Over the past 30 years, we have seen many professions in the graphic arts replaced by technology. Sign painting is one. Sign painting was a trade that existed in every community to adorn storefronts, banners, billboards, street signs, and buildings. The really good signs were one-of-a-kind works of art, produced by a steady hand, discerning eye, and aesthetic sensibility. Hand-painted signs revealed the pride and skill of the craftsmen. Their execution took human judgment and an active collaboration of eye, mind and hand. On a subliminal level, viewers could feel the effort of the maker. Now signs are mostly computer-designed, die-cut vinyl lettering. Undoubtedly, this is faster, cheaper and more uniform in quality, but like so much of our urban landscape, it lacks the warmth, soul and touch of human hands. “Sign Painters” is a documentary film (and also a book) by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon that celebrates the vanishing art of sign painting. The film is currently being shown in select locations in the U.S. and other parts of the globe. If it comes to your area, do see it.
Today would have been the legendary Saul Bass’s 93rd birthday and Google Doodle has paid tribute to him on its homepage by piecing together some of his signature film title sequences – “Vertigo,” “The Man with the Golden Arm,” “Psycho,” “Anatomy of a Murder,” “West Side Story,” among others.
This brought to mind my brief encounter with Saul. About two years before he died, I was assigned to interview him for an article on film title sequences. In his late 70s then, Saul had downsized his Sunset Boulevard studio maintaining what he called “a repertory group,” a small core staff with additional expertise brought in on an as needed basis. At the time, he was doing a title sequence for his friend “Marty’s”(Scorsese) film, and explained that at this stage in his career, he only wanted to work with “nice people who respect and like us and who we respect and admire…I don’t want to deal with clients who think we’re just doing a job for them. With rare exception, all our clients think we are wonderful and we think they are wonderful.” From a career standpoint, that seemed to me like the ultimate luxury.
Eggplant (aubergine) purple. Fire engine red. Shark-skin silver. Dachshund brown. Even if you aren’t shown the actual color, you can envision its exact shade in your mind. Some colors are inextricably linked to an object, plant or animal. This clever ad campaign for Farber-Castell, which has been producing fine art products, including colored pencils, for professional artists for the past 250 years, relies on the viewer to make that connection. It was created by the Serviceplan agency in Munich, Germany.
The occasion of America’s Independence Day on July 4th offers a good time to reflect on how the Star-Spangled Banner became the official flag of the nation. It all started back in 1777. A ragtag army of American colonists was engaged in a fierce battle for independence from Great Britain. Designing an aesthetically pleasing flag to represent themselves was the last thing on their mind. Outnumbered, outspent and outmaneuvered, the Continental Congress had more urgent matters to deal with.
But an emissary from a pro-colonist Native American tribe forced Congress to act by requesting a banner of sorts to display so that scouts would not come under “friendly fire” while on missions for the Continental Army. To prove they were willing to “pay” for such a flag, the emissary included three strings of wampum. Congress hastily put a flag design on its agenda, and 11 days later: “RESOLVED: that the flag of the United states be 13 stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be 13 stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation.” This resolution was one of many passed that day. The committee obviously didn’t give the matter much thought, but “borrowed” liberally from several sources, including the Sons of Liberty red-and-white “stripes of rebellion” banner and the 13-star blue canton of the New Hampshire Green Mountain Boys and Rhode Island Continental Regiment.