“An offspring of the May ‘68 student revolt, Grapus design collective was founded in 1970 by Pierre Bernard, Gerard Paris-Clavel and Francois Miehe. They were joined in 1974-5 by Jean-Paul Bachollet and Alex Jordan; with Miehe’s departure in 1978, the main core was set.
All members of the French Communist Party (PCF), they concentrated their early efforts on the new society visions of the Left, producing cultural and political posters for experimental theatre groups, progressive town councils, the PCF itself, the CGT (Communist trade union), educational causes and social institutions. At the same time, they rejected the commercial advertising sphere....
For 20 years they provided inspiration to graphic design students all over the world, with their idealistic principles (of brining culture to politics, and politics to culture), and their highly distinctive form of image-making: an accessible and unpredictable mixture of child-like scrawl, bright colors, sensual forms and high-spirited visual pranks.
Throughout their history, Grapus remained Communists and idealists and continued to operated collectively: all work left the studio signed ‘Grapus’ even when their studio numbers had grown to around 20, operating in three separate collectives. They finally disbanded in January 1991, splitting into three independent design groups.”
From Liz McQuiston, Graphic Agitation: Social and Political Graphics since the Sixties, Phaidon, p. 56.
This article on the AIGA NY Web site emphasizes role of “the artistic” at the expense of “the political” in the breakup of the organization. Instead, I read it as the group wrestling with their relationship to the State and the establishment. Grapus member Pierre Bernard, on his design for the Louvre:
“‘I didn’t want to support the cliché that the Louvre was a place of order, reverence, and boredom,’ says fifty-six-year-old Bernard, ‘At the same time, I wanted to claim the wealth of the museum as the property of the French people, not the property of a cultural elite.’
Although he is a former member of the Communist party, this is not strident leftist rhetoric. Bernard’s approach to graphic design is more artistically than politically driven....
The Louvre assignment was a turning point in Bernard’s career. His fellow designers at Grapus believed the collective should turn down the job. ‘We used to argue all the time about who we should work for,’ he says. ‘Unlike other members of the group who only wanted to design for political causes, I believed that graphic communication could be an instrument of social change when applied to cultural institutions and so, in 1991, I went my way and formed the ACG, short for Atelier de Creation Graphique.’”
The piece further attributes the the downfall of the collective to the adoption of social design by the mainstream:
“The 1980’s were a time of cultural euphoria in socialist France. Jack Lang, minister of culture, supported a wide range of avant-garde art projects, and graphic expression was one of them. Every socialist city, town and village had to have its logo. All the government agencies felt compelled to acquire a graphic identity. And the Georges Pompidou Center had just mounted an exhibition called Images d’utilite publique (Images for Public Use) that defined, for the first time, the role of graphic design in modern democracies. Most important for French Designers, a coherent graphic design theory was beginning to emerge. But instead of helping Grapus mainstream its revolutionary message, this sudden surge of public interest in graphic design challenged their very raison d’etre. No longer in the opposition, the members of the collective felt that they were betraying their subversive mission. Like the [Situationist International], who disappeared as a group in the confusion of the student uprising they had fostered, Grapus dissolved when it’s confrontational ideology was successfully co-opted by the cultural establishment....
Today, the members of the Grapus collective are practicing their craft, each on their own terms. None have sold out. Paris Clavel designs award-winning, leftist posters under the Ne pas plier monkier (a pun on the "Do Not Fold" warning on mailing envelopes containing graphic material, the name suggests an inflexible state of mind), Miche teaches at the Ecole de Arts Décoratifs. Alex Jordan, who had joined Grapus in 1976, formed Nous travaillons ensemble (We Work Together), another design collective known for it’s social involvement. Fokke Draaijer and Dirk Debage, two Dutch graphic designers who stayed on with Pierre Bernard to form ACG, also eventually left to create their own studios.”
See also Hundreds of Grapus Posters Online!
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