Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Art Nouveau アール・ヌーヴォー

This semester I am taking a class called 'History of Graphic Design' and while that may sound dreadfully boring to most people, (it did to me) it is rapidly becoming my favorite class thus far at Oklahoma State University.  In the class we are basically zipping through history and trying to pick up the important factoids about each specific style of graphic design.  It's a once-a-week night class, so we really have to get through a lot of material each week very swiftly, but this class, more than any other so far, is opening me up to a whole new world (cue Aladdin soundtrack) of interesting art styles and inspiration.  Right now, I want to tell you about Art Nouveau.

"Bieres de la Meuse", a French beer advertisement by Alphonse Mucha

The Art Nouveau movement started in Paris, France around the turn of the 20th Century.  There was a sort of "cafe culture" in Paris at the time, in which people spent much time relaxing at outdoor patio cafes, seeing dancing shows, going to the theater and just enjoying the splendors of a modern urban lifestyle.  As a result, many examples of Art Nouveau are, in fact, posters advertising various products and performances.

Probably one of the most prolific and popularly known Art Nouveau poster designers is Alphonse Mucha, of whom I am very much a big fan as I'm sure you can tell by all the Mucha posters on display in this very blog post.  Interestingly, Mucha got into the world of poster making by complete chance.  As he was walking past a theater company in Paris, their current poster designer had just quit and they needed a new designer.  He figured "why not?", went home and whipped something up and after seeing his work, they hired him on the spot.

This poster for the play Gismonda, starring Sarah Bernhardt, is what convinced the theater company to hire Mucha.

Some of the commons characteristics that can often be found in works from this particular style are organic, thick and thin lines, female forms (LOTS of those), fluid motion and asymmetrical composition, to name a few.  What I particularly find engrossing is the use of color and shading on the human forms.  The hair in particular usually has a very faint gradated  shift from one part to another without the tedious detail of rendering realistic patterns and shades.  The same could also be said of the skin tones of the women in most of these works.  Another thing about the hair that I like is how each strand doesn't overlap over another one, they just intersect, leaving only the outlines, and it is unknown what is above or below.

This is a great example of the gradated hair and skin tones as well as the "intersecting" hair strands.

There are also many great examples of Art Nouveau sculpture and architecture the world over, but I won't get into that here.  I just wanted to focus on the print medium, and what better way is there to do that than to just show you?

These two are a pair of prints titled "Dawn"(top) and "Dusk" (bottom).
So enamored with this art style was I that I rushed home to show my wife some examples of it online only to hear her exclaim upon viewing them that she and her mother used to collect cans and other memorabilia depicting many of these very images and that she had been searching for years for the name of the artist.  So not only is it very pretty to look at, it gave my wife and I yet another thing that we have in common.


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