POW! Which Artwork Landed the Strongest Punch Ever?

POW! Which Artwork Landed the Strongest Punch Ever? BRODNERSIGNER.jpgBy Steve Brodner
We asked some of America's most powerful artists which pieces got THEIR blood up the most.

In our choice of going light or strong with graphic commentary in media, quite often the pull is toward stepping lightly and letting the text carry the heavy artillery. Editors and advertisers often prefer the punch to be hidden in the text, leaving the page design, for the sake of keeping the mercantile party polite, to just hint at the force of the subject matter.

The artists below (Edel Rodriguez, Brian Stauffer, Frances Jetter, Mirko Ilic and Peter Kuper) remind us that there are times when the jugular is the preferred target. The gravity of a story can be brilliantly reflected in art that pulls out all stops. I have asked these artists, who are masters of the art of blending graphic beauty with topical awareness and moral conviction to join me in picking a few pieces by THEIR favorite artists who have given them some of their greatest inspiration. And they also selected one of their own pieces.

John_Heartfield_Duh_eneve_1932.jpgBRIAN STAUFFER

The first and single-most influential image for me is John Heartfield's "The Significance of Geneva." It represents what I love about illustration the most. It is iconic, direct, distilled to its minimum, and brutally emotional. It also charges straight ahead with the forcefulness to call it like it is.

john-heartfield-cross.jpegThe second is Heartfield's image "The Cross Was Not Heavy Enough" about Hitler's creation of a new church for the Reich. Heartfield pioneered the power an image can gain by tapping into existing photography and iconography to turn it against itself

heartfield_krieg_und_leichen.jpgAnd finally, Heartfield's image "War And Death -- The Ultimate Hope of The Rich." I chose this image because it speaks so directly as an example of the proximity to power that an illustrator can achieve. This image got right up in the face of the Germany's power elite in a form not easily dismissed. He gave an image to a belief that many others long felt.

Plane_as_nose.jpg(Above): Illustration by Brian Stauffer


unnamed-9.jpgMIRKO ILIC

"Proces" Kafka poster from 1964, designed by Roman Cieslewicz.
The poster combines the aesthetics of Polish posters with the minimalist Swiss design of the time. I was always fascinated with this poster at first glance. It is a simple poster but is actually loaded with symbolism.

For the image, Cieslewciz posterized a black-and-white photograph, a technique developed by Martin Weber in the 1940s. He created the head of the main character, Joseph K., to be bigger than his body, giving the character a childlike, fragile appearance. He cleverly repeated the same face, each time reduced in size. The upper lip and chin of the bigger head, creating an organic, shrinking person, as the main character continues to diminish in the play. Meanwhile, from a distance, it almost looks like a tie. In the play, Joseph K. must face and go through various parts of an institution, continually blocked by their closed doors. The simple red frame without the bottom horizontal line actually becomes the very symbol of a door frame. And because the poster was created in a Communist, oppressed Poland, the red door frame has an additional meaning.

The treatment of typography is also quite interesting. The typeface, a version of the art-nouveau
typefaces such as those designed by J.H.Kaemmerer around 1915, is small and minimal. It was
unusual to see the author's name "Kafka" in black against the white chopped corner--which is
effective, making a counterbalance against the white word, proces. The word proces also becomes the person's handkerchief, making his appearance more formal.

In 1979, after many years of admiring his work, I had a chance to work with Ciesiewicz at Start Magazine.

unnamed-10.jpgJean Giraud-Moebius, Garage hermetique, 1977
His appearance on the comics scene changed the comics scene forever. He is probably the most
influential comic artist after the second World War. Later his aesthetics and imagery indirectly and directly influenced many movies. He did initial set and costume drawings for The Fifth
and Alien. As a young man, I was totally fascinated with his capability to change the
style of his drawings, not only from comic to comic, but very often in the same comic. Which is
more than obvious in Garage heremtique, which he was just finishing when I visited him with my
wife at that time, which is why her quick portrait appears in the second to last frame of the comic.
A few years later, Jean Giraud-Moebius published my comics in his magazine, Metal Hurlant.

unnamed-12.jpgBrad HollandThe Junkie, 1971, The New York Times, Op-Ed Page
I discovered this drawing in Graphis Annual (1972). It had such a powerful influence on me, that I
decided to pay more attention to my editorial illustration. I was lucky in 1992, to become art director of the same Op-Ed Pages of The New York Times, where I was able to hire Brad Holland to do illustrations for me.

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 11.45.59 PM.pngIllustration by Mirko Ilic for the movie Red and Black, directed by Miroslav Mikuljan, 1985


grosz-folioDie Rauber.jpgFRANCES JETTER

Artwork by George Grosz
I received The Golden Encyclopedia of Art as a gift when I was 10 .The Kathe Kollwitz and George Grosz images were printed very small in the back of the book in the "glossary" section. They were very different from the rest of the book--both were opinionated , strong and might have been considered ugly, but I thought that they were beautiful.

kathekollwitz1942.jpgArtwork by Kathe Kollwitz

IMG_1379.JPGMad magazine, 1963. Cover art: Norman Mingo
My older cousins read Mad in the back room of our grandfather's cottage. I loved Mad"s hilarious, brilliant and varied art and its attitude. What made it even more pleasurable was that it seemed so subversive, making fun of everyone in charge. (This issue is one I bought myself--more than 50 years later, it's still brilliant and hilarious.

repubsagchoice.jpg"Republicans Against Choice," Linocut,1992, artwork by Frances Jetter


guernica_all.jpgEDEL RODRIGUEZ

Pablo Picasso: Guernica
This image has been with me since I was a teenager and influenced my direction as an artist at that age, it was one of the first pieces of political art I ever saw. It made me realize that an individual artist can have an impact. Though it gets reproduced often, the initial punch is always there for me. I got to see it in person on a trip to Madrid and that has been one of the highlights of my travels.

not_detected_235995.jpgKathe Kollwitz: Death Seizes a Woman
Kathe Kollwitz has been one of my favorite artists from a very young age. I love this drawing for its impact and gestural drawing. The way she can capture gesture, human structure, and emotion in a single stroke of charcoal is awe inspiring. The look of anticipation and fright in the mother's face has always stayed with me.

CooperVSiqueiros.jpgDavid Alfaro Siqueiros: I love many of the Mexican muralists, but the power of Siqueiros is quite unique. I saw this painting on my first trip to MoMA in 1990 and have seen it many times since then. Its power hasn't dissipated in all these years. If anything, it reflects more and more what has happened in the world since then. Much of the power comes from the surreal repetition and juxtaposition of scale, something which is not common from paintings of that time.

dog machete final art.jpgArtwork by Edel Rodriguez
The last image is a drawing of mine in response to the genocide in Rwanda. Many of the killings in Rwanda were done face to face, with knives and machetes, not from far away with guns or
tanks. Even after having their limbs cut off, people would get back at their attackers by doing the same in return. A dog of war surveying the landscape, marching on machete limbs and looking for new victims, was the image that came from the drawing process.


NewRipped1.jpgPETER KUPER

The World is Being Ripped by Seth Tobocman.
The fact that I've been following Seth Tobocman's work since 1964, when we had the same first grade teacher, is only part of the reason his work holds so much significance for me. Seth was the first artist whose stencil work turned my head. This piece, from circa 1984, is part of a bigger series of images that were published in World War 3 Illustrated. He introduced me to the form and I spent 20 years using this medium (including to applying it to Spy vs Spy and several graphic novels) until the notion that toxic Krylon spray-paint might be leading me to early retirement.

saul-steinberg.jpgThough I was aware of Saul Steinberg's work as a kid from the copies of The New Yorker on my parents coffee table, it wasn't until the final semester at Pratt that his work struck like a lightning bolt and opened a new mental door. I still can't look at the rainbow of colors in the oil in street puddles or Manhattan in general, without feeling like my vision is informed by his drawings.

zap-comix-0-robert-crumb-2-1.jpgI saw this Zap cover by R. Crumb in 1970 and it rocked my superhero world. I hadn't imagined
comics addressing the world in this way. Spiderman never showed his genitalia, much less used them! This opened the door to a vast array of underground comix that dealt with subject matter far beyond sex, drugs and more sex. Move over Peter Parker.

Tomi Ungerer.jpgReally, three images only scratches the surface. I chose this Tomi Ungerer piece as a tiny example of work that set me on the course I've followed using art as a weapon and antidote against the virus of complacancy and timidity in the face of catastrophic events. This piece is my place holder for the much longer list of artists that are not represented among the three. That list would include Ralph Steadman, Gerald Scarfe, Ed Sorel, Jules Feiffer, David Suter, Marshall Arisman.

unnamed-13.jpgArtwork by Peter Kuper



Luckily none of us has had to make the whole thing up. There are giants who have done,
and continue to do, powerful and instructive things. The best lesson in graphic power is
to just be attentive, observe and be amazed. As Peter Kuper says, three is not enough. But it's a start. My colleagues above have chosen art I would have as well. Here are a few of my
additional must-sees. Thanks to all for participating. And showing that the powerhouses
of the past never leave. And that strong artists are still here and, thank goodness, at work.

OK-Freeze.jpgRalph Steadman's commentary on the police only grows in importance. It has sweep,
contrast, irony and directness. Form and message are totally unified; the holy grail of
narrative art.

buckley_william_f-19701203019R.2_png_300x397_q85.pngDavid Levine perhaps put more into faces than anybody. William F. Buckley was the
founding father of the modern conservative movement. Although perhaps handsome, he
was a TV star whose facial ticks revealed the soul of a predatory animal licking its lips.
David caught that to a supernatural degree. He caught his desperate, dangerous inner rat.

daumier5.jpgHonore Daumier, Rue Transnonain, 15 April 1834. Police violence again. Authorities
murder an entire family looking for a gunman. The beauty and horror combined make
this a rare moment in graphics. You can't look and you can't look away. He is Weegee,
Michael Moore, Leonardo all in one.

Victory Cigar.jpgIraq Victory Cigar, artwork by Steve Brodner

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  • Alex Nabaum

    Great post!

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