Saul Bass fans, rejoice: the designer’s archive is now a helluva lot more accessible, thanks to a new online archive devoted to his work as part of the Film/Art Gallery site.
Film/Art Gallery is an online platform and physical space (in Hollywood, naturally) that boasts more than 6,000 movie posters. This summer, it announced a new partnership with the Saul Bass estate that sees it presenting many works from the designer’s personal collection for the first time. The Saul Bass archive launched with a selection of silkscreen prints, and over the coming months and years new pieces across the designer’s 60-year career will be added online, inducing publications and other ephemera alongside the poster designs.
“His film posters were cutting-edge and modern when they first appeared in the 1950s and they remain timelessly effective today,” says Film/Art founder Matthew McCarthy. “His laser-like focus on distilling the essence of each film to a single image, stripped of extraneous detail and clutter, keeps the work fresh and elegant.”
Among the prints currently showcased in the archive are a series of hand-pulled serigraph prints created in the early 1960s at the Art Krebs Studio in Los Angeles, which feature the original design concepts for many of his movie posters, as well as some trade ads. These were commissioned by Bass as a way to celebrate his initial vision, since his original designs were often modified by the film studio, and they were often used in exhibitions or given to museums, friends, clients, and colleagues.
Some of the most interesting finds in the archive are the posters Bass created for his own short films, which he made in the early 1960s with his wife Elaine. The pair had been working together on titles and sequences for movies like 1961’s West Side Story, and decided that it was high time they created some celluloid magic of their own. The Bass’ collaborations included “tone poems” created for the 1964 World’s Fair, and Saul Bass’ first (and only) feature film, Phase IV (1974), released by Paramount Pictures. The Bass’ short films won accolades across the world, including an Oscar win in 1968 for Why Man Creates.
The collaboration between Film/Art Gallery and the Saul Bass Archive came about a few years back when McCarthy met with Bass’ daughter Jennifer Bass, who is behind the book Saul Bass: 20 iconic film posters, with Pat Kirkham. “We hit it off right away,” says McCarthy. The process of cataloging the vast amount of work and getting it online took a couple of years, and much rooting through boxes and storage units. However, it’s something of a dream project for McCarthy. “I started collecting posters when I was a kid, and later when I was an adult I realized the breadth of Bass’ work,” says McCarthy. “In America you grew up with it—going to the supermarket you’d see his logos. My sister was a Girl Scout, and he did the logo for them. It wasn’t just the posters or the movies or the logos, it was the whole picture.”
For McCarthy, it’s the fact that Bass was so prolific, and internationally recognized and understood, that has made him such an enduring figure in the design community. “Whether it was a company, a filmmaker, a recording artist, or what have you, Saul had an uncanny ability to solve the problem of visually representing or translating ideas, goals, moods, and other intangible, difficult to visualize concepts,” he says. “He was of his time—there is an energy, a vigor, and an optimism that was certainly representative of mid-century America—but his work is timeless. He has an immediately recognizable style and yet he was able to work successfully for decades, always bringing his intelligence, wit, and extraordinary instincts to whatever project was at hand.
“He had the ability to pare down ideas, ideals, companies, works, or art into images that—stripped of text and language—are universally, visually understood and recognized,” McCarthy adds.
Throughout his oeuvre, Bass’ oft-imitated, rarely bettered style shines through—all arresting commissions, strong contrasts, and bold colors. But delve a little further into the archive, and there are a few surprises. Here, we run through a selection of Bass’ non-film work.