FEATURED FELLOW: Paul Davis, FAAR 1998
It’s the fiftieth anniversary of one of the most famous posters of the mid-twentieth century, Paul Davis’s painting of the Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara.
In February, 1968, the painting was the cover of The Evergreen Review and sparked controversy, some violent, across the nation. It became iconic, appearing everywhere—on the sides of buildings, t-shirts, dorm walls. It, and its history, are currently being featured at the nascent museum, Poster House, at 119 West 23rd Street in New York City. It will open formally next year.
Paul’s wife, Myrna Davis, sent this: “The poster followed Guevara’s death the previous October and was an arresting image of a complex man—physician, author, diplomat, military theorist, committed Marxist and guerrilla leader.
The fiery portrait, based on a well-known black-and-white photograph by Alberto Korda, is deeply emotional. Davis depicted his subject with intense colors and dark shadows, and raised his subject’s eyes to suggest martyrdom. Encapsulating a spirit of rebellion, it became an emblem of its time, and its appearance in New York elicited strong reactions. Posters across the city were defaced, and on July 26, 1968, the offices of the magazine’s publisher, Grove Press, were bombed, allegedly by anti-Castro Cubans.
Poster House’s window installation tracks the fifty-year history of this image and its evolution from photograph to one of the most imitated compositions in design, an integral piece of our collective visual language; the bombing of Grove Press and the lawsuit Grove publisher Barney Rosset brought, seven years later, against the CIA for allegedly supporting the bombers; and Davis’s later role as poster artist for The Public Theater, changing the face of theater advertising in New York.
Davis, born in Oklahoma, went on to an international career. his work is celebrated in one-man exhibitions and retrospectives throughout the US, Europe, and Asia. “Posters are ephemeral,” he said, “but sometimes everything comes together on the drawing board—the medium, the subject, and the times. The portrait was assigned and done quickly. I had no idea at that moment it would have such a lasting impact.”
The installation will remain on view until February 14th. For more of his work see this board on Pinterest.