Oct 072009
Authors: Ashley Lauwereins

Two posters with very different messages sit on adjacent walls of the University Gallery. One is a white exclamation point made of various symbols on a green background, illustrating the artist’s suggestion to reduce carbon emissions.

The other — titled “Iran” — consists of various shades of blue in the background with a lion confronting the shadow of Mickey Mouse.

The two works depicting different cultural messages are among many posters featured in the 16th Biennial Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition, now on display through Dec. 23 in the University Center for the Arts, east of campus across College Avenue.

Jennifer Clary, spokesperson for the UCA and one person of several dozen people who gazed at these posters at the exhibit’s opening Friday, said she interpreted the famed Disney character as personifying the high amount of commercialism in the United States.

John Gravdahl, a graphic design professor at CSU and co-director of this year’s exhibit said if the designer appropriately approaches the audience, the audience will understand the message the graphic designer is trying to convey.

When the first exhibit opened in 1979, co-founder Phil Risbeck set out to invite the best graphic designers to submit two of their posters for display.

Three decades later, the exhibit features 158 posters from artists residing in 28 different countries.

A show like none other

When Risbeck co-created the CIIPE three decades ago, he said shows of this magnitude did not exist anywhere in the United States.

“We started the show because there was nothing like it at the time in the U.S.,” Risbeck said. “At the time there were several shows like it in Europe, and we decided we wanted to bring that quality of art to our students at CSU.”

Nearly 30 years later, Risbeck said he maintains he could think of only one exhibition in Chicago on the same scale as CIIPE, which CSU hosts every other year.

Gravdahl said, to his knowledge, CSU has the only university-sponsored poster exhibit.

Risbeck said he hosts the show for the students, past and present, adding that many alumni return to the exhibit.

“We take it for granted. This is a great opportunity to see the best of the best in one gallery. When you see it, it knocks your socks off,” Risbeck said.

Nikki Arnell, who graduated from Indiana University, said the scale of such a show is beyond anything she’d seen before coming to CSU for her Master’s in graphic arts.

Graduate student of drawing Nick Crogen agreed.

“We had nothing on this scale where I did my undergrad,” Crogen, who received his bachelor’s degree from Murray State University, said. “At least nothing with this cultural impact.”

Arnell said posters are important as international commentary.

“Graphic design does a great job communicating,” Arnell said. “It speaks in a way that doesn’t preach. It puts (the idea) out there, and you go consider it. Posters on the street are the same, but sometimes they are brilliant art and sometimes they’re just stuff on paper.”

Crogen said, “I think this exhibition, as a whole, is going to be expressing so much diversity.”

Linny Frickman, art director for the University Museum, said posters are produced for cultural events, to express political opinions and to bring attention to social problems.

While ads may not seem like a strong art form, posters are one of the best examples of graphic design out there. Gravdahl said posters are the way humans communicate on a large scale.

One key feature of the showcase is the selection of one juror to judge the posters, in which he or she selects his or her favorite. Risbeck said previous jurors have come from Zimbabwe, China, Switzerland and the United States, among others.

This year the judge, Majid Abassi, hails from Iran.

The final judge

According to Risbeck, getting Abassi to Fort Collins for the exhibit was no easy task. Risbeck said U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., had to grease up Congress to push through Abassi credentials to travel overseas into the United States.

However, Abassi’s resume speaks volumes as he’s designed several book covers as well as posters for a variety of events, including movies and historical events.

“In the last four or five exhibitions, Iran has come from nowhere to be exhibiting a number of poster artists — some of them the most exciting work in the world today,” Risbeck said.

Abassi’s work specifically, Gravdahl said, has been featured in the CIIPE since 2003. He added said Abassi is the first guest judge who resides in the Middle East.

The Iranian said a graphic designer has to be aware of the culture, adding he believes knowledge is key for a graphic designers to be effective in communicating with the target audience.

“Like any designer in a different part of the world, (my inspiration) comes from the culture and the society, from art and literature,” he said. “Especially being from Iran, I am inspired first by culture, second by environment.”

Abassi acted as the judge for the exhibit, selecting three winners: Uwe Loesch, from Germany; Ralph Schraivogel, from Switzerland; and Leonardo Sonnoli, from Italy.

He calls himself a designer with a special way of thinking about design and said he selected his favorites by finding the ones who expressed their work in a similar way.

Risbeck said the idea of having a separate exhibit displaying the juror’s work was one of the original ideas of the CIIPE.

Abassi’s posters and books will be on display in a solo exhibit in the Curfman Gallery, which runs until Dec. 23.

Crogen, who operates the Curfman Gallery, set up all of Abassi’s posters.

“One of the strengths of (graphic design) is while I can’t translate the words I still get the emotional impact,” Crogen said. “I think there’s this kind of inner play between seeing something from a fresh perspective, but there’s also that almost universal language.”

Along with the University Museum and Curfman Gallery shows, 11 exhibits in conjunction with the CIIPE will be on display in various galleries around Fort Collins and Loveland throughout the semester.

UCA Beat Reporter Ashley Lauwereins can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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