Two California Poster Artists


A number of years ago a friend gave me some dog-eared old issues of American Artist magazine. It was a stack of a dozen or so mildewy artifacts dating back to 1968-69, largely unremarkable except for one issue that caught my eye; May 1969. 

The cover story, "Two California Poster Artists", profiled David Osborn and Charles Woods, a pair of young designers who worked in silkscreen and offset lithography. There was a good selection of their prints featured along with a lengthy interview. The broad shapes, bright colors and loose imagery were bold and lyrical, reminding me of both Matisse's cutouts and Sister Corita's colorful screen prints. At the time that I first saw this, I was just beginning to make screen prints. I loved the bold shapes and overlayed colors, but most of all I marveled at how fresh and lively they looked, even in the yellowed pages of the old magazine. I tucked it away and went about the business of making screen prints for the next ten years. 

A few years ago, in a stroke of awesome luck, I discovered a number of Osborn/Woods prints for sale on Etsy. It turns out that Charles Woods had passed on and the estate was selling a number of posters and prints from their collection. I immediately snatched up several for myself, and they are beautiful to behold in person. They show their age a little, but for the price they were a steal. Their production process was an interesting cross between screen-printing and lithography, and you can tell that these were carefully and lovingly made. 

I went back and read the 1969 article and interview in which they detailed some of their inspirations and working methods. For me it's a reaffirming read in that the relationship between the images and the printing method, between artist and printer, was a crucial and inextricable element. In design and illustration today you can see the remnants of this relationship everywhere. Off-registration, ink spread, color overlays and tactile elements that used to be the artifacts of the printing process are now baked into images that may never be printed on paper. It's a clever look in that when executed well it has a comfortable and authentic appearance. At the same time, limited edition printing methods like lithography, screen printing, and letterpress are often aped on computer screens and then overlooked in production for the robotic ease of giclee printing. So, while I first found the Osborn/Woods posters inspiring for their novelty, style and imagery, I see now that they are more than just beautiful images, they are Beautiful Objects.

Click here for the full American Artist interview. Osborn and Woods' original prints are available at etsy.