The Transitory Art of Street Posters

You walk by them every day and hardly see them, masking tape peeling off, half obscured by next week’s gig and covered with staples – the ubiquitous street poster.

Street posters are an art form that is chronically undervalued. The constraints of the medium are a serious design challenge: squeeze lots of information onto a standard print size and make it legible, find or make up images and typefaces that represent the event, design it so it won’t look terrible if it’s badly photocopied 100 times or rained on, make it so noticeable that someone going by on rollerblades will stop and read it, and do all that for really, really cheap. The designer’s name will not likely appear on the poster and the poster will only be on display for a week or two before it becomes obsolete and unceremoniously disposed of.

Sometimes musicians moonlight in graphic design with some excellent results. But more often than not, it’s “I need this by tomorrow and I don’t have any money. But I can put your name on the door.” Great if you love live music,  not so much if you have to eat.

There is a stellar history of poster art from the likes of  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec to Ben Shahn to Peter Max. The digital age has made it a little easier – no more grinding down litho stones unless you’re hardcore.

But happily the edginess and attitude persist. This is not an eyesore, but public art at its best – an urgent, egalitarian, ever-changing gallery of community arts and letters, inseparable words and pictures, a temporary snapshot of our town’s imminent events, full of hope and expectation.

So street poster designers whoever you are, I salute you. For challenging our idea of what is beautiful and helping us bear witness to fleeting moments – you are the unsung heroes and heroines of our urban landscape.

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