The Daily Heller: Posters of Uruguay, No Foolin’!

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La Patria, the Uruguayan design archive, obtains its collection from three sources: Direct purchase, donations, and via contributors—collectors or designers—who share their holdings. Materials are found online or in live flea markets, "where what is found always exceeds the imagination," says Gabriel Benderski, who spearheaded the archive. I've written before about his efforts, but this, so far, is the largest collection of modern posters from the La Patria archive that I've seen to date. I asked Benderski to tell us more about the world of Uruguay's graphic design.

Who are the most significant Uruguayan poster designers?

Without a doubt, the benchmark for Uruguayan poster design is Imprenta AS. This design studio founded in 1954 worked in the same way that Pentagram works today where each partner designs independently with his team, but the works were signed as from the studio. This working system gives the independence that every designer wants and needs as well as makes it possible to produce more thanks to the shared prestige. Please notice that Pentagram was founded in 1972.

Curiously, Imprenta AS was also founded by five designers: Jorge de Arteaga, Ajax Barnes, Hermenegildo Sábat, Carlos Pieri, Nicolás Loureiro and Antonio Pezzino. This distinguished team designed and illustrated posters, disc covers, theater programs and books.

Nowadays, Sebastián Santana Camargo is the Uruguayan designer of my knowledge who designed with the greatest contiguity posters for the same event. Divercine is a film festival for children and adolescents that has relied on Sebastián’s proposals to promote the festival for more than 20 years.

Tell me about the donations and how the Uruguayan graphic design heritage has grown.

With regard to donations, I want to mention two cases that stand out. Designers Sebastián Santana Camargo and Eduardo Davit donated their posters to La Patria. Then, for example, during the month of January I was contacted by Pedro Peralta Duarte, a prominent Uruguayan painter, where he informed me about the possibility of photographing a large collection of posters. These actions generate a great emotional impact on the work done by the archive since it produces a motivation to continue growing as well as a validation of the project by colleagues.

Contributors may or may not be designers, but they’re people who have a special taste for graphic arts that led them to save or collect ephemera, tickets or theater programs. The link with the contributors is generally created thanks to their contact and willingness to share their belongings. After a first message, I offer to visit their home with a camera to record the various pieces of design.

Thanks to the Uruguayan personality, an instant trust is generated thanks to the mutual interest in the discipline as well as the courtesy in opening the doors of their homes to a stranger. I think that in other countries, due to various causes, people don’t invite a stranger to their own place to share their stories behind each object.

I see many cultural posters. What is the main theme of the posters in the online archive?

The link between cultural events and poster designers is nothing new. This relationship must arise from the mutual sensitivity of the parties in wanting to communicate an interesting visual message. Interesting suggests that something is captivating, attractive and seductive, exactly what cultural events need.

A large number of posters in our collection belong to plays and puppet shows carried out in ‘El Galpón,’ a theater in the center of Montevideo. Today, posters that promote plays are made with photographs of the cast, something that didn’t happen in the past. In my opinion, it is more inspiring to invite the audience to the theater through an illustration. This approach has as its main consequence the subjectivity of the poster designer to promote the events. Also, we have to have in mind how it was designed, and for this we have to know the reality of Uruguay where resource limitations are one of the main creators of the local style. In other places, designers have an abundance of resources, in Uruguay that isn’t the case. It’s not that we are underprivileged, it’s that the limitations are noticeable. For instance, while a magazine cover created elsewhere might use the services of a photographer, a lighting designer, a couple of designers and an art director, in Uruguay, one person is responsible for everything. I don’t see it as a disadvantage, but, on the contrary, as a great virtue that allows us to have control over all parts.

Regarding the printing technique, it was common to design directly on the offset plate. It was much more comfortable for the designer; the figures and shapes used don’t have to be redone and time was saved. This approach also brings a particular characteristic, the use of lettering for the texts; all the written language was made specifically for each job. It was done in this way to avoid making the work more expensive and slow, since the use of fonts meant that the poster had to go through a typographic printing press.

How many have you collected? And what is your timespan?

The collection of posters for the revaluation of my vocation in Uruguay started
a year ago, in which almost 150 posters were collected.

It is to my knowledge that this action is just beginning and today it has expanded to work done by students. The limitation of including professional works doesn’t bring more than restrictions, which the archive isn’t interested in, but on the contrary, La Patria wants to be the most comprehensive and demonstrative of the profession as possible. Why wait for design students to graduate? Why not create a space for all designers regardless of their position? It is expected to generate in students that their work is valued for belonging to a space where artwork of established designers is together with designers who are taking their first steps.

Who would you say is the strongest influence on the poster in Uruguay?

In conversation with Horacio Añón, this 80-year-old designer made special mention of a design magazine that came to this territory, Poland. This Polish design magazine proved that it is possible to design everything by hand and that you don’t need a large printing house to produce quality design.

The aesthetics of painting and a simple metaphor developed characteristics such as pictorial gesture, linear quality and vibrant colors, as well as a sense of individual personality, humor and naiveness. Precisely, these peculiarities are what can be found in the Uruguayan way of design.