Saturday, May 26, 2012

E Otto Chapman, my McCahon typeface, and David's *Latent Stare*

Cinema hoarding: Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond
Chapman, E Otto 
New Zealand, 1950s, M0042

Head Full of Snakes has quite easily turned into a motorcycle blog, because for a while now that's what I've been mostly thinking about. I started this blog however with the intention to talk about three things – motorcycles, graphic design, and music. These are three things that I do, and that I am involved in in various ways. Lately I've been trying to decide whether to keep this blog simply being about motorcycles or whether to return to that original intention to try and operate between those three things again. This blog gets a lot of hits now, mostly, I'm assuming, from people interested in motorcycles. Especially since the launch of our magazine 'Head Full of Snakes' earlier this year. I'm a little worried therefore that returning to posting stuff about design and music might either 'water down' the motorcycle thing and/or put some people off. However, I am going to try it for a bit and see what happens... I have a couple of interesting projects on right now, and more than anything else I just want a place to store/archive this information as it develops. I am specifically interested in the overlaps here too – the slippage. This was something we both (Stuart and I) talked about in the first issue of HFoS too. So here goes...

Unless otherwise credited this is my own 
primary/original research. 
Please contact me if you want to use 
or reference aspects of this in your own work.

The image above was made by a Wellington-based commercial artist called E. Otto Chapman in the 1950s. It's a detail that's been cut out of a bigger canvas 'bill board' sort of thing that was used to advertise the film 'Sunset Boulevard' (USA 1950) when it was shown at Wellington's Majestic Theatre. It's from the collection of The New Zealand Film Archive and I got it from here, where a text says:
"It was painted by E Otto Chapman, a commercial artist who made advertising displays for Kerridge Odeon’s four Wellington cinemas - The Majestic, Embassy, Regent and St James - from 1940 until the late 1970s. Situated in a studio above the Majestic Theatre, Chapman worked from small black and white publicity stills of the films’ stars to create huge colourful hoardings. With the advent of multiplexes in the 1980s, hand made cinema hoardings largely disappeared. The Film Archive holds a several other displays painted by Chapman, along with scrapbooks containing mementos and records he retained about his career."

A couple of years ago I actually went to the Film Archive to look through this scrapbook. It was interesting but there wasn't that much information. I photographed everything though (these photos here are mine from that visit), and I've had it all sitting here waiting for me to write something about it for 'The National Grid' at some point. I was quite interested in the fact that Chapman really saw himself as a portrait painter. 

You know this because he was so fond of these portaits he'd cut them out of the larger hoardings and keep them. Just the faces though. I thought it was interesting because he was also very accomplished at hand-painted lettering but he didn't seem to want to keep any of that. Lettering wasn't important? The other thing, perhaps the main thing, I wanted to try to write about was his sort of professional demise as large format photographic printing became more readily available. It was quite depressing looking through his work and seeing the move from the technical artistry of his painting toward the more cut-an-paste photographic cardboard cut-out display man.


The reason I'm revisiting this now, almost four years later actually, is that I am doing a project for an exhibition David Bennewith is putting together at CASCO in Utrecht at the start of July. The exhibition is called *Latent Stare* and you can see more info, including his premise for the show here. David has invited me to present my typeface 'McCahon' at this exhibition, and in doing so I'm going to attempt to channel the spirits of these two very different painters – Chapman, the unknown, invisible, and forgotten 'commercial artist', and the most famous painter/artist New Zealand has ever produced, Colin McCahon. I'm interested in the improbable venn diagram that arises from these two men working at the same time, in the same medium, in the same country, but who are really worlds apart.  

Left: E. Otto Chapman
Right: Colin McCahon

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