Lately I get the feeling that when people hear the word “design” images of Don Draper-like ad-men plying clients with hard liquor, irresistible pitches and sheer animal magnetism come to their minds. But design can be used for more than just selling the latest product or service, it can be used as political commentary or, as the title of Milton Glaser’s book so eloquently terms it, “The Design of Dissent.” From El Lissitsky’s 1919 poster, “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge” depicting the Russian Civil War to Gerald Holtom’s 1958 Peace symbol advocating nuclear disarmament, design has played an integral role in political discourse covering the spectrum from propaganda to protest. The categorization of each depending on which side of the conversation one happens to be on.
One inspiring example on exhibit for the first time in the United States is Jerzy Janiszewski’s rare poster of his logo for Solidarity, the Polish anti-communist movement started by Gdansk Shipyard workers in 1980 that would eventually spread throughout the Eastern Bloc nations and contribute to ending the Cold War. The logo, executed in a bold graffiti style powerfully captures the revolutionary sentiment of the movement and is just one of a larger collection of Janiszewski’s works that will be on display. Previously, as reported by Polish News, the poster had been “buried underground for seven years to safeguard it from Poland’s secret police.” A fact which further highlights the political tensions of the time. Janiszewski’s work can be seen by appointment at Charles Krause/Reporting Fine Art in Washington D.C. from December 9, 2011 through January 22, 2012.
Another example in the news is street artist and designer Shepard Fairey’s illustration of the ‘Protester’ for Time Magazine’s 2011 “Person of the Year” issue. Fairey, who was sued for copyright infringement by the Associated Press for using an AP photograph as the basis for the “HOPE” Obama poster is garnering accolades and criticism alike throughout the blogosphere for this recent work. Intended to embody the spirit of protests around the world from Arab Spring to the Occupy Wall Street movement, the ‘Protester” depicts a close up shot of an anonymous individual with a scarf covering the lower portion of their face staring defiantly at the viewer. While HuffPost Arts exclaimed “The brilliance of Fairey’s image…” Columnist Christopher Knight panned it in the LA Times as “schmaltzy, ” “corporate” and “conventional.” Aside from critiques directed at the image itself there are other interesting facets of the Fairey criticism. One, is that the Protester image is too close to the photograph Fairey based it on by Ted Soliqui and another asserting that he’s lost his guerilla art roots.
Regardless both Janiszewski’s and Fairey’s work are worth contemplation for the dialogue they elicit, their impact on design history and the way they shape mainstream thought on design.
Please post your thoughts and comments.