savignac.
From the accompanying article:
Quiet, introverted Raymond Savignac is the author of the most flamboyant and extroverted posters in Europe. He is not a frustrated painter; nor does he suffer any delusions that he has prostituted his talents. His art is art for posters' sake.
Art critics and poster fiends the world over have been charmed by his delightful humor, his unorthodox imagination, and his unmistakably personal style. (emphasis mine) What is more important, French manufacturers are buying his non-commissioned posters.
That, my friends, is how you draw a ham well.
Savignac refused to draw happy consumers enraptured by the client's product. In the words of Charles T. Coiner, he refused to draw 'squirrels'.
To U.S. admen, continues the article, who know that most commercial art is conceived, controlled, and invariably changed by art directors, writers, account executives, and clients, the idea of an independent, self-starting poster artist may sound shockingly foreign.
No kiddin'! I would venture to guess it sounds pretty outlandish to most illustrators as well. I'm in the middle of an assignment right now (yes, its a ham), and the client has just about sucked all the flavour out of it, believe me. The sad thing is, the changes are largely inconsequential, based on (a lack of) personal taste, but they have eradicated much of the charm and interest from the piece. But anyway, enough whining from me -- back to our story...
Savignac said, "The man on the street walks with his eyes turned to the inside; fixed on his torments and passions. Only a scandal can turn him away from himself and confer on him a certain altruism. The scandals of the street range from the pickpocket, to the fire, to the crime, etc... The poster is a visual scandal."
"If I express myself with gags, puns, and graphic clowning, it is first of all because I like that, and secondly because the man on the street is so bored with his daily routine that I believe advertising has the duty to entertain him."
What a breath of fresh air! Imagine, an artist who happily chose to employ his creativity in the service of promoting the most mundane and commercial of products (meat extract, soap, zippers, etc.) and circumnavigated the traditional power structure of the client/ad agency relationship to directly engage the manufacturer and the public with his art.
Some might suggest there was a lot of luck involved in Savignac's success. That is the lazy, self-serving artist's attitude.
There was a clear understanding on Raymond Savignac's part that his art must addressed the needs of the client, and that success lay down the path of clever concepts drawn well in his own way.
Again from the article:
In this turbulent atmosphere of intellectualism, Savignac posters are like a fresh breeze loaded with the smell of garlic and good rosé. They are simple, catchy, memorable. They have the directness of children's drawings, the humor of a Fratellini clown, the simplicity of a trademark.
Just give any of these gay posters a quick look and then try to forget it. Even better, try to avoid looking at them altogether and you will see how hard it is to escape Savignac's visual scandals.
* My Raymond Savignac Flickr set.