Hand Illustrating a World War

German Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, March 22, 1944
Pavel Petrovich Sokolov-Skalya
Multicolor brush stencil on newsprint (pieced), laid down on tan Korean lining paper,
1872 x 845 mm (click on images to enlarge).

While here in the United States, the Bureau of Graphics at the Office of War Information was cranking out World War II posters by the hundreds of thousands, its Soviet counterpart took a far more artisanal approach. The exhibition Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941-1945, on view at the Art Institute of Chicago from July 31, will present 157 posters created by the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (TASS) during World War II. All of these posters are between five and ten feet tall, and each of them was painstakingly painted by hand!

A Menacing Ghost

A Menacing Ghost, February 4, 1944
B. Shirokrad
Multicolor brush stencil on newsprint (pieced), laid down on tan Korean lining paper, 1670 x 869 mm

TASS commissioned approximately 1,250 designs for posters during the war—which works out to one for each day of the conflict—and mailed them to international institutions like the Art Institute of Chicago. Each of these designs was replicated in daily editions of a few hundred posters by a team of dedicated artists, using a stenciling method that is absolutely mind-blowing. Every color in these intricate posters was filled in, by hand, using a unique stencil. A single poster, with those subtle hues, might have required up to 70 stencils.

Unlike the strident, masculine imagery that we have come to associate with World War II propaganda, these posters have all the delicacy of fairytale illustrations. But that is perhaps the unfortunate effect of seeing them on the computer screen. In person, seeing a five-foot tall gnomish German soldier bayoneted might not be as benign.

Our One Thousandth Blow

Our One Thousandth Blow, June 5, 1944
Nikolai Fedorovich Denisovsky and Pavel Petrovich Sokolov-Skalya
Multicolor brush stencil on newsprint (pieced), laid down on tan Korean lining paper, 1601 x 1231 mm

Nonetheless, the posters are a glimpse into an entirely different mindset towards the war effort. The United States jumped into machine-like efficiency, producing the largest amount of printed propaganda amongst all the Allies. The totalitarian Soviet state relied instead on the painstaking labor of its artists to create, in hindsight, some very nuanced, exquisite pieces of art.

Scroll down for more handcrafted TASS posters:

Captured!

Captured!, February 17, 1944
Vladimir Vasilievich Lebedev
Multicolor brush stencil on newsprint (pieced), laid down on tan Korean lining paper, 1705 x 862 mm.

Fascist Reports

Fascist Reports, August 17, 1942
Pavel Petrovich Sokolov-Skalya and Nikolai Ernestovich Radlov
Multicolor brush stencil on newsprint (pieced), laid down on tan Korean lining paper, 1772 x 870 mm

All posters courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of the USSR Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries.

Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941-1945 will be on view at the Art Institute of Chicago from July 13 to October 23, 2011. A new poster will be uploaded each day on the exhibition’s tumblr site: http://tass-posters.tumblr.com/

Categories: Arts + Culture

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