Exercise 3 – Film posters

For this Exercise I’ve chosen the film Kill Bill volume 1 (2003) by Quentin Tarantino and two of the many posters – American and international – which were released in its connection. These two show subtle differences, but adopt basically the same style, typography and colours. Like Pulp Fiction that I was asked to consider in Part two of this course, Kill Bill is a savage, extreme postmodernist work that I love, very free and sophisticated at the same time. A whole literature has been written on this film and this is not the place to get involved in an analysis of it, so I shall limit myself to consider the film only in relation to these posters.


At: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/516SFOXbJVL.jp (left)

www.ebay.com/itm/Kill-Bill-Vol-1-Hi-Res-Movie-Poster-/332099825537?var=&hash=item4d52b12f81:m:muFkN97ClpW3ZcknwkEsCrw (right)

The first impression I get looking at the posters is how the layout has been kept simple and uncluttered with a bold and effective choice of colours, arrangement of elements and typography: a woman stands alone slightly off-centre and holding a sword (a phallic, masculine symbol) on a bright yellow flat background, the dominating yellow is harshly contrasted with black and red for an effect that is slick, polished and very strong.

The woman’s stance is heroic and defiant, exudes power, determination and control. She looks ahead with a direct but impersonal way. She stands alone, beautiful and sexy in her tight leather jumpsuit, especially in the poster on the left in which the zip is left undone at the top, but she is not the stereotyped blonde in need of help from a man. She is the heroine and takes full care of herself, how suggested by her intimidating central position.

The motorbike jumpsuit refers closely to the costume worn by Bruce Lee in the film The Game of Death from 1978, as shown by this picture and like the samurai sword shows Tarantino’s self-declared obsession with Japanese martial arts films and culture. Also the colours are the same: yellow, black, red.


At: www.hauson.com/catalog/images/gameofdeath001-6191-framed.jpg

As a colour yellow comes forward, shouts for attention and is full of energy and excitement, but it was perhaps chosen also for other reasons. From a small research I did into the meaning of yellow in Japanese culture I learnt that during the War of Dynasties started in Japan in 1357 the warriors from the South wore a yellow chrysanthemum as a pledge of courage. This flower is in Japan a symbol of the emperor because of its resemblance to the sun (Brown, J. and  Brown, J., 2006).

The thick black strip behind the heroine creates a bold contrast to the yellow and underlines and strengthens the determination and willpower emanated from her slender, clear-cut figure. And black, thick and strong is the typeface chosen: elegant, powerful and obsessive, it relates perfectly the powerful repetition contained in the title: KILL BILL, a no way-back, absolute mission.

A full and rich red, the colour of blood, fire and passion, is the third, important colour that announces the theme of the film.

For contrast, I shall now briefly consider a totally different cover, the first DVD jacket (series One) for the enormously successful TV drama series Downton Abbey.


At: vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/downtonabbey/images/e/e3/Series_1_dvd.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20130827194112

I think that in this case the combination of all the elements speaks of reassuringly classical values, tradition, comfortable good old feelings. Everything from the layout to the colours of the image and the text seems to say to the audience: don’t worry, no surprises here, you’re going to be entertained with a classic and beautiful saga.

The arrangement is a pyramid and transmits a feeling of order and ranking: the grand country estate at the back with its turrets and in front the rigidly structured group of people, with Lord Grantham at the top centre surrounded by two symmetrically degrading wings of aristocratic members of his family and servants.

Also the colours are reassuring and mellow: the neutral blacks and grays, creams and whites of the characters,  a classical blue sky above, and the warm earthy tones of ochre and muted yellow of the palace and the typography.

The serif typeface chosen is another element that again confirms stability, prestige and tradition.



Brown, Ju and Brown, John (2006) China, Japan, Korea: Culture and Customs. North Charleston: BookSurge



Other elements in visual communications: a round-up

As Creative Arts Today explains (page 120), in addition to texts and images, visual communications can include other elements to convey their meanings:

  • blocks of colour, lines and other shapes to create logos and patterns in their own right, or alongside texts and images in designs
  • physical qualities such as the paper, card, fabric, plastic etcetera used for printing or displaying
  • moving images in animations, television and film, online contents or new media. Moving images ‘prioritises narrative-based communications because of its ability to tell a story frame by frame
  • interactivity, that is to say the interaction between people and technologies, is  used in cash machines, electronic games, smartphones and the internet
  • sound is particularly important within interaction, as an addition to moving pictures and as a tool in its own right to provide feedback

In addition to the above, I found two interesting sources online that I could explore when I have a chance:


On visual communications elements and principles


On Visual Communication Design

Exercise 2 – Recontextualising images – Collage exercise and notes

For this Exercise I decided to take global warming as a start, also in consideration of its connections to the course main themes of time and place and of the exercises I have already done in the first two parts which touched upon the environment in different ways. My preference went to a hands-on approach and I chose to actually make a collage.

My first idea was to use images of the same glaciers taken at different times and show how these have changed and melted in the last century, but as interesting as these photos are I thought they could not communicate a message strongly enough. I did also some research online to see what has been visually produced on global warming and climate change; there are a lot of diagrams and graphs accompanying studies on this subject, but again as interesting as the data may be they don’t seem to really show what’s going on. On a more popular level there are plentiful images of polar bears drifting away on melting ice and of refinery chimneys discharging black smoke into a purple sky and I wanted to try something else.

I wished also to use images and texts together and I thought of the tazebaos, those hand drawn posters used for political propaganda by the Chinese students during the Cultural Revolution and adopted by Western protesters as an instrument of political accusation in the Seventies. I think they are yet another form of the alternative messages used as a grassroots tool and identified as such in Project 1.

I collected faces and declarations of the global warming deniers and decided to combine them without adding any other element, wishing to let them do the talking. I modified some pictures with PaintShopPro software, scaled them up and down, played somewhat with the colours and some special effects. I also collected their words and pasted them all together, sentence after sentence, above them. For these texts I chose a typewriter font because this was what self-produced tazebaos used, in the pre-computer era.


Proposed collage “In My Own Words”, size: 44×54 cm, below two details

Some notes

First of all it was great fun but difficult too. I tried to convey meaning in an implicit way. I did not connect words to faces, I decided to mix them all up and produce a cacophony of voices. To me it did not matter who said what, but to show the confused mass of (in my opinion) ill-advised and even absurd utterances on the subject. Of course I had to make a choice of which ones to include or omit and I too of course am biased. To underline my point of view I showed also laughing faces, dumb expressions and even cartoon pictures that do not really belong, so there is on my side no attempt at objectivity. What I wished to convey was a certain grossness of feelings and thoughts and a general unawareness.

My attempt is certainly too literal and rather amateurish when I compare it to the strong works of the artists examined in the latest post. What I most admire is the sort of mental and political short circuit produced by John Heartfield’s and Peter Kennard’s photomontages together with the cleanliness and economy of means of their art. I am fascinated also by the intriguing narrative and the skillful composition of Martha Rosler’s visual stories. These are the features that I think I will take and study from their works.

Exercise 2 – Recontextualising images – Research

Art key words

Source: Wilson, S. and Lack, J. (2008) The Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms. London: Tate Publishing

Assemblage – art made by assembling disparate elements (see also found object), the practice goes back to Cubism, it was the basis of Surrealist objects, became widespread in the 1950s and 1960s and is still extensively used for example by the Young British Artists.

Found object – readymade (Duchamp)

Montage – an assembly of images that relate to each other to create a single work or part of a work of art. More formal than a collage, it is usually based on a theme. Also used to describe experimentation in photography and film (Man Ray, Moholy-Nagy)

Collage – work of art in which pieces of paper, photographs, fabric and other ephemera are arranged and stuck down to a supporting surface, the term derives from the French words papier collé or découpage

Photomontage – a collage constructed from photographs that has often been used as a means of expressing political dissent. First used by the Dadaists, later adopted by the Surrealists and the Constructivist Rodchenko. Key exponents of the medium are John Heartfield and Peter Kennard (below)

Some photomontage artists

John Heartfield (born Helmut Herzfeld, 1891-1968)

Source: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2006 exhibition Agitated Images: John Heartfield & German Photomontage, 1920–1938 At: http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/heartfield/

Pioneer of modern photomontage. Worked in Germany and Czechoslovakia, ‘he developed a unique method of appropriating and reusing photographs to powerful political effect …
The impact of Heartfield’s images was so great that they helped transform photomontage into a powerful form of mass communication.’

‘To compose his works, he chose recognizable press photographs of politicians or events from the mainstream illustrated press. He then disassembled and rearranged these images to radically alter their meaning ‘

Whoever Reads Bourgeois Newspapers / HeartfieldAdolf, Superman / Heartfield

Whoever Reads Bourgeois Newspapers Becomes Blind and Deaf: Away with These Stultifying Bandages!, 1930
© 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bon (left)

Adolf, the Superman, Swallows Gold and Spouts Tin, 1932
© 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn (right)

Also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Heartfield

Peter Kennard (British, 1949) 

Source: artist’s website At: http://www.peterkennard.com/main/home_set.htm

From Peter Kennard’s website: ‘I hope this site will instigate debate about art, politics and society. It attempts to bring together different issues to stimulate the development of new forms of art that deal with everyday global themes.
To do this, feedback is vital, so please feel free to express yourself by entering the site forum, or you can contact me directly’

‘That sense of ripping into an image, unveiling a surface, going through that surface into an unrevealed truth, is at the core of photomontage …The photojournalist goes out and takes the pictures; I sit in a room with the tools of my trade and try to pummel these pictures into revealing invisible connections, disconnecting them from direct representation into statement and argument … The point of my work is to use easily recognisable iconic images, but to render them unacceptable … After breaking them, to show new possibilities emerging in the cracks and splintered fragments of the old reality.’

Source: Protest and survive: why Peter Kennard is political dynamite by Richard Slocombe
1 May 2015 At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/may/01/blair-selfie-peter-kennard-political-dynamite

PETER KENNARDCrushed Missile (1980) by Peter Kennard.

Newspaper 1 (1994) (left) and Crushed Missile (1980) (right) both by Peter Kennard

‘With a career spanning almost 50 years, Peter Kennard is without doubt Britain’s most important political artist and its leading practitioner of photomontage. His adoption of the medium in the late 1960s restored an association with radical politics, and drew inspiration from the anti-Nazi montages of John Heartfield in the 1930s.’

Source: Peter Kennard: A very unofficial war artist by Paul Kerley BBC News Magazine
14 May 2015

At: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32706845

A very interesting interview with him on BBC, with video of his works

Hannah Höch (German, 1889 – 1978)

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hannah_H%C3%B6ch

German Dada artist. Best known for her work of the Weimar period, she was one of the originators of photomontage. ‘Höch’s work existed to dismantle the fable and dichotomy that existed in the concept of the “New Woman”: an energetic, professional and androgynous woman, who is ready to take their place as man’s equal. Her interest in the topic was how the dichotomy was structured, as well as who structures social roles.’

Source: Hannah Höch: art’s original punk by Brian Dillon 9 January 2014 At: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/jan/09/hannah-hoch-art-punk-whitechapel

‘The Nazis branded her a degenerate and the dadaists tried to edge her out. But a new exhibition reveals Hannah Höch as a pioneer of photomontage and a feminist icon who took a kitchen knife to the glass ceiling …Höch claimed she had hit on the technique of photomontage while on a Baltic holiday with the married Hausmann in 1918; having come across mocked-up photos sent home by German soldiers, in which the young men’s heads were superimposed on pictures of musketeers, they realised the power of cut-and-paste to “alienate” images.’

Staatshaupter StaatshäupterFür ein Fest gemacht

Staatshäupter (Heads of State), 1918-20. Photograph: Collection of IFA, Stuttgart

Für ein Fest gemacht (Made for a Party) :photomontage by Hannah Hoch, 1938 (Collection of IFA, Stuttgart)

Source: Hannah Hoch: The woman that art history forgot by Mark Hudson on 14 Jan 2014 At: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/10545071/Hannah-Hoch-The-woman-that-art-history-forgot.html

 Ohne Titel (Aus einem ethnographischen Museum) (Untitled [From an Ethnographic Museum]), 1930 collage 48.3 x 32.1cm Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg Photo: courtesy of Maria Thrun

Pioneering: untitled collage from 1930 by Hannah Hoch (detail) Photo: Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg /Maria Thrun

Martha Rosler (American, 1943)

Source: the artist’s website at: http://www.martharosler.net/

‘Martha Rosler works in video, photography, text, installation, and performance. Her work focuses on the public sphere, exploring issues from everyday life and the media to architecture and the built environment, especially as they affect women.’

‘Rosler has for many years produced works on war and the national security climate, connecting life at home with the conduct of war abroad, in which her photomontage series played a critical part. She has also published several books of photographs, texts, and commentary on public space, ranging from airports and roads to housing and gentrification.’

bringing the war back homebringing the war home:-house beautiful, new series

House Beautiful: Bringing the War Home (1967-1972) (left) and House Beautiful:
Bringing the War Home, New Series (2004-2008) (right)

Source: Making Art in a World of Ferment: A Conversation with Martha Rosler by Nato Thompson Philadelphia, PA, USA and Martha Rosler New York, NY, USA
May 6, 2013

At http://creativetimereports.org/2013/05/06/nato-thompson-interviews-brooklyn-artist-activist-martha-rosler/

Martha Rosler, Cleaning the Drapes, from “Bringing the War Home: House Beautiful,” 1967–72. Image courtesy the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.

“I was more interested in changing the world than changing the art world.”

Source: Glossy Idealism on the Front Lines by Carol Kino on 5 September 2008

At: www.nytimes.com/2008/09/07/arts/design/07kino.html

‘Point and Shoot’ Mitchell-Innes and Nash

Exercise 1 – Mixed messages

What kind of messages are the statements below sending?

ENJOY YOUR STAY – The choice of this Old English font speaks to me of reliable, traditional values associated with staying in a pleasant, quiet and retro style little hotel in the countryside

DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS THEY ARE DANGEROUS – serif typeface, capital letters, with a rather formal and weak feel. I don’t think it particularly suitable to a warning signal like this. Perhaps I would have chosen a sans serif typeface for a more straightforward and forceful effect

WE ARE PROFESSIONALS – Simple, minimalist, elegant choice of a typewriter classical typeface, it seems to imply attention to the details and bespoke service

LUXURY – This is a leisurely modern typeface looking like being hand drawn, it does seem fit to express a laid back easy luxury style

HAND MADE – Clean and informal feel for this lower case typeface. It does not say much about the product, which I imagine simple and unpretentious. It’s a neutral and in my opinion a tiny bit impersonal choice


My own examples



I think that this script typeface on a barber’s sign looks old-fashionably pompous and trite and that the addition of the face silhouette and of the lines below makes it unpleasantly cluttered. I found this example at: http://reallybadtype.blogspot.it/ and I cropped the image so the place cannot be easily recognized.




At: http://bonfx.com/bad-typography/

This example is made up and it makes the point. Certainly the combination of words, font and colours is not soothing or reassuring.



At: http://www.lottomio.it/2014/03/chi-ha-acquistato-i-nostri-giornali-ha-vinto-noi/

The front page of this lottery magazine is nightmarish but perhaps is not typographically wrong, the reader’s gaze is frantically drawn in every direction and the idea is that there are so many possibilities to win that it would be a shame to not try.

The effect is not very different from the cover of a gossip magazine like this one


At: http://it.ibtimes.com/kate-middleton-incinta-su-chi-i-giornali-inglesi-imbufaliti-con-alfonso-signorini-1328430

Here the mix-up of fonts, colours, images are competing for attention in a garish way, no search for refinement or polish in this case.

Below are some other examples I have cut out from different types of magazines and arranged in ‘families’.

The ‘hand made’ group


Both examples want to convey an hand-made feeling, but I think the script font above is rather predictable while the one below shows imagination with a contemporary feel.


The script family


All three are included in advertisements for jewellery:

the first on top is for a line a children jewellery and seems to be written by an orderly primary school girl in a neat hand-writing, maybe nothing spectacular but correct

I really don’t like the script in the middle, it looks hackneyed and uninspired but perhaps reflects the style of the jewels

the third font below speaks of classical pearls and stones and seems to be tailored to its product.


The combination of fonts



Combining fonts looks tricky!

Above the luxury brand Louis Vuitton takes on an avant-garde turn with a combination of a grunge style and typewriter fonts, while below the slick design magazine Elle Decor strikes in my opinion a less convincing note with a confusing combination of underlined, bold and italics all together in the same page.


A refined group


The three typefaces above exude refinement and tradition in different ways.

On top a custom-made sans-serif font, with a play between round and elongated letters, in the middle a traditional serif typeface with the elegant touches of the initial J and the Q letters, at the bottom the generous space left among the letters give a feeling of open air and transparent skies.


The use of colour




These examples all show variations in the use of colour in typography. On top a grunge looking typeface which seems collaged – in a not too pleasant attempt to reflect the subject. The other two are traditional choices with an interesting touch, somewhat flippant in the middle, established at the bottom.


Text as a visual element

Basic concepts in the introduction to Project 2

Visual communications basically combine text and images, with the possible addition of blocks of colour or shapes, and in the case of film, animation or interactivity also sounds and moving images.

The written word or text is very often fundamental especially in publishing and information design.

Text implies typography, hence the use and choice of typefaces and their arrangement.

Typography conveys a message both through the words themselves and through their visual presentation (choice of typeface, its scale and arrangement).

I did some research in the ways the rich wealth of typefaces may be classified and although different systems exist I find particularly useful and easy the understand the classification adopted by Mary Bonneville in her blog article 17 Basic Kinds of Fonts (2015) at http://bonfx.com/types-of-fonts, which I shall use in my next exercise.

I have also looked up other sources on the web:

For all fonts imaginable: https://www.fontsquirrel.com/ 




The Online Journal of Art and Design (at: http://www.adjournal.net/) has a very interesting article, The Effects of Font Type Choosing on Visual Perception and Visual Communication, by İsmail Hakkı Nakilcioğlu (Online Journal of Art and Design, volume 1, issue 3, 2013).