• PrintMag

Christmas on the Fourth of July

It started, arguably, with the Obama-Biden campaign in 2008. Like all presidential campaigns, the brand’s color-mandate was simply to seize the red-white-and-blue in a fresh way. Its solution was magical: sweeten up American red to a shade between geranium-red and maraschino; float a pale sky-blue overhead; and ground the whole logo in traditional navy.

Specifically, it underlines a hopefully repeatable cycle in our national history: a country first hobbled by the Great Depression transforms into a triumphant post-war power, a beacon of freedom whose stolid values and zeal for change neatly balanced each other out. Red-white-and-blue says heritage, unity, digging deep into our past for future hope. Lightened up, the palette recalls blue skies, ice-cream trucks (like the Deitch Projects site redesign above), and endless summer, a thrilling evocation in the doldrums of a possible double-dip recession.

What does the new red-white-and-blue suggest overseas? Equally popular abroad, its meanings seem to cover a wider span. Take this poster by Berlin-based onlab for the Museum of Fine Arts in Le Loc, Switzerland:

A winner of the 100 Best Posters of 2009 exhibit now on display at Berlin’s Kunstbibliothek Staatlicher Museen, onlab’s poster counts itself among several European meditations on a similar theme. In some cases, the palette, such as in this Niklaus Troxler poster that won Icograda’s excellence award at the Chaumont poster festival, veers more towards a CMYK-style set of transparent films:

In other cases, red transposed against blue meditates on America’s changing world role; the following poster by blotto design in Berlin commemorates the 20th anniversary of fall of the Berlin Wall.

The exhibit also includes nods to red-and-green. In this poster by hardt.design advertising a student exhibit called “Kunst Stadt Landschaft” (Art City Landscape), a pale green with lipstick red evokes city clashing with country, culture leaching the hues of nature for its own, slightly nefarious ends:

(Koi by xiaobaosg, designed for Chinese New Year Lights Up in Chinatown, Singapore, 2007)

On the European side of things, red-white-and-blue has a distinctly luxurious provenance: the red-and-white emblazoned the Italian House of Savoy’s coat of arms, while the Italian soccer team wears cerulean sky-blue, also in honor of the Savoys and specifically of Vittorio Emanuele II, who first united Italy in 1861. As the Italians moan, holler and cheer at every game: Forza Azzurri! Go Blue! Red-and-blue also evokes certain folk patterns, as evinced in Polish designer Agnieszka Gasparska’s NYC-based firm Kiss Me I’m Polish (who collaborated on the Deitch Projects website design above):

What about gender? If the red shades into hot-pink, this combo can offer a witty feminist commentary. Take the excellent postcard series created for the recent launch of Birdwatching, a community dedicated to female graphic designers:

This poster by Swiss-based Melchior Imboden, also a winner in the 100 Best Posters of 2009, offers an unusual sample of what combining these two palettes can do. Overlaying lollypop red, leafy green, and sky-blue with snippets of yellow and white creates a jostling effect at first, then a surprisingly calming one. It’s like a beautiful test pattern for an antique television, a selective mixing of primaries with a classic feel and a modern punch. Could this be the next big wave, a brilliant post-modern plaid?

+ More from Jude Stewart: Coloring for Grown-ups [Imprint] The History of the Color Wheel [COLOURlovers] The Color Index Book, by Jim Krause [My Design Shop]

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