The last few years have seen a great resurgence of poster art and a return to the “handmade” (aesthetically, if not actually). I’ve personally seen two documentaries about gig posters, and books on gig posters, letterpress, and “DIY” abound.


Amidst all this excitement, I thought it might be nice to take a look back at some visual precedents that deserve broader appreciation for being the forerunners of our contemporary aesthetic output.

There are a few practitioners, like Paul Rand and Bradbury Thompson (amongst others, including Alvin Lustig), who, through their extraordinary output–and their positions indoctrinating generations of leading designers at the Yale graduate program–are well known. Both men developed a playful, colorful approach to graphic design that embraced handmade elements and presaged the coming post-modern parade.

A few of my favorites, however, have been left out of this hit parade and deserve their props.

Enter: Roy Kuhlman (1 2 3)–a contemporary of Rand, Thompson and Lustig. His covers for American editions of European avant-garde texts remain absolutely contemporary and fresh.

Evocative use of scale, balance, color, forms, photography, and typography set the mood for the texts while avoiding the illustrative and the literal. Words and letters become image and take on their own voice–enigmatic yet forceful.  You can’t “read” a Kulman design–you have to interpret, or intone.

Like the artists behind many of today’s gig-posters, Kulhman didn’t  (and couldn’t) count on big budgets. He combined found and hand-drawn elements with commonly available typography and tools of the trade (such as the oft-missed Rubylith) to create his compositions. Financial limitations would never hinder Kuhlman’s effort to create a recognizable identity for Grove press. His covers created a brand that was visually dynamic–and clearly recognizable.

And still iconic today.

A few examples below, from 1958 and 1960, respectively: