“An Exhibition of Posters by Artūrs Kiršfelds” The gallery in Kalnciema Quarter (Kalnciema Kvartāls), Riga Untill February 6, 2013
From 17 January through 6 February, the gallery in Kalnciema Quarter (Kalnciema Kvartāls) will be featuring a retrospective exhibition of posters that the Latvian artist Artūrs Kiršfelds (1932) designed during the Soviet era. Characteristically clean and neat in form, and with a fine sense of color, the posters on view were created from 1957 to 1980; their themes include tourism, exhibitions and theatrical shows. With an education in set design, Kiršfelds worked as an artistic editor at the publishing house “Liesma”, as well as an in-house artist and head of the aesthetics office at “Radiotehnika” and elsewhere. Nevertheless, his main interest was always that of poster design. As the organizers of the exhibition point out, the visual language and substance of the retro posters are still relevant today, and they frequently still serve as inspiration in today's field of graphic design.
A poster designed by Artūrs Kiršfelds
Inspired by the subject, Arterritory.com posed the following question: “What is the situation of poster design today?” to graphic design theoretician Anda Boluža, as well as to two practitioners of the art in Riga and Stockholm – Kirils Kirasirovs and Gustav Granström, respectively.
Romanticizing things a bit, I remember my “analog” childhood, when a poster was a really unique method of visual expression with great artistic value. I could mention the legendary posters for the annual “Art Days (Mākslas dienu)”, the collections of which can still be found in the memory archives of many Latvian families.
As a child, I was lucky to witness the process of poster creation in the workshop of Olafs Ceplevičs, in-house artist for the Riga Motor-Museum. Back then, the making of posters was a work-intensive and lengthy process, which also required a great sense of responsibility in regards of outcome. Cmd+Z didn't exist then, and every letter and image had to be drawn on real materials with real instruments (drafting tools, airbrushing), and with the utmost of precision.
Today, posters are more apt to be called “print advertising”, and there is no lack of them in our visual environment: from the local tram stop, to gigantic billboards. Digital technologies have made it possible to create things quickly, cheaply and in large numbers – which, of course, largely degrades the creative process, just as fast-food places have degraded the culture of dining. But at the same time, this situation has made it possible for a larger pool of talent to bring their ideas to fruition, and in this whole “sea of advertising garbage”, truly excellent pieces do emerge at times. A few examples that can currently be seen on the streets of Riga, and that have caught my eye: the HOMOECOS campaign for a clean Baltic Sea (in my opinion, this organization always stands out with great posters for all of its campaigns); and the nice-looking poster for the “Skaņu mežs” concert program. There are also some visual ads for various cultural, entertainment and other types of events that pleasantly surprise with their variety of creative thinking and styles, but which differ in that they are not materially printed, but rather, they are distributed virtually; these could also be accepted as poster art (just using the medium of pixels).
Currently, you can get a black and white “AO”-size print from any copy shop for a couple of lats. Therefore, the potential for posters of a non-commercial nature is also without bounds – for instance, for self-initiated experimental projects, or for the propaganda of some worthwhile idea.
Anda Boluža, graphic design theoretician
I once interviewed the graphic designer Philippe Apeloig in Paris, and he said that many of today's designers want to be like rock-stars, but that just means that they've chosen the wrong career. In my opinion, graphic designers really are approaching rock-star status (the creator behind Hello, Kitty!, who really does wield rock-star-like influence, comes to mind; but the millions that her work makes in revenue go to the owner of the brand, not her), but I still believe that the role of design shouldn't be overvalued.
In terms of the status of posters, Roel Wouters and his team come to mind, with their work for the Dutch group, zZz's, music album. The artists covered a couple of roosters with paint and then had them fight one another on top of a white piece of paper, leaving behind interesting feather prints. I feel bad for the roosters, but this sort of thing is gaining popularity on social networks, and a poster is at the center of it. I do have doubts about how successful a poster would be these days – on its own, without going hand in hand with the various internet media.
Well, a lot of things have happened since the time of Arturs Kirsfelds.
Not only the collapse of the Soviet Union, but also the development of the internet, refined printing techniques and the use of big screens in public spaces.
However, the poster is still a popular decoration for interiors. Due to the digital era, the tactile properties of the poster have become more important and interesting for many people.
During the last decades, many posters with culturally famous content have seen a rise in value. Posters have become collectors’ objects.
In a way, the poster is a very basic communication tool. In the beginning it is an empty sheet of paper. These are the same preconditions for everyone who engages in working with this format.
The edition is also an important element. Someone can work with great care and focus with a single copy, putting it up somewhere where many people could see and enjoy it. On the other side of the scale, there is also something in the communication in mass numbers – to be put up everywhere, produced without care.
Could it be that the future of the poster is in the fewer copies?