Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Smith’s Art

Back when US postage stamps were boring, the countries that belonged to the Warsaw Pact had much neater stuff. The Soviet Union, Communist Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria – they couldn’t produce a working refrigerator to save their lives. But they had TERRIFIC stamps.

The old-school artists of these countries combined 1960s “contemporary design” and art deco elements to produce damn outstanding philately…everything from Soviet space ships (factual and fictional) to folk heroes, holiday celebrations to sports figures.

Well, this post started because the American Marketing Association-Houston has been using several pieces of stock art by Laura Smith to advertise its upcoming Crystal Awards. I’m fond of Art Deco styling as well as good illustration. And I was curious about this particular “Laura Smith.”

As illustrators go, Smith is famous enough. She’s been written up and written about, with her growing up in, “a mid-century modern house in Manhattan Beach, CA (literally on the beach), where no one but her mother locked their doors.”

When she graduated from Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, Smith moved to New York City to jump-start her career. After developing her style in New York for 12 years, she returned to California and set up shop in the Hollywood Hills, where she’s been ever since, producing dramatic or dynamic creations for advertisers, magazines and organizations from the American Public Works Association to the Hard Rock Cafe.

Given how many illustrators there are in the world – and from how many sources they draw inspiration – it’s awkward to single out just one, saying, “This is cool stuff.” There’s lots of that.

But after looking at Smith’s current work at, I realized, here’s an illustrator who had to have been looking over my shoulder when I was collecting Warsaw Pact stamps back in the ’60s.

She wrote me: There have been many artists that have influenced my work. I never tire of the French poster artist A M Cassandre. Otis Shepard always feels fresh to me (he was known for all the work he did for Wrigley’s). More recently I have been inspired by Mary Blair.

My earlier work was originally shaped by Ludwig Hohlwein. The pieces that you have singled out are probably a cross between Otis and Cassandre. And I believe that all the aforementioned artists with the exception of Mary Blair had work produced as poster stamps. I am not familiar with the postage stamps you refer to. Maybe we are talking about the same thing.

I think we are. The resemblance between her work and the postage stamps of Soviet-era Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary is remarkable. Examples? If Blogger cooperates, two Smith pieces are on top; then a Soviet Russian stamp and then a Polish stamp, circa 1965.

I testify to the similarities. With Smith’s work, I set Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine and return to the days when the War was Cold and a gallon of regular (leaded) cost 31¢.

Today scholars call this sort of thing “ephemera.” For me, it’s reminiscence. So thanks, Laura. Who says nostalgia isn’t what it used to be?

1 comment:

Laura Smith said...

Richard: Thanks so much for including me in your blog. I thought the article was really very good. And extremely flattering. Nothing wrong with that. Love it!

There was just on thing though. I guess you may have thought it was a typo on my part, but I had written to you mentioning poster stamps (not postage).

“And I believe that all the aforementioned artists with the exception of Mary Blair had work produced as postage stamps.”

Poster stamps were postage sized stamps.

Thank you again. And best regards.