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Art With an Agenda

Job by Alphonse Mucha on alphonsemucha.co.uk

Advertising and art have a long relationship throughout history with examples in many genres – from fashion photography, to political propaganda, to the slick campaigns produced by Madison Avenue – whose graphic designers fill our world with familiar logos and imagery. Call it art with an agenda. One of the earliest and most recognizable practitioners of commercial art was Czech painter and illustrator Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939).

Chocolat Ideal by Alphonse Mucha on alphonsemucha.co.uk

Mucha was active in Paris in the late 19th century and most famous for his decorative work in what became known as the Art Nouveau style. He had many followers and imitators, but in spite of his success with commercial work, preferred to think of himself as a serious painter of more substantial works with a spiritual message.

Moulin Rouge la Goulue by Toulouse Lautrec on wikipedia.org

Contemporary Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) also created commercial art while establishing himself as a serious painter on a par with Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Gauguin. His posters, advertising places such as the famous Moulin Rouge, are just as recognizable today as his fine art portraits of bohemian life inside the cabarets and brothels of the time.

Poster for Pink Floyd concert by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat on wikipedia.org

Mucha and Lautrec continue to influence artists today. Much work has been done in connection with concert promotion that is reminiscent of these artists. Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, the collective name of a graphic design and musical partnership between Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, produced psychedelic posters promoting musical happenings in London in the 1960s. These works became so popular that they helped establish posters as art for sale in local shops, and their value has increased over time as they appear in museums as both artifacts of the era and artworks in their own right.

Punk Victorian by Paul Harvey on wikipedia.org

British musician and artist Paul Harvey creates works that draw equally from both the world of music and art, depicting modern celebrities in the Mucha style. He has even created campaign posters for the same firm that once employed Mucha. These artworks almost immediately crossed from advertizing back to art as they were sought by galleries and exhibited, making one wonder which came first, the medium or the message?

Brian Sylvester is a guest blogger on WallSpin, and an artist on Zatista.

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