A solid black frame that feels like an inescapable wall traps the image – a tiny human figure, a naked woman, swimming on the surface of a still, deep, blue washed ocean, vulnerable and small. Beneath her the open maw of a giant shark, grey, angular and propelled upwards. Its teeth sharp, in terrifying rows, some of them pointed outwards. You hear the silence, you feel the terror. On top of the swimming woman, in blood red letters is the title: Jaws.
This is the poster that announced Spielberg’s terrifying and unforgettable shark tale and kept people out of the water. Book, poster, movie – and menacing soundtrack are icons. The artist was Roger Kastel. And this artwork is his most famous. In the 40th anniversary of the film, limited edition, silk-screened reprints came out signed by the artist. I would’ve bought one. I have a copy of the book – which kid growing up in the 80’s did not?
Jaws poster by Roger Kastel, 1975
Anatomy of a Murder poster by Saul Bass, 1959
Roger Kastel. Olly Moss. Saul Bass. Paul Rand. To name a very, very few. Not household names but gods to graphic designers everywhere. One could sit and take in hours of their engrossing poster art.
Posters have been white canvases for experimentation freed as they are from the demands of art galleries. The world is their art gallery – streets, university campuses, city halls – wherever the public roam. Their job is to arrest, to grab attention, to make you pause and take in what they have to say. Posters vie for your attention, demand your attention and then many of them spill into the land of art – where they stay – as sublime and as compelling as any painting.
NeWMaN poster by Paul Rand, 2001
Eye, Bee, M (IBM) poster by Paul Rand, 1981
And posters are born every day, easily accessible, something you and I can afford. Every culture produces its own poster art, has its iconic designers, its iconic images. American and Soviet posters were used as weapons to manipulate public opinion. Their power is enormous. Paul Rand’s work for IBM not only built an indelibly powerful image, his whimsical illustration of an eye, a bee and the letter M is poster art legend. His poster for Paul Newman is as good looking and as arresting as the actor himself – a muscular juxtaposition of the letters of his name.
And there are many such – an entire galaxy of wit, storytelling, visual twists and puns, experimentation with colour, font and art forms. Enough words, take a look at some of the greatest posters ever designed.
Back to the Future poster by Jesús Prudencio, 2013