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Uses photomontages to make political and social messages.
Postcards by George Blair
George Blair started making photomontages using photographs culled from the Sunday colour supplements in the early 1970s. His first picture to be exhibited was “Silver Jubilee” in Art for Society, Whitechapel Gallery, 1978 to be followed by a first solo exhibition in1980 about which the Guardian wrote, “The excellent George Blair continues to stir consciences at the Pentonville Gallery”.
Surrealism is a major influence. Dali’s golden youth morphing into a narcissus and the sinister cannibals gorging each other (a metaphor for the Spanish Civil War) in the Tate were favourites. Magritte’s subversive view of the bourgeois world is another artistic passion. There were powerful resonances of his work in Benson and Hedges advertising campaigns in the late 1970s, which feature Duffy’s photography.
George moved on to designing postcards in the early 1980s. Some were aimed at the London tourist market showing sites such as Tower Bridge, Nelson’s Column and St Paul’s suitably doctored. Others were political. The record high unemployment of the Thatcher Government was the subject of four postcards. The best seller sold about a quarter of million. It shows Greetings From Britain on the front and is a parody of the seaside postcard, but instead of the pier are five job centres in areas of high unemployment. Another design, “Daddy What Did You Do When There Were Jobs?” parodied the famous First World War poster. Margaret Thatcher’s iron control of her cabinet was a subject of two further postcards. A row of Thatchers disappearing into the horizon is captioned “My Cabinet is Completely Behind Me”. Images diminishing ad infinitum also occur in “Opportunity Knocks”, a series of seemingly endless doors finishing with a brick wall. This image was inspired by Orson Welles’s film of Kafka’s Trial with the accused man waiting in growing desperation at the door wanting to be let in only to be told to keep on waiting. Infinite regress was also used in his first card “The Handout” which is of a hand coming out of a pillar box holding a card of a hand coming out of a pillar box repeated a couple more times.
George’s last card in this series was produced in 1986. His new, NHS day job meant working very long hours. Friends tried very hard to get him to go back to my creative work, but the time did not seem right. When 2010 came around it did and he went back to designing postcards.
The challenge in designing postcards is how to win the battle of attraction against fifty or so others in a rack? This, and the small size, places a premium on clarity, simplicity and a graphic quality. The striking juxtapositions are a real advantage, what surrealists have called “the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella”1.
The 1980s were Pre-Photoshop. It was an era of cutting and pasting photographs with scalpels and scissors and cow gum glue, with lighter fuel used to lift off photographs to reposition them. One of the tricks of the trade to make the image look realistic was to remove the white ghosting effect around the edges by painting them black. From 2010 it was time to catch up with the Photoshop, which has its own cantankerous personality.
Having always earned his living outside art, George could please himself artistically. This is just as well, as his Photoshop teacher despairing of his idiosyncratic interpretation of briefs and his boy racer desire to push effects to the limit, commented, “There’s always one”.
1. Isidore Ducasse (writing as Comte de Lautréamont) in his novel Les Chants de Maldoror
(pers. email, George Blair to Alan Griffiths, 5 May 2013)
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