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Elevating the medium

The FAC's Michael De Marsche weighs in on posters in art

By Matthew Schniper


Jermaine Rogers, revered in rock-poster artist and fan circles, anticipates creating more fine art prints than ever before in the year ahead. His desire to pick up his paintbrush more than his pencil gives him a chance to leave the kind of legacy that the great artists have left one of brushstrokes on canvas, rather than paper prints that rolled out of a machine.

It shouldn't have to be that way, he believes. He acknowledges Alfonse Mucha and Henri de Toulouse Lautrec did earn respect as fine artists with posters. But he argues they're not often mentioned in the same breath as folks like Picasso, Matisse and Van Gogh.

"Why?" he asks.

The Indy decided to pose this question to Michael De Marsche, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center director. He has, after all, curated recent shows featuring artists such as Peter Max and Andy Warhol two other notables directly relevant to the poster scene.

As it turns out, De Marsche offers a different perspective on posters in the fine art world.

Indy: Many people would argue that a poster is not fine art because it is a reproduction. Has poster art has ever been accepted as fine art?

MD: Absolutely. The most famous example is Henri de Toulouse Lautrec. I don't think that reproduction influences the value of it as art in the least. For a painting, sure, it's great to see brushstroke, but that's the unique quality of the painting that makes it special. I think printmaking and poster art in general have a lot to make them special.

It was Peter Max who, in many respects, brought the mainstream to poster art in the mid-1960s. To me, whether it is art or not has nothing to do with the medium as much as, is it aesthetically interesting, and is it artistically saying anything? Is there something in the content that makes it valuable? Does it resonate with a human being in some way?

Poster art has a tendency to be graphic. You are usually marketing when you use the term "poster" as opposed to "print." ... But to me, the value is all about color, graphic choices, line and interesting composition. The folks that really become successful at it are terrific artists in their own right.

Is it ever going to be looked upon or really, truthfully, is it as serious in intent as serious painting? Well, probably not. Because what's motivating it is different.

Indy: Jermaine feels Lautrec was accepted into fine art because he was a painter first. Do you think if an artist like Jermaine shifts to producing more fine art, he can segue the poster movement into fine art?

MD: Lautrec painted, but he was certainly no famous painter at the time. Lautrec went into the graphic medium because he needed to make a dollar or a franc and he needed to earn his daily bread and his cognac. He was in no way looked upon as a major, successful painter at that time. To me, it has very little to do with "can you make the leap from graphic artist to painter?"

The guy who represents that leap the best is Andy Warhol. He was probably the best-known graphic designer in New York. And the question about him in the early days is, "Would Andy be able to develop paintings that are meaningful in a human way?" We knew Andy could sell a product, but could he deal with deeper issues? And of course, he was able to make that leap. ...

One thing you've got to be able to do in the graphic medium is formally use composition and color effectively. [Jermaine] clearly can do that. He's terrific. Now, whether he can make that big leap into painting is another thing.

Indy: Jermaine says he "want[s] to make poster art relevant again." Is it relevant?

MD: If you do a terrific poster that is formally so well-constructed that people are really influenced and amazed by it, like Mucha did, or Lautrec did, or Warhol ... If you're able to do a work of art that really wows people by its formal qualities, as being unique and innovative and inventive, then you've got yourself a terrific poster.

I think everybody will look at it, from art historians to the most serious critic, and will say it qualifies as a great work of art. It has less to do with elevating the entire medium of poster art, because I'm not sure you're ever going to do that. I just think the intent of poster is different that the intent of fine art painting, because it usually has to sell and market a product.

Indy: Would you hang a show of Jermaine's works say, his original pencil and ink works alongside the produced posters and some of his canvases in a fine art gallery like the FAC Modern?

MD: Absolutely, you could have a fine art show with Jermaine's work. Again, we've cited all these various artists that allow us to say that. And I wouldn't have any problem whatsoever if I could find Lautrec posters dealing with the Moulin Rouge [to hang]. They are great works of art.

I'm absolutely positive that eventually every era has poster artists that sort of go beyond the medium and really develop something that is just visually dazzling. I'm working on a show now from the '60s it's got a lot of poster art in it. There's just something that's very evocative about that art. There's something that really evokes the time and the spirit of the 1960s. And I see a little bit of that in Jermaine's work.

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