Radical poster design

Posters tend to lead a virtual life these days, circulated online rather than pasted up on walls – but the radical edge is still there. John Stones is invigorated by a sudden flurry of work triggered by a recent incident in Greece

Just before Christmas, 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos was shot dead by police in Athens. It seemed that all of Greece erupted in fury, not only at the meaningless loss of life, but with frustration at their incompetent and corrupt politicians. Riot police with tear gas took weeks to quell the rioting that followed, and a shaky prime minister appeared on television to appeal for calm. The unrest subsided and damage was cleaned up, but the anger was palpable beyond the few anarchists taking advantage of the situation.

One of those horrified at what was taking place was Nassos Kiratzoglou, creative director of Tribal DDB’s Athens office. By day he designs corporate websites, but keeps sane by allowing his alter ego, Nassos Kappa or ‘Crazymonkey’, free rein with a design blog (www.nassoskappa.com). Having trained as a graphic designer, creating a poster seemed an appropriate outlet for expressing his feelings about what was going on around him. The design, with the slogan ’15-year-old shot dead by cop – and they care only about money’ was duly posted on his blog with the invitation that people share and circulate the image. He designed another poster and e-mailed friends, and soon other designers joined in and the posters came flooding in – some 41 of them in all.

Rather than being slick, finished commercial images, the posters have a raw immediacy and passion. They draw on a variety on influences. In the case of the contribution of Petros Voulgaris (who prefers to go under the name of Design Insane), it is clearly the now-canonical street art figures such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey. Others reference older traditions of oppositional graphics, such as those of John Heartfield in the 1930s. In the case of So Far So Good, the poster designed by Stavros Georgakopoulos (or ’til01′), both the traditional agit-prop approaches of photomontage and stencil are combined.

Dimitris Kanellopoulos works for Poor Designers, also in Athens. His contribution, called Stupidity, presents the events in a comic strip, the twee style of the poster at evident odds with the violence of the events to which it refers.

Other designers tried to make their daily bread bend to reflect their feeling about the situation following the shooting. For instance, Giannis Aggelakos created what purports to be a freeware font (‘Trigger Black’), but on closer examination the numbers and letters on the specimen sheet show themselves to be little cameos of the rioting. The text reads ‘Freedom needs courage and virtue’, which is the Greek equivalent for ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’, using all letters of the alphabet but with added piquancy in this context. The pretend website www.xeftila.gr actually means www.disgrace.gr.

Stavroula Economou runs a design consultancy called Purple in Athens, mainly devising corporate identities and signage, but was moved by the shooting and rioting to create two sarcastic posters showing ‘cleaning in progress’. ‘For me, it is of great importance that all of us graphic designers should help in our way and serve from our standpoint,’ says Economou. ‘We should follow the facts around us, whether they are political or social, but on the other hand I strongly believe that we should keep distanced enough so as to be able to be objective and unbiased.’

Dionysis Livanis’ poster was inspired by the 2004 Olympics in Athens and its imagery, which it subverts. ‘I was working at the Image and Identity Department of the Organising Committee of Athens 2004,’ he says. ‘My experience during 2004 was of a beautiful and peaceful city full of energy and hope for the future. During the last few years, though, every hope has been evaporated. The murder of Alexandros was what made everyone angry, but the crisis is much deeper.’

Quite apart from demonstrating Greek designers’ strength of feeling and a frustrated impotence, ‘the need to do something’, this set also shows what the poster has largely become for us now. Fairey’s Hope, the iconic poster of Barack Obama, may have been printed more than 300 000 times, but it is probably an exception, a swansong for the genre. It will, in any case, have been seen many more times on the cover of Time magazine or on the news websites around the world that featured it.

No longer posted on walls or even printed at full ‘poster’ size (or, indeed, any other), posters such as these instead lead a virtual life on websites such as Flickr (the full set of these posters can be seen at www.flickr.com/photos/nassoskappa/sets). When occasionally the posters are printed, it is when they are picked up by the printed media, such as in this case Lifo, a Greek freesheet targeting the youth market – or indeed in illustration to an article such as this.

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  • til01 November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Today i read your article and im pleased to see that people in other countries read our blogs, We are lucky to that some of the posters were printed in A3 size free news paper, that was nice our purpose was the images to travel around the world and so it did we hope that we wont have to design poster for bad situations like this.

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