A smiling woman peers up through the shade of her visor. She serves as the main subject of what appears to be, at first glance, a balmy summer festival poster. However, upon closer inspection, silhouetted figures skiing down the vaguely mountainous negative space reveal quite the opposite.
This Swiss tourism poster was one of many the designer and photographer, Herbert Matter, created for the Swiss National Tourism office. Even today, as it displays as part of the UAFS Windgate Art & Design permanent collection, Matter’s revolutionary use of typography, composition and photomontage still holds just as strong as it did in 1934.
At the time of its creation, The Great Depression proved to be very difficult for graphic designers as they were forced to turn to government projects due to lack of commercial work. Herbert Matter was among these artists. His home country, Switzerland, with its high population density, hard conditions for agriculture, and scarcity on raw materials was undergoing a notorious deficit in food production and trade. In response, Switzerland became eager to stimulate their economy with tourism.
Inspired by the work of El Lissitzky and Man Ray, Matter created an iconic poster series that focused on the picturesque Swiss alpine regions and it’s snowy sporting opportunities. His process was photomontage, a relatively new and exciting medium, which was invented by the Dada artists, and was achieved by editing and cutting multiple photos onto one final production piece. The result was an ingenious fusion of Swiss style with American pop culture. The artist also followed a design pattern that was very well rooted in the early 1930s, including the use of the close cropped, "heroic head" icon. This "heroic head", which appears at the top of this Herbert Matter poster, stares away from the viewer, giving the impression of remoteness and total dedication to a greater, often nationalistic, ideal.
Matter’s groundbreaking work in photomontage would go on to influence future graphic designers such as Paula Scher. Now, as it hangs in the first floor hallway of the UAFS Windgate Art & Design Building, it also serves to influence the current and future designers that walk through it’s halls.
This column is produced by the River Valley Arts Coalition, whose mission is to inform citizens and visitors of the available fine art exhibition and education opportunities in Fort Smith and surrounding region. We also want to tell the stories of the people who make the local art scene such a vibrant and important part of our community. To send comments or for more information on the River Valley Arts Coalition contact email@example.com.