The Daily Heller: Felix Beltrán’s Revolutionary Modern Design

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Felix Beltrán, born in 1938 in Cuba, is one of the most important Latin American designers. However, until now there has been no monograph collecting all his work. Soon, Un Mundo Feliz will present many of Beltrán's contributions to "Western" graphic communication, propaganda and advertising. Of these subjects, "The first includes Cuban propaganda aimed at influencing people's attitudes towards the Revolution by means of controlled images to produce changes in attitude and manipulate from a Communist ideological perspective," write Sonia Diaz and Gabriel Martinez, authors of the forthcoming* Felix Beltran Inteligencia Visual (Ediciones Complutense, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain). "And then advertising aimed at informing the consumer of Capitalist society with the intention of promoting the consumption—more or less necessary—of goods and services."

*(Un Mundo Feliz does not yet know the pub date of the book, but I'm too excited by its imminent availability to hold back from sharing some of the pages.)

Beltrán introduced this "simplifying idea" having been influenced by American Mid-century Modernism, which he became "acquainted with during the 1950s and '60s in the USA through abstract art or chromatic abstraction." Other trends of the time such as concrete art, optical art, minimalism and pop art were added to this. Below is a diagram of the influences that are evidenced in the forthcoming critical monograph:

As Diaz and Martinez write in their introduction to the monograph, "Photographism is a term chosen by Tobias M. Barthel to define graphic art that effectively evolves from photomontage and the photogram to endow design with a unitary and functional representative quality that we could call photo-typographic." Beltrán employs raw photography to provoke a sense of objectivity and applies techniques such as "photocontrast" in an intense black strongly contrasted with flat-colored backgrounds, all with the aim of simplifying as much as possible and "endowing the images with an intense dramatism" in the style of North American pop art.

In the work on the pages excerpted below, the predominant technique is the "cartel maqueta": modifying a photograph to achieve an idealized allegorical image, or "iconospheres" that project various contextual influences, including Communism vs. Capitalism. "His aesthetic is didactic and effective in the achievement of the symbol-space, and his design is the individual and collective manifestation of a pictographism that fuses "letragrafía" and photographism," note Diaz and Martinez.

Simply put, they are powerful graphic and typographic concoctions that project a political or social message. Effective, si!