Art Deco Designer—A. M. Cassandre
The Art Deco movement was popular between the mid-1920s and the early 1940s. It was introduced to the world at the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Art in Paris in 1925 and the main identifying points of anything in this style are the use of strong geometric shapes and bold text. At the time, it was considered to be modern, elegant, glamorous and functional, and was influenced in many areas of design such as interiors, exteriors, industrial and fashion, as well as paintings and graphic arts.
The style was purely decorative, hence its name, and was based on the use of geometrical shapes. There was also inspiration to be had from modern technology and buildings, as well as Egyptian patterns, perhaps due to the recent discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen.
One of the most successful designers of the time was Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, who won first prize at the Exposition in Paris in 1925 for a poster entitled Bûcheron, and who continued to create striking posters throughout the period. Born in Ukraine in 1901 to French parents, he moved to Paris to study art in 1915 and had aspirations to be a painter. Initially turning to graphic design as a quick fix financially, he surprisingly grew to prefer the poster as an art form as it “gave the painter the golden opportunity to communicate with the large public.” His work continues to be appreciated and mimicked throughout the world, and he interestingly designed one of the most famous icons; the Yves Saint Laurent monogram in 1963.
An example of such "golden" communication is the famous “Normandie” poster (1935), which was used to advertise a French Line Transatlantic Cruise.
It is a very stylised colour lithograph, with the use of bold, graded cool colours, and crisp lines typical of the movement. In the centre, there is a ship that is exaggerated to look massive because of the head on view and dramatic angle. The size is also exaggerated by the use of the flock of birds to the left of the boat, as well as the tiny French flag on top.
There is a dramatic change in tone to illustrate the light direction, as well as contrasting colours which suggest that the ship is new. The crease of the boat draws the eye to the bold text below, and there is a use of various fonts, with the biggest showing the ships name, smaller types to show the route, and underlying small font showing the company name.
I feel this is a successful design as it is memorable, and the use of bold text allows for ease of memory in what is being advertised. I also like the dramatic use of colour and proportion which I feel, would have shown at the time that the liner was a safe haven to enjoy, and from the lack of movement in the design, that it was also a smooth ride.
Which is your favourite Cassandre poster?
Another, earlier, example of Cassandre’s work is the “Nord Express” poster (1927), which again uses extreme angles for effect. There is more use of cool colours and geometric shapes in this lithograph. However, there seems to be more of an image of movement with the telegraph lines and the train heading towards the dramatic vanishing point on the right.
Again, the viewpoint allows the train to be distorted to the point that the wheels have become ellipses, and the illusion of movement is suggested using the directional thin white lines at wheel level.
The poster is, for the majority done in cool, mechanical colours—apart from sections of text which are merging with the image itself, that have a contrasting red colour. This effectively focuses our eye back to the advertised service. Below the wheels of the steam train, there is a selection of place names which the train will visit, in thin, black, almost handwritten capital letters, which look as though they are also flowing towards the bottom, right-hand corner. All of the shapes are crisp and clear, apart from the steam coming from the engine, which gradually flows out naturally.
I feel that this is another successful design as it captures the speed and agility of the train, and promotes technology in an attractive way. I think this was a deliberate attempt, as this was how Cassandre perceived technology and machines to be, and these were one of his strong influences.
In general, A.M.Cassandre was seen to be one of the most important graphic designers of the period for a number of reasons. Not only was he one of the pioneers of the movement, having won a competition at the launch in 1925, but he also got a reputation as a designer of bold, geometric posters, with strong use of typography and actually invented some typefaces himself by manipulating existing types as well as creating his own.
As a Graphic designer myself, I can appreciate how difficult it can be to introduce a new idea or technique to an already established scene. Cassandre would have been an icon of his time busting through onto the scene- literally reinventing how products and services were advertised. He even proved his entrepreneurial tendencies when he started his own advertising company.
He continues to be admired by artists and fans alike, and the Art Deco period has recently seen a romantic revival- often seen in pieces of jewelry and architecture. There are still worldwide examples of surviving Art Deco structures, such as the Empire State building (New York), the Beresford Building (Glasgow) and the Cinema Rialto (Morocco). It has also survived in other ways, having influenced further movements such as pop art.
In a world that craves nostalgia and appreciates the retro approach, it is very possible that Art Deco may make a comeback.
© 2013 Lynsey Hart