Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Inspiration: matchbox labels

 A Dutch label: very bold and pleasantly naive. I especially like the flattened cars on the right.

 English labels, produced for collectors: somewhat reminiscent of Ladybird books, faintly romanticised. The blue borders don`t look complement the images.

 Tunisian (?)  label: deco with Islamic elements.

 Japanese label: using the conventions usual in Japanese prints.

 Indian label: naive and rather charming.

Swedish label: the  high production values and sophistication of drawing are typical of Swedish production.

 Another vaguely Deco label: A Swedish production for the Tunisian market: elegant and effective using only three colours and white.

 Another Swedish design, this time depicting a homestead.

 Eastern European label designs under Communism reached very high levels of quality. They are often directed towards collectors. These exquisite Russian designs depict a heroic Moscow. Through magnificent, for me the pleasure of popular art forms is not so much in their quality of finish but in their spontaneity and ruggedness. Indeed, one might argue that these are not really suitable matchbox labels in a  practical sense, as its doubtful  anyone would feel  at ease using a box so elegantly labelled to light their stove.

Ambitious Czech label, which seems to owe something to English 30`s neo-Romanticism.

A sports ground: also from Czechoslovakia.

These matchbox labels represent various degrees of abstraction in the depiction of landscape and architecture. 

It is always difficult to translate the stylistic solutions of design art into process led art - specifically painting in my case. I mean, it is risky to look at these labels and say- I'd like some of those qualities in my work, when those qualities are indeed specific to labels and not translatable into the medium and means of plein air painting. But- there may be something in the simplification of forms and colour on a tiny scale in the examples above, that I can take and use in my own small pictures.

I express this caution because I spent, and perhaps wasted, considerable time looking at old photographs and desiring the qualities I found in them in the very different art of painting pochades. It can be argued that I have committed a similar error by trying to learn from photos of paintings online, instead of seeing them in the flesh, so to speak, thus loosing a sense of scale, texture and true colouration.

 One of the things that photos have in common with label design is orderliness, cleanliness, a smoothness of surface and an absence of gesture: the properties of mechanical image production. These are not properties readily available in the style of painting I follow, whose virtues lie surely in the opposite of that of mechanical image production: that the artist`s  working processes are evident, and that the medium is ever imprecisely controlled by the human hand.

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