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Three Posters

NOVEMBER 4, 2009
Over the summer I was asked to design three posters.
School of Night
The Odeon Theatre is one of my favorite clients. I’ve been doing posters for them for more than a decade. The theater itself was formerly the Great Hall of the Vienna Grain Exchange. It was nearly destroyed in World War II, but is now home to the Serapion Ensemble, directed by Ulrike Kaufmann and Erwin Piplits.

“School of Night” is a continuation of a theme they developed in a previous production. Its starting point is a history of the Orient and includes music from Iran, Serbia, India and other countries.The motif is a house with 40 rooms. Thirty nine of the rooms may be entered, but the 40th is forbidden. “Should someone, nevertheless, enter this room, then everything changes, the world is up-side down.” In his dislocation, the individual who enters the room must deal with his inner demons and psychological processes. “Hatred, melancholy and greed for example, must be overcome, otherwise there is no result.”
I did several sketches and Erwin picked this one. I imagined the 39 rooms as a series of steps. To reach the 40th room takes a leap of faith or – since the following steps are upside down – an act of abandon.

Although it wasn’t part of my original sketch, as I started painting, I decided to darken the windows of the lower rooms, so that only the window of the forbidden 40th room beckons with light. The leaping figure, with his coat flying behind him like wings, then began to look to me like a moth flying to a flame. A risky leap may be one of the characteristics of ambition, vanity or recklessness. It may also be the defining act of transcendence.

The original of this painting is about 2 feet by 3 and must weigh about 5 pounds. I wanted to heavily texture its surface, so I got some acrylic tar and trowelled it on as if I were plastering a wall.The colors began as deep umber and terra cotta, but evolved to black and orange – the colors of Halloween – and finally to black and Indian red. The pock marks on the sides of the buildings came from a memory of buildings I saw some years ago, still scarred from the war, in the train yards of Frankfurt Germany.

Like most of the pictures I make, I relied on instinct more than control for this one. So I was surprised, as I often am, by what I can see in it now that it’s done. In this case, I added the lettering last and matched the color to the color of the lighted window. When the poster came back from Vienna, it surprised me to see that the design takes the shape of the letter Z. Then I realized that a lot of my designs do that. I don’t know what it means except that maybe, in trusting to instinct, I’m often channeling Zorro.

Where’s My Vote?

Recently over 40 Nobel Laureates signed a letter to the people of Iran. In part, it said:

"We deplore the violent and oppressive tactics the current regime is using to dissuade protestors from expressing their right to free speech. Your election was shamelessly tampered with and your human rights disregarded. We are outraged by your government’s denial of basic liberties to its people...

“We are well aware that throughout the long and glorious history of the Iranian civilization, your ancestors have often stood firmly against both interference from without and repression from within. Today, once again, you are fighting for a just cause.”
I was asked to do this poster by a group calling itself The Green Way. They posted a number of posters on a blog: a couple of weeks ago, we received this note from the great designer Andrea Rauch:
Dear friends,
From monday morning our blog Socialdesignzine, where we are publishing the posters in support of opposition movement in Iran ("Where is my vote?")
is no longer visible in Iran. The blog is censured and obscured by iranian government.

I’ve had a long history with the graphic designers of Iran. Many years ago my black and white drawings were used in Teheran as posters to protest the Shah’s oppressive regime. Now it’s the radical mullahs. As with too many revolutions, not much changed last time except who’s on top.

The Iranian artists and designers I’ve met over the year are great friends of the US. Most are true fans of what’s best in American culture – even if most of us in this country know too little about theirs.

In fact, the nations of the world owe a long historical debt to Iran, one of the two or three cultures where civilization began. It’s a tragedy what the present government has chosen to do to the people of that country and a scandal that they’re not permitted to see even these modest tokens of support from the outside world. Yet the tokens persist as a salute to their courge and as expressions of confidence from the rest of us that they’ll ultimately prevail.

My best regards to my friends there.
Reach for the Dream is the second poster I’ve done for the Hera Foundation. The first was 3 years ago. The Hera Foundation was started in 2002 by Sean Patrick to raise funds for ovarian cancer research and awareness. In 2001 she started the Climb for Life event, because, as an avid mountain climber herself, she said "the skills women learn in climbing - problem solving, risk taking and confidence in their decision making - will enable them to climb all the mountains in their lives."

Sean died early this year, from complications of her disease. She was 57. Her friend and companion Scott Paramski asked me to do a second poster. Just as he had lost his best friend, I had lost mine two years ago when my brother Jim died. As a result, my discussions with Scott were far more emotional than these things usually are. Therefore, it seemed only natural to make this painting not just a message of hope but a sort of memorial poster for Sean.

Unlike the cliché image of someone “reaching for a star,” a comet, in popular culture, has always been seen as a harbinger of change. So I didn’t see the woman on the mountaintop as reaching for a comet, but being touched by one, and who, being touched, became an agent of change.

For Sean Patrick R.I.P.