Artists often look to alternative sources for inspiration. Picasso wandered through the Trocadero Museum in Paris and discovered inspiration in African Masks. Gauguin traveled to Tahiti. Monet looked to the Japanese woodcuts of Hokusai and Hiroshige. Artists of the late 20th century looked to pop culture. I have just briefly turned my attention to the formats and coloring of early 20th century postcards.
With cell phone cameras, Face Book, Instagram, TikToc, and other social digital media postcards are disappearing from common use. They had begun as decorated cards of personal identification in the late 1700s known as carte des visites. You would leave your card with another party as a reminder of your work or status. Within a generation and the development of photography in the 1830s someone could put a picture in an envelope for mailing to friends or family.
Woodblock prints identifying visited locations or holiday festivals were early forms of the image bearing card to be easily reproduced and sent by mail. Remember we only get our first postage stamp in the 1840s. By the 1860s we had the first Postal Cartes which could present lithographed images of visited places or holiday themes. The idea of the modern colored postcard develops in the early 20th century. The French came up with a trifold card (example 1) with simple limited color lithography.
With only limited colors publishers relied on more intense color contrasts to attract the attention of buyers. By the 1930’s the modern chrome postcard and modern linen card were popular. The linen stock prevented inks from sinking in and gave a more vivid appearance. And the modern 4 color lithograph replaced the earlier and more expensive chromolithographs. But, intensity of color and clarity of edges through a reliance on high contrast, and simultaneous color contrasts remained as standards.
Examples 3 and 4 show the use of classical Ideal Italian landscape designs as compositional forms for presenting local images. Example 3 from the 1930s presents a bucolic generic landscape designed with a standard serpentine road wending into the shaded distance. It’s a recipe of clichés that could fit many locations with its sunny pasture, grazing cow, rich foliage and flowering plants. The colors are unnaturally amplified. Example 4 presents a Claudian design with an overarching cherry tree framing a monument and lake. Again the colors are exaggerated and discreetly placed within their respective forms to accommodate easier printing.
Transferring these postcard aesthetics to my own summer photos I came up with these exaggerated results. The images refer to the earlier 20th century postcards. With my designs, color and edge exaggerations I can dramatize the connection between contemporary work and historic postcards (see examples 5, 6, and 7).
My final examples 8, 9, and 10 are a sequence of steps painting of a forest stream. The colors and textures and edges have been heightened to subliminally recall a connection to earlier postcard aesthetics.
I invite you to join me in September for more online Zoom classes. Again, I present a demonstration followed by critiques of individual artist’s works. These artists’ works may be anything you wish me to see and offer my suggestions. Registration is at daviddunlop.com.