Constructing a Process

Philip Williams Posters at 122 Chambers St., New York

Philip Williams Posters at 122 Chambers St., New York

On a recent trip to New York I stumbled upon Philip Williams Posters. It’s a great hall of posters. The store is cavernous—stretching through an entire city block with entrances on both ends. Every inch of interior space is covered in commercial art relics. There are stacks of original lithographs piled high like giant, unbound books. Some of the lithos sell for thousands of dollars. I unfortunately didn’t have the currency for an original, but there are some nice reprints available. I’m always on the lookout for posters to add to my collection.

office poster display

office poster display

The color palette and arrangement of elements in this poster caught my eye; I bought it on the spot. Since the text is Russian, I had no idea what it was saying. I took a picture of it using Google Goggles, an amazing little app that can perform a search based on a picture you’ve taken, as opposed to typing in keywords. Google didn’t disappoint. It’s a poster from 1928 by the Russian brothers Vladimir and Georgii Stenberg for the production of Symphony of a Big City. The poster is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Symphony of a Big City — promotional poster

Symphony of a Big City — promotional poster

The poster is in the Constructivist style which implies a limited color palette and a fairly rigid, grid-like layout. Constructivism rejects decoration and is visually efficient. It’s a style I have a personal affinity and gravitation towards. And, while I appreciate this poster stylistically, it has come to mean much more. Doubtful it was the intention of the designers, but this poster is a perfect illustration for the creative process.

A few takeaways:

  • The ear-trumpet and the camera lens show the input of sensory data.
  • The pen and the typewriter show the methods of creative output.
  • The plane represents the packaging and delivery of intellectual property.
  • The watch around the neck symbolizes the constraints of time and money.
  • The cigarette… the unavoidable vices and diversions of creative work.

—cf