We’re constantly bombarded by ads; billboards, magazine spreads and posters are in our faces all the time. Street artist Banksy said that “the thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people.” This is certainly true (I used to work in advertising, and I agree). But sometimes the art in advertising outlives the ephemera of whatever is being promoted. That’s when the artist behind the image becomes immortal. Such was the case with Bernard Villemot, a French graphic designer in the ’50s and ’60s whose brilliantly simple designs have stood the test of time, and are now on display at Bibliotheque Forney.
Villemot began his career producing posters for the French government – encouraging enlistment in the military, fundraising events, the Red Cross, that sort of thing. But after WWII he began work on product advertising, and that’s when his keen eye for clean lines and talent for expressing alluring ideas with bold colors and eye-catching color blocking launched his true artistic success.
Villemot worked on campaigns for the likes of SNCF, Orangina, Air France and Perrier. The head of Orangina advertising kept Villemot on the job for more than 30 years largely because of the simple, evocative image of the orange twist incorporated into nearly all of his designs, an image that would become iconic. This twist would become transformed into a girl’s summer hair, a parasol on the beach, a pair of sunglasses dazzled. Besides being pleasing to the eye and instantly recognizable, Villemot’s art is plainly influenced by the curves and contours of seductive French life.
Under Villemot’s brush, a promotion for fizzy orange juice or plain ol’ train travel becomes the promise of a beautiful, easy life. Void of details and composed of flourishing color blocks, the viewer fills in the blanks with their imagination to insert themselves into the scene. Any fan of pop art or American television series “Mad Men,” or anybody with eyes, will love this exhibit at Bibliotheque Forney. Larger-than-life posters guide you through the artistic life of a man whose work did not appear in a gallery until 1977, but whose designs are distinctive, beautiful, and best of all, stand the test of time.
Tip: be sure to peruse the Bibliotheque’s marvelous postcard racks at the entrance; they have dozens of unique and beautiful cartes postales of old ads and classic French images you won’t find anywhere else for just .60€ a pop, plus original museum posters as far back as the ’80s for 6-20€!
Villemot: Peintre En Affiches
Now through January 5, 2013