Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Two WWII Posters

Recently we saw the exhibition of World War II posters at the FDR Library and Museum in Hyde Park.

Out of all the posters in the show, let me focus on just two of them with a very similar concept: machine gunners in action. Let's compare the compositions:

"Your Metal is their Might!" 1943 Jes Wilhelm Schlaikjer (American, 1897–1982)
The Schlaikjer painting shows three figures, a background that's light and dark, lots of bullet casings flying, and a slight upward angle of the gun barrel.
"Let's give him Enough and On Time" Norman Rockwell
What strikes me is how much simpler and more memorable the Rockwell is. There's just a single figure; we don't see the gunner's face; the background is black; the image is divided by a straight diagonal line; and the typography reads clearly against the light yellow background. 

By leaving out non-essential information, Rockwell makes a much stronger statement. In a poster, simplicity is crucial.   


Rockwell usually started out with a sketch made purely from his imagination and built his final concept around it. This germinal idea, which says "Are you backing me up?" is similar to the final, except that the soldier is turned toward us.
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The exhibition "The Art of War: American Poster Art 1941-1945" ends December 31, but unfortunately, because of the government shutdown, the museum will be closed.

9 comments:

A Colonel of Truth said...

JWS opted to show a gun team - gunner, asst gunner, ammo man (though all qualified to man the gun). NR opted for gunner (though we only assume he is actual gunner and not asst nor ammo man). Rest assured though not included the other gum team members are close by. As Thoreau advised, “Simplify. Simpllify.” One more powerful, pictorially, than three. But not when machine-gunning - that’s a team business.

Timothy Bollenbaugh said...

James & Colonel:

Great! & reminds me of a couple of dynamic JG posts—

http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2016/03/seeing-without-interpreting.html

http://gurneyjourney.blogspot.com/2015/12/harold-speed-chapter-4-painters-training.html See Item #8

joe k said...

Im all in for simplicity, but in this case the Schlaikjer one, works better. At least at conceptual level. It depics a team effort. One man is shooting, one man is feeding and one man supports the cumbersome and heavy gun. They are struggling, they need your help, you are the forth member of the team. Dont let them run out of ammo! But there is a second message. Take pride in your contribution. You might not be on the field but your work is important.
The Rockwell one is missing emotion. We can see a gunner shooting an over-rendered machinegun but he looks rather comfortable. He sure is running around like the other soldiers. Nice and comfy doing his thing.... There is no connection, no passion.

Timothy Bollenbaugh said...

You fellows are right, and no argument from me. And yet I sense the strength, fatigue and focus of the NR—he seems about done in but hanging on. He needs help now. JWS—a lot going on, dramatic but static, not reflecting a sense of urgency especially considering the action surrounding them. Maybe it depends on what the viewer brings to it.

moospeed said...

100% agree with everything you've written. The Rockwell one wouldn't catch my attention but perhaps that's because I'm interested from an art perspective which the other one excels at.

hovig said...

Have to agree with James. Leave aside the slogan/text for a moment and look only at the image - NR's depiction is far above and beyond that of JWS. One is an eye catching illustration that is akin to a blockbuster film....it will wash off the moment you walk away. The other makes another sort of impact - its force comes from its somber and almost funereal approach to the subject matter. Unlike JWS's moment, where we're led to believe the three will go home as heroes, NR's is not going to end happily, maybe foreshadowed by the face falling into deep shadow and figure almost solidified into a concrete memorial to itself, the unknown soldier. For this reason JWS's does work better - but merely as a poster to rile young patriots into action. PURELY as an image though, I believe NR's wins hands-down. I saw this painting at a Rockwell show in San Diego AGES ago and along with another painting (of a circus scene) it's the only piece I remember of the show. And I have zero interest in military subject matter and not even a huge fan of NR as I find most of his work to be bit too sentimental...

Timothy Bollenbaugh said...

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Timothy Bollenbaugh said...

Re: "test"

Apologies—correcting blog setting. Well, it works now!

JR said...

James Gurney says: What strikes me is how much simpler and more memorable the Rockwell is.

What strikes me is how much simpler - and less impressive the Rockwell was to me when I saw it just now.

Now, I came to Gurney Journey with a specific purpose, to look at images, aware that I've been visually deprived in this grey, bleak wintry day. The JWS's poster answered my psychological appetites better.

At other occasions, I'm a fan of simplicity. On my wall, I have a very simple poster, the original of which I additionally simplified by completely desaturating it.

Now, as to the effects and the values of these two posters in the society at the time they were made: I will conjecture that the Rockwell poster appealed more to the better-off public, especially the wealthy and the people in executive positions, who must be exposed with visual beauty on daily basis... and that, on the other hand, Schlaikjer's poster would have loomed much more powerfully in the minds of the ordinary Joe.

"By leaving out non-essential information, Rockwell makes a much stronger statement. In a poster, simplicity is crucial."

By adding inessential information, Bob Peak made his kitschy movie posters more popular than his fabulous black-and-white illustrations, and his and limited-palette illustrations.