In 1985, legendary designer Saul Bass said, “You would expect to find the Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition in New York, Los Angeles or at least on either coast, not in Fort Collins, Colorado.” This sentiment by the honor laureate that year has been echoed by many who’ve been surprised to find a major international poster show in the middle of the United States. Over 26 years ago, a group of professors and designers decided to bring the world to the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Every two years since then, for six weeks, Fort Collins is host to some of the world’s most powerful graphic images and creative expression—joining Brno, Czech Republic; Lahti, Finland; Tokyo, Japan; México City, México; Warsaw, Poland; and Tehran, Iran—the cities which host the only other international poster exhibitions.
According to one of the founding directors, Phil Risbeck, “[From the beginning] the two major goals were (1) to advance the education of aspiring student artists and designers, and (2) to make available to American audiences an important cross-section of our contemporary world poster art.” And the 14th CIIPE that took place last September 4 through October 14 at Colorado State University achieved this and more, exhibiting the work of 86 artists from 34 countries.
The poster has remained constant as a form of powerful communication, more often than not mirroring the big issues of the times—social, environmental, cultural and commercial. No one knows this better than Marta Granados, a Colombian graphic designer and the honor laureate of last year’s exhibition. Cultural and environmental issues, as well as her country’s national identity, remain central to her work both as a designer and as a professor at the National University of Colombia. Her posters combine vibrant color and energetic shapes to convey clear, graphic messages. In Bogotá, Granados has completed significant projects for the Ministry of Culture, the Colombian Foreign Office, the Museum of Modern Art, as well as other institutions.
“The poster continues to be a strong vehicle for designers to express themselves in a unique way,” said director Bob Coonts, who has been participating in CIIPE from the start, becoming co-director in the early nineties. “There is a freedom associated with doing a poster that may not be found in other areas of graphic design. Concept, type design, color, composition and simplicity play a huge role in creating an innovative design.
“As I look back over the fourteen shows, I am taken with how the poster has evolved. While over the years we have had absolutely beautifully designed posters, last year’s show was stunning in concept, color and design.”
For Granados, it was the clever concept that stood out. Whether it was AIDS, a music festival or ecological concerns, she said, “The image became the universal language.”
“Simplicity and modernity seem to be taking place,” Coonts said. “I think this is happening as we move more into the tech world. This is not to say that the posters being done now are better than what was being done in the world in 1979. As the world moves forward, our world of design moves forward too.”
Like Coonts, Risbeck observed that the 2005 CIIPE distinguished itself from previous exhibitions in a number of ways—display and printing effects, creative imagery and the Graphic Responses component. “First, in a number of cases we noticed expanded creative expression through diptychs (Shigeo Fukuda and Subrata Bhowmick) and triptychs (Vladimir Chaika). Other special effects included embossing and die-cut, acetate-printed cover sheets used by Wang Xu, and Boris Ljubicic’s multi-image accordion folds.” These three-dimensional posters, with the artists’ explicit display instructions, made the installation of the exhibition more challenging than in years past.
Risbeck continued, “Second, fresh imagery addressed social, political and related issues. Chaz Maviyane-Davies took critical aim at politics in both America and Zimbabwe, while other designers—Gert Wunderlich, Lex Drewinski, Karel Aubrecht, Joe Scorsone/Alice Drueding and Istvan Orosz—creatively directed our attention toward the United Nations, ethics, freedom, sin and the poster itself.
“Third, and increasingly more important and powerful, were images found in the Graphic Responses online exhibition open to all comers who wished to participate to graphically address their own pet issues.” For the first time, students and professionals contributed to this electronic exhibition (accessible within the main exhibition gallery) addressing low-frequency sonar, connection between fast food and obesity and habitual TV, among many other issues.
In our mainstream world, where images from sitcoms, advertising, news channels and the World Wide Web come at us from so many angles that we are almost immune to them, exhibitions like CIIPE stop us in our tracks, remind us not to forget about social action, the environment, the arts, our culture, our world. ca