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The following twenty-two lots form a section devoted to the work of Saul Bass. The majority originate from Bass's own collection and are marked on the reverse with either his studio ink-stamp or label, and are being offered by a private U.S. collecor who acquired the posters and artwork from a colleague of Bass's.
An Introduction To The Work Of Saul Bass
by Tony Nourmand
The most avid poster collectors are like film buffs - primarily interested in genre, often with a twist of irony; others may collect according to the director, or star. The artistic merit of the posters, and the identity of artists who created them, are of secondary concern. However, there is at least one exception to that rule. The work of Saul Bass is now receiving special attention from collectors - and not just the famous examples, such as Anatomy of a Murder, Exodus, The Man With The Golden Arm, and Vertigo. The American poster for Otto Preminger's 1958 film, Bonjour Tristesse, is in demand purely because Bass designed it.
In part this is because Bass was a star himself. Known in the U.S.A. as "the father of graphic design", he was an advertising guru as well as a photographer, writer and actor. As a filmmaker, he won an Academy Award for his 1968 documentary Why Man Creates. His work with directors Hitchcock and Preminger revolutionized the art of opening credits - and he even designed the shower scene in Psycho. (He claimed to have directed it too, though this is disputed.) In his eighties, Bass was still in demand in Hollywood - designing the poster and opening credits for Goodfellas, and working with its director Martin Scorsese until the year before his death in 1996.
But that is only part of the story. In the pre-massmedia fifties, when posters were the main means of advertising films, Bass's freehand, blocky style, which rejected the stuffy conventions of the thirties and forties, caused a sensation. And the power of his minimalist, symbolic images persists. As Bass once said of his work: "It undressed the communication so that its essential body showed. [It was] sort of idea nudity."
Born in New York in 1920, Saul Bass was a rotund, jovial character. After studying at the Art Students League and graduating from Brooklyn College, at the age of 26 he moved west, where he is credited with introducing an East Coast sensibility to marketing. His ambition was to make a feature film (finally realized in 1974 with the little-known Phase IV), and he saw advertising as a means of funding his passion for the movies. After six years with various agencies, he set up his own, while forging ever closer links with the film industry. In 1954, this led to a commission from Otto Preminger to design the poster for Carmen Jones. With his strikingly simple flaming black and red rose, Bass began an association with Preminger that encompassed 13 films.
The following year, the director invited the artist to work on The Man With The Golden Arm, for which Bass created the famous jagged arm, suggesting the jarring and disjointed existence of a drug addict. Again, he was trying to exploit what he called "the significance of content". Along with such contemporary designers as Paul Rand and Erik Nitsche, he was aiming for a new, pure geometry, using angular shapes and primary colors. "My ads were so reductive", he once said, "they became metaphors". And indeed, a Bass poster does more than describe a film: like his opening credits, it expresses the experience in an encapsulated form.
Vertigo marked Bass's most complete collaboration with Hitchcock. As well as designing the poster, he directed its short dream sequence - and along the way, he extracted an agreement from Paramount Studios that his work should be credited and uncensored. The results, free from studio meddling, have an integrity that is rare in poster design - one that collectors are beginning to appreciate.
by Tony Nourmand
extracted from an article published in The International Magazine, Patek Philippe, Number 9, Spring/Summer 2000.