Today, I'd like to present an artist who was lucky enough to catch the Jazz Age spirit and talented enough to preserve it in his prints and sketches.
A number of French poster artists have been already featured here: A.M. Cassandre, Géo Ham, Jean Carlu. The legacy of Paul Colin (1892-1985) is no less important. His posters continue to influence the artistic community, and if our genre needs more inspiration, here it is.
Unsurprisingly, you won't find a lot about Colin in English. This article is a compilation of a short bio and a bit more detailed review, with some minor additions written by yours truly. I believe the artist would just laugh at his present-day obscurity. He had a good sense of humor and was well capable of a healthy self-irony, as can be seen in his photo-collage self portrait created somewhere around 1930.
Paul Colin was a master of the Art Deco poster. With over 1900 posters and many book designs, theatre set and costume designs to his name, he was one of the foremost graphic artists of the period.
Colin was born and raised in Nancy, France. Very early on, much to his father's disapproval, Colin became fascinated with art. At the age of 15, he was an apprentice at a nearby printing house and at 18, he enrolled at L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Colin excelled at his studies and made his debut into the art world at the company of Eugene Vallin. His work became known but it was not until he created his first poster for a small but established journal that he was ready to take on Paris. Colin came to Paris in 1912, a very volatile time for the country, where he soon found himself in the middle of World War One. Following the War, he returned to Paris to resume his poster career.
He is best known for his poster for La Revue Nègre in 1925. The star of this show, Josephine Baker, took Paris by storm. She was an African American singer, dancer and all round entertainer who caused a sensation with her revealing costumes, banana skirt and live cheetah. Colin's poster for this memorable show, depicts “La Baker” with two black jazz musicians, in brilliant red and black stylized caricature (see the headline picture).
Colin, having become the lover of Josephine Baker and a life-long friend, designed many other posters for her performances and for her recordings, and helped promote her career. She in return was his muse and inspired many great artworks which have remained popular to this day.*
He produced posters for festivals and exhibitions, transport and travel companies, the Wiener and Docet Piano Company, the French Loterie Nationale, and products such as cigarettes and alcohol. He designed French film posters, such as Le Voyage Imaginaire, and also produced stage and costume designs for the theatre.
Although not as well-known as Cassandre , his work is highly collectable. An original of his 1929 poster “La Revue Black Birds at the Moulin Rouge” is valued in excess of ₤100,000 in Miller's Art Deco Collector's Guide.
His designs contain elements of jazz, bold striking colors, and influences from both Cubism and Surrealism. Highly stylized, or caricatured human forms are oddly juxtaposed with geometric overlapping objects like a Cubist collage.
Colin was seldom involved into any form of political activity. Anyway, he took part into pro-Republican campaign during the Spanish Civil War (above). And with the start of WWII, he produced a print roughly equal to the famous "Lose Lips Sink Ships" and "Don't Blabber!" (below).
Any idea of Colin's life during the occupation of France? There's no sign of him leaving the country or, on the contrary, collaborating with the Vichy regime. In 1944, he returned to the scene with a laconic Liberation poster:
* One may ask where are all those iconic drawings of Josephine Baker half-naked. Alas, our host, armed with some modern version of the Hays Code, doesn't encourage such 'frivolous' images. So please accept my apologies, read a nice article elsewhere and use the links. Like this. Or that.