Bass Notes: The film posters of Saul Bass

I planned to visit this exhibition today at Kemistry Gallery in Shoreditch, but I ran out of time, however, I thought it may be worthwhile to write a blog entry about an exhibition I didn’t attend!

The year was 1996 and I was working as a junior designer at CDT Design in London when one of the company directors announced that Saul Bass had died. I seemed to be the only designer in the studio who hadn’t heard of Saul Bass. These moments of embarrassment were fairly frequent at CDT, I was met with puzzled looks when I said that ‘I wasn’t really into film’, and the shocked expressions of my colleagues spoke volumes, ‘how can you be a graphic designer and not be into film?’. I still feel like I should be, but other forms of expression such as books, museums, galleries, architecture,  TV and Radio capture my interest the most. Occasionally there are films released that I really want to view, and this happened last year with Tom Ford’s adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man. But I have’t been to the cinema since, should I feel ashamed of myself? Since visual communication and film both share in their ability to create narrative and meaning, in visual and written form, my disposition not to be engaged fully with film appears to be viewed as a weakness by other designers.

In 1997 I departed CDT and moved to Lloyd Northover. It was a surprise to me and Jim Northover that 11 years later in 2008 we would met up again on the first day of the MA Design Writing Criticism course as students. Jim is the curator of the Bass Notes show, and with good reason, in 1998 Lloyd Northover Citigate (as it was then known) acquired Saul Bass’s design studio along with his archive (you can read the full story on Jim’s blog). It was in 1998 when one of Lloyd Northover’s directors Jim Bodoh gave a presentation of Saul Bass’s film posters, that I really became acquainted with and appreciate Bass’s work.

Since bequeathing Bass’s posters to the BFI in 1998, Jim writes:

‘Now a decade on, I’m delighted that the BFI has agreed to bring the posters out of store for an exhibition at Kemistry Gallery in Shoreditch. When I look at them all over again, I’m reminded of Herb’s [Saul’s business partner] reply when I asked him what he thought was the essence of Saul’s work. ‘It punches through the din,’ he said. With so much more visual noise around us these days, his aphorism is as true ever.’

I will endeavor to get to the show before it closes as I haven’t seen the original posters, only reproductions in books or on screen, I’ve no doubt that their ability to ‘punch through the din’ will be evident once I walk through the gallery door.


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