The Grapus years
In 68, the French government realized that the Bauhaus movement had fallen through the cracks in France, and decided to install the teaching members of the Bauhaus in Ulm Street (the German city) who found themselves at that time without subsidies. The Institut de l'Environnement was born, in which the three men found a place where they could continue to explore alternative forms of expression and question submission to the commission. If this type of place of collective creation has already been experimented since the 1950s by the Americans of Push Pin Studios, or in the 1960s by the Spanish antifrench painters of Equipo Crónica, then the Institute of the Environment proposes a new way to make coincide political commitment and graphic creation.
In this political and communist environment, described as'Stalinist' by his opponents, Bernard, Paris-Clavel and Miehe founded Grapus, a contraction of'Stalinist Crapule', crap-stal and'graphic artist'.
Below, the text presenting the collective during an exhibition at the Maison de la Culture in Grenoble in 1979.
From social to the advertising country
In the 1970s, advertising was king. Pierre Bernard summarizes well the history of this supremacy in the interview with Forme-Vive:
The Anglo-Saxon countries have had a much more harmonious evolution, much slower with graphics. It is much more deeply embedded in their societies than it is in ours. On our side, advertising became advertising through Savignac's work essentially - who was a leader and a very funny guy, a kind of genius a little anarchist as we like them here in France. For me he put a stop to the development of graphics." Cassandre was beaten bySavignac" and I think it's a shame: it made us take a considerable delay."
Bernard and his friends are committed to counter-current against the "sweet poison of advertising" by proposing posters in areas where the budget is scarce. Associations, cultural, social, communist commitment... Grapus defends small voices. At the same time, the three friends taught at Arts Deco. They come up against minimalist, strict and straight Swiss graphics, in the service of rules and Queen Advertising.
In opposition to this style and more generally to the pre-established rules, Grapus is committed to serving a cause which is dear to him, with this artistic desire of "gratuitous and impulsive act", which is opposed to a paid graphics, serving advertising. Art versus graphics. The impulse against the rules. Social causes versus lucrative causes. The style of the collective resides in a united collaboration of the 3 and soon 10 members, intellectuals with childlike traits and a playful aspect. The texts are almost always written by hand, the trembling drawings resemble children's drawings, offering an overall tone that almost denotes and swears with the photography used then in advertising, and of course with the Swiss movement. The artists play with textures, words, colours.
Once again, the Libération comic book sums up the creative and collaborative climate well.
Anti swiss graphic design
In an interview published by Téléréma, Pierre Bernard tells us the Grapus positioning, the opposite of Swiss graphics.
« In 1970, when we started teaching, we wanted to talk about everything, because we were carried by this energy of knowledge of images, of construction, of deconstruction. The Swiss don't talk about anything. Jean Widmer, I had him as a teacher, and he was a good teacher. But Widmer, working with him was.... a few moves. Absolute silence and, simply, it took your gaze on the form where it was needed, but without a word. Or such banal words. The subjects were also banal. Advertising. So that was the breaking point between his teaching and us, Grapus. We said: there is not only the product in life, we can talk about theatre, cinema, emotions... And there, at Arts Deco, between the Swiss and us, it was a little tense. With Widmer, we learned a skill, and it was an excellent thing. It's crafts and we don't discuss the rules. While at Grapus, all we enjoyed was discussing the rules to see if they were valid. To see if they were serving a class interest that wasn't ours. »
Here are some posters of their own.
On the blog 2avrile, Pierre Bernard tells us about the creation of this poster. Here is an excerpt:
"It is a poster that dates from 1985, created from the photo of two dogs procreating, taken on the occasion of a report for the book Zup de famille. It was to imagine a poster for Grapus, on the occasion of an exhibition [...]. It started with discussions and it is somewhere a very emblematic, very voluntarist and very clownish figure of the engrossment of culture (laughs). The title of the poster was Ultimate Attempt. It was a bit of a desperate view of the situation. There was also a reflection on the daily necessity of luxury. That is to say that we thought that the social necessity of graphic design was to make life shine, to be related to happiness through signs. At best, it's not his role all the time. Finally, there was a side revenge on the sponsor and the public asleep or the public who refuses any effort, with this clown who goes to a lot of trouble. Concerning the technique, it corresponded to a moment when one loved to make the pictorial "tattoo". We often worked on transparent films to combine drawing and photography."