All of Us or None by Lincoln Cushing - Read Online
All of Us or None
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This long-awaited catalog of political posters pays homage to an influential and populist art movement that has created some of the most enduring imagery of our time. In All of Us or None, author Lincoln Cushing examines key selections from a remarkable archive of over 24,000 posters amassed by free speech movement activist, author, and educator Michael Rossman over the course of thirty years. This inspiring collection of Bay Area posters illuminates the history of this ad-hoc and ephemeral art form, celebrating its unique capacity to infuse contemporary issues with the urgency and energy of the eternal fight for justice.
Published: Heyday on
ISBN: 9781597142700
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Page 1 of 1

SOCIAL JUSTICE POSTERS OF THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA

LINCOLN CUSHING

Heyday, Berkeley, California

This book was published in part by generous assistance from the Oakland Museum of California, the LEF Foundation, and Karen McLellan.

This catalog was produced for an exhibition by the same name at the Oakland Museum of California, March 31–August 19, 2012.

© 2012 by Lincoln Cushing

All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from Heyday.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available

ISBN e-pub: 978-1-59714-270-0

ISBN Kindle: 978-1-59714-271-7

ISBN print version (pb): 978-1-59714-185-7

Book Design: Lorraine Rath

Cover Image: Untitled edition of 1965 woodcut Hand, Frank Cieciorka, c. 1966, screenprint [2.09]

Orders, inquiries, and correspondence should be addressed to:

Heyday

P.O. Box 9145, Berkeley, CA 94709

(510) 549-3564, Fax (510) 549-1889

www.heydaybooks.com

Contents

Introduction

Chapter 1: Building Up to the Long 1960s

Chapter 2: The First Wave

Chapter 3: The New Left

Chapter 4: Counterculture

Chapter 5: Other Voices

Chapter 6: International Solidarity

Chapter 7: Moving Forward

Appendix: The Workshops, Printshops, and Distributors

Endnotes

Notes on the Collection

Bibliography

Acknowledgments

Index

INTRODUCTION

Michael Rossman and the All of Us or None Archive

This catalog examines the All of Us or None (AOUON) poster archive to reveal the remarkable depth and breadth of social justice poster making in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1977, Free Speech Movement activist Michael Rossman (1939–2008) realized his small collection of two hundred posters was a wonderful tool for teaching about the various social causes of the 1960s, and he asked his registrar/cataloger friend Michael S. Bell at the Oakland Museum of California if anybody else had bothered to gather and document such work. When Bell said no, Rossman then proceeded to methodically and passionately gather whatever he could. It was a painstaking labor of love by a poor hippie, not a whimsical one-time purchase by a retired businessman relying on dealers. Rossman would dive in dumpsters, explore yard sales, beg from artists, and, later, troll eBay for bargains. His wife Karen recalls,

One major place he got them in the beginning, and always through the years, was directly off of poles or from store windows where they were advertising coming events. He was rigidly moral about never taking one until its date had passed, but he’d have it noted and be there the next morning. Driving across town, it wasn’t unusual for him to swerve to a curb to jump out to check a poster. It was the urban version of stopping to collect roadkill.1

Michael himself was very clear about the unique scope of the collection:

The archive’s name comes from a poem by [Bertolt] Brecht. All of Us or None evokes the democratic spirit of the movements represented by these posters, and also the spirit of this collection. Rather than focus only on work of artistic merit or central historical significance, the archive’s mandate has been omnivorous—to gather a broadly representative sample of a vast, collective work of social art, documenting in detail the history and textures of progressive activism.2

The collection’s focus is on the domestic political poster renaissance, which began in 1965 and continues to this day. An informed and passionate participant in the communities he was documenting, Rossman gathered posters from all streams of progressive activity—from movements of protest, liberation, and affirmative action, trade union and community struggles, to electoral and environmental organizing, community services, and visionary manifestos. Though strongest in work from the San Francisco Bay Area, the project’s scope is national: one quarter of its holdings come from outside California. These are complemented by an archive of international work, also collected by Rossman. The entire AOUON collection consists of approximately twenty-four thousand distinct titles, and now resides in the permanent collection of the Oakland Museum of California (OMCA).3

Political Poster Making in the San Francisco Bay Area

In his 1975 book American Poster Renaissance: The Great Age of Poster Design, 1890–1900, Victor Margolin makes the case that the United States poster explosion of the late 1960s was preceded by a hugely popular art poster craze (his words) that lasted for a few brief years during the late 1890s.4 During that time a combination of new printing technologies, art-world style shifts, and plain old human quirkiness resulted in an orgy of poster production and consumption.

Yet the 1960s poster movement was quite different from its earlier cousin. For one thing, it soon became much more political and, more significantly, it signaled the beginning of a vital propaganda channel that continues to this day. Further, one could claim that the San Francisco Bay Area has continuously produced more independent political posters than anywhere else on earth—a dramatic statement, and virtually impossible to prove, but let’s take it apart:

•   The San Francisco Bay Area includes nine contiguous counties, but in practice it mostly means the cities of Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco. A looser and more convenient interpretation also allows important work from Davis and Sacramento, both within a hundred-mile radius.

•   Continuously is a key point here; a survey of the posters reveals an unbroken swath of production from the beginning of the movement (circa 1965) to the present. This involves different individuals and different workshops over time, but there was lots of overlap.

•   More means more distinct titles, but it’s probably more in terms of overall numbers as well.

•   Independent excludes work by government agencies and large corporations or agencies. That places the creators in the genre of democratic agents who have always made social change, from labor organizers to leaders of activist groups to independent critics.

•   Political covers a lot of ground; aside from the obvious electoral campaign and public policy posters, a broad understanding of cultural resistance embraces any document that promotes alternative communities or ways of thinking. Perhaps social justice posters is a more accurate term. Thus we include posters about marijuana use, leather bars, and veganism as visual statements that stick it to the man.

•   Posters are a specific form of community-based media—large documents (generally 11 x 17 or larger) on paper produced in multiples and intended to be put up on a wall (yes, posted). This excludes prints, which are more private and artistically oriented, and flyers, which are smaller documents meant to be handed out.

•   Anywhere else in terms of political poster talk means a handful of significant locations around the country (Chicago, Boston, Seattle, New York) and the world (Havana, Mexico City, Paris, Prague, Moscow, Beijing, Johannesburg, Rome, Melbourne, Santiago de Chile). This doesn’t at all mean that important political posters have not been made almost everywhere—they have—but few regions have maintained the pace of the Bay Area.

Assuming the above statement is even somewhat true, then, what is the significance?

Before 1964, the poster selection was pretty bleak: travel posters, film posters, and fine art reproductions. But a scant four years later the range of subjects and styles had proliferated exponentially. In nature, a healthy ecosystem is diverse and adaptive; likewise, we can make an analogy for the social and economic conditions of political posters. As memes of democratic ideas, they serve as an indicator of the community’s health, and the Bay Area poster community is demonstrably robust. This book explores that creative explosion that started in the 1960s and honors the extensive community that helped it happen. It uses the AOUON collection as the primary resource for analysis; almost every poster in this catalog is drawn from that single archive. Other significant collections exist5 that will eventually add greater depth and breadth to the analysis started here. Of all the contributors to this medium, the focus is less on individual artists and more on the myriad print- and workshops, which have suffered obscurity far too long.

Of course, this poster movement did not happen in a vacuum; there was a dynamic exchange of ideas and styles circulating around the world. Two of the key sources/moments that influenced this generation of graphic artists were the posters coming out of Cuba during its Golden Age (approximately 1966 to 1972)6 and the street posters generated by art school students during the 1968 general strike in Paris.7 And closer to home, several workshops were creating significant bodies of work as well. Some of the most important included the Chicago Women’s Graphics Collective, Glad Day Press (Ithaca, NY), Peace Press (Los Angeles), the Madame Binh Graphics Collective (Brooklyn), Salsedo Press (Chicago), Red Sun Press (Boston area), and the Northland Poster Collective (Minneapolis, MN).

Posters are an awkward orphan in the world of art history. They are treated as propagandistic pretenders or crassly commercial, lowly multiples on bad paper. Only occasionally will an art critic begrudgingly acknowledge that they play even a contributing role to the larger art community. Noted art professor Peter Selz, writing about political murals, saw it this way:

If posters reach an audience far greater than that of paintings, sculpture, or even photography, so do murals, the other major art form that reemerged in the early seventies. Like posters, political murals are hardly unique to California, but they have been especially prevalent in the state and have continued to remain a vital form of contemporary expression.8

It is against this dark tide that the AOUON collection, and this show, seeks to establish a beachhead of legitimacy. Political posters are a rare application of art, a fusion of aesthetics and function; they provide ordinary citizens a tool for public democratic debate. And, as many fine artists discovered during the Great Depression, they are affordable art. The Silk Screen Unit of the Federal Art Project (FAP; the visual arts program of the Works Progress Administration) was created in 1939 to promote public interest in this new medium, and for many Americans the resulting products were the first original art they had ever owned. FAP serigraph artist Elizabeth Olds gushed,

Since Currier and Ives there has been no comparable development….The mass production capacity of these multiple original works of art in color, with their unique artistic qualities as pictures…requires a new exhibition and distribution program in order that this Democratic Art may be made available to a large audience and buying public.9

There was one last gasp of public art support in the late 1970s, before the notion of state funding for culture became unacceptable to reactionary politicians.10 Yet independent of that, or perhaps because of it, this sort of poster art has become an important international art form. The scale, variety, and depth of the AOUON collection squarely places the San Francisco Bay Area front and center in the world history of that genre.

Thank you, Michael.

Michael Rossman sharing his poster archive

2002, digital photograph

Courtesy of the author

1

Building Up to the Long 1960s

[The 1950s] was a bad time to be weird, one artist said.

1

In order to understand