Photo Essays

The Artistic Heritage of an LA Poster Shop on Display

Allen Ruppersberg's project for the High Line (Image courtesy the High Line)
Allen Ruppersberg’s project for the High Line (Image courtesy the High Line)

If you walked down the High Line in the past month or two, chances are your eyes were caught by a garish grid of painted posters that slapped heavy black text on top of bright gradients of color. The project was Allen Ruppersberg’s billboard “You & Me,” and the posters were in the signature style of Los Angeles’s Colby Poster Printing Co, which, after serving artists like Ed Ruscha and Ruppersberg for decades, recently shut down on December 31, 2012.

Ed Ruscha's commission from the Colby Printing Co (Image via getty.org)
Ed Ruscha’s commission from the Colby Printing Co (Image via getty.org)

The Los Angeles–based organization ForYourArt is memorializing the poster company with an exhibition called In the Good Name of the Company, displaying a slew of examples from the printer’s iconic history. It’s a unique cultural presence, and not just for artists — the message left on the company’s voicemail, from president Glenn Hinman, simply states, “We do not have referrals for the unique style of printing we are known for … Thank you for being wonderful people. Have a good future.”

The Colby Printing Company began in 1948 as a neighborhood operation that promoted local happenings like street fairs, concerts, and political campaigns with eye-catching flyers. Then, in 1962, Ed Ruscha commissioned the company to create the announcement for his exhibition New Painting of Common Objects at the Pasadena Art Museum.

Howl postets by Allen Ruppersberg (Image courtesy ForYourArt)
“The Singing Posters: Allen Ginsberg’s Howl” by Allen Ruppersberg (All images courtesy ForYourArt unless otherwise noted)

That image, with its heavy, sans-serif typeface and straight-faced announcement of a show that includes artists like Jim Dine, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol, is characteristic of the company’s creations, but it also seems to embody the Pop aspirations and strategies of the time, appropriating a vernacular form and recontextualizing it.

By providing a readymade style and an effective production strategy for posters, the company helped artists move beyond the gallery and reach out to the wider aesthetic world. Ruppersberg used the company to transcribe Allen Ginsberg’s epic poem “Howl” into phonetics while Cody Hudson used its hazy bands of color to evoke surreal states. Elsewhere in ForYourArt’s exhibition are displays drawn directly from the printer’s archive; examples of swap meet announcements, medical marijuana delivery ads, and carnival promotions abound.

Below, check out some more examples of artist-designed posters and the day-to-day signage that made Colby Poster Printing Company famous.

Installation view of "In the Good Name of the Company" (All images courtesy ForYourArt)
Installation view of “In the Good Name of the Company”
Installation view of “In the Good Name of the Company”
Installation view of "In the Good Name of the Company" (All images courtesy ForYourArt)
Installation view of “In the Good Name of the Company”
Installation view of "In the Good Name of the Company" (All images courtesy ForYourArt)
Installation view of “In the Good Name of the Company”
Installation view of "In the Good Name of the Company" (All images courtesy ForYourArt)
Installation view of “In the Good Name of the Company”
Poster from the Colby archive
Poster from the Colby archive
Poster by Daniel Joseph Martinez
“If Only God Had Invented Coca Cola, Sooner! Or, The Death of My Pet Monkey” (2004) by Daniel Joseph Martinez
Poster by Sam Durant
“Untitled” poster by Sam Durant

In the Good Name of the Company continues through March 23 at ForYourArt (6020 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles).

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