Biopon - makes stains vanish
A1 1 Sheet (cca. 55 x 84 cm)
Fine. Light creases along the lower border.
Biopon. All stains disappear. Subtitle: Biopon, automatic, effective detergent.
In 1957, after the revolution of 1956, the socialist regime started to soften in Hungary. The changes could be first felt on the fields of culture, because politicians realized that in order to prevent themselves from another uprising they have to give more freedom to the intellectuals: artists got the opportunity to travel (once in every 5 years), issues of some western art magazines were available in the libraries, and the style of the artworks wasn't restricted as much as it used to be.
György Kemény’s colorful, pop-art influenced posters were shocking in their time. For the contemporary spectator they represented the modern, „western” way of life, something unusual in the greyness of socialism.
Kemény grew up in Budapest, he started drawing at the age of 4. His first application to the Academy of Fine Arts was rejected so he decided to spend a year in the studio of the famous poster designer, Pál Gábor. During this year he fell in love with the poster art. With his very own style he attracted the attention of the critics in the early stage of his career.
In the next year he got accaepted to the Academy, on the faculty of graphics. He became friends with artists like László Lakner or Dóra Mauer, and he soon was considered to be a talented member of the avant-garde circles. Lakner and Kemény were regulars at Fészek Klub, which was a place and library frequented by artists with a modern thinking. They had a chance to read the newest issues of various western magazines at Fészek.
He graduated in 1961 and started to work as poster-artist. Besides, he worked on different fields of visual art: he makes video installations, objects, conceptual works, sculptures and drawings. The neo-avantgarde artists used various channels to express their criticism about the socialist system.
In 1963 he was invited by his former master Pál Gábor to Paris to his famous advertising studio 'Typogabor'. It was a life-chinging experience for Kemény, he loved every second of the atmosphere of the western world.
In Paris, he was fascinated by the colourful life of the city and the artworks of the contemporary western artists, like Christo, Jim Dine and Niki the Saint-Phalle. When he stepped into the pop-art room on the Biennale of Young Artists, and saw the pictures of Warhol, Lichtenstein and Wesselman, he felt he finally found what he was looking for.
“Colours of the poster, stylised realism with strong black outlines, ordinary objects, events and sex for theme… I found home.” – he wrote later.
In 1968 he had a solo exhibition in Fészek Klub, which was a special opportunity: there was no jury and no official censorship. The pop art triumphed at the exhibition which provoked a loud groan - according to the art historian and critic László Beke. Kemény presented pop art paintings (some of them had obvious American topics), and extraordinary objects, like his famous “conservative chair” made of cans (the title refers to the Hungarian word “konzerv” which means can). This example shows Kemény’s relation to the western pop art: he used a pop art symbol (the can), an object of the everyday life, which was earlier Warhol’s theme (Campbell soup), and he added his own humorous attitude. László Beke interviewed him about his exhibition, and Kemény showed how much he understood the international tendencies. “The 20th century produced a wide range of industrial products, and the colourful plastic objects created a new aesthetic world around us.” – he said. This new aesthetic is the pop art’s main theme. In the beginning of his carrier, Kemény was influenced by surrealism (together with Csernus and Lakner), but later he turned from the picturesque surrealist manner to the sharper artistic language of pop art. „The pop art expresses one essential feeling of the twentieth century: the freedome, the conviction that everything is possible.” Kemény had a sense of humour, an affection for grotesque and irony, which he could combine with pop art. He expressed his artistic creed: „the very essence of art is to have influence on the audience” and „the point of the poster is to attarct the eye”.
After 1963 his posters have become colourful and pop-art-like. The Biopon poster is a very good example. It’s a print advertisement for a washing powder. Kemény’s creative idea is very humorous. The headline tells us that “All patches disappear”, and we see a tiger without its stripes.
The composition is defined by the diagonal line of the script. The white colour contrasts the colourful background and the special typography highlights the fonts. The drawing of the tiger is flat like, the outlines are decorative. The colours make a fresh contrast with each other and the black outlines. The three basic colours dominate the image (red, blue, yellow) which invoke the art of the De Stijl artists. Piet Mondrian used these three colours combined with white, and the black outline. (On the Biopon poster only the tiger’s tiny eye is green). The limited colour-scale was perfect for the printing technique, and it also made the composition highly impressive.
The commission didn't come directly from the washing powder company; but the governmental agency of advertising, called “Mahir” (Magyar Hirdető, meaning Hungarian Advertiser). The Mahir office had a list of the available graphic artists, and they were choosing from them in the spirit of socialist equality. There was no competition between the artists except for the movie posters – for these they usually ordered designs from 2 or 3 artists and a jury decided which one should be printed. Firms occasionally gave tenders through Mahir, to which 6-8 artists were invited. In Biopon's case, Kemény got the job alone and the company had nearly no restrictions. The main message was obvious (that the washing powder is working), and he had to use the company's logo (it is in the bottom right corner). Usually they got a two weeks deadline, in which he sent his handmade design back to the Mahir. There a jury decided a price for the design, and according to Kemény's memory it was around 1000-2000 forints. „It was impossible to make a living from poster design only” - said Kemény. That is the reason why he was working so much in different fields of graphic design: he made disc-bags, packing, book covers etc.
The client had little expectations towards the poster; in fact, the party-delegated directors knew nearly nothing about poster art as such. Advertising wasn't really needed by the socialist, state-owned companies; they had a yearly budget which they had to spend. The efficiency of the advertisements was impossible to measure, but it didn't really matter. To sum up, the commercial poster was an unusual phenomenon in the socialist state, and it is no wonder that only a few dozen different commercial posters were made per year.
Kemény was given a free hand. He could even choose the size of his posters, thus he could use the biggest size; in fact, his „Új fürdőruhák” poster was made in double size (it is printed on two A0 paper). The larger size of the poster allowed the client to spend more from his official marketing budget. Kemény decided himself to use the landscape format which he preferred at this time.
The preparation of the design was not preceded by a long research for the motifs or plenty of sketches. Kemény György is a highly intuitive artist, who follows his instincts by creating a design and lets his eagerness overcome him. He told that at this time he was enthusiastic for the Bauhaus design and maybe that inspired the extraordinary typography.
He learned the basic techniques of poster art from Pál Gábor. Gábor generally used the time consuming tempera technique for painting. For typography he suggested Kemény to use Lettraset, with which his script appeared as a single block. Lettraset offered different fonts in different sizes, which the artists could stick onto their designs. Lettraset wasn't available in Hungary for a while (it is a British product), but later it appeared in the art shops of Budapest as well. On the Biopon poster Kemény used a painted typography for the title, and Lettraset for the slogan, but the two fonts are well matched.
Kemény's pop art style is based on strong black contours and the spaces filled with colours between them, which allowed him to use stacked cellophane. The coloured cellophanes were made for theatre lamps, but the designers were enthusiastic about them: cellophane was an easy way to create homogenous coloured surfaces. The colours were not the be strictly adhered to on a poster design; they were just guidelines for the printer. The artist had to be present when the printing started and they had to do everything until the colours met his expectations. The usual printing technique was offset, and in Budapest several good offset printers existed.
Such a remarkable poster but the nowadays widely known Biopon did not have this opinion in his age. The former employee of Mahir, Miklós Csepregi (who gave the Biopon project to Kemény) told that the director of the company became furious after seeing the design. Csepregi could finally convince him to use Kemény's design by showing it in the swiss graphic magazine, the Graphis.
Most of Kemény’s pop art posters were highly erotic. This, and the daring, “western” style was very disturbing for the censors and the clients.
He had several fights and arguments with the clients to convince them to apply his extraordinary ideas. Once a “propagandist” was fired from the company after accepting Kemény’s design for an umbrella advertisement. However, the artist himself never got in trouble, which proves how little the cultural policy cared about posters. “The censors were not interested in this genre, that’s why this period was a golden age of the Hungarian and the Polish poster as well.” – he said.
In the reviews Kemény’s Biopon poster is usually described with the adjective “neosecessionist”. Probably for other art historians the impact of the decorative contours resemble secession, the Hungarian Art Nouveau style.
However, the works of Kemény rather tend to be shocking, refreshing and modern, not decorative. Kemény occasionly used secessionist typography for his designs, or combined the secessionist decorativeness with the psychedelic-hippy poster style (“Szép lányok ne sírjatok”). His designs, such as Biopon, are obviously inspired by the American pop art painting.
The block letters on the Biopon poster show the impact of another great tradition in Hungarian poster art: the constructivist-modernist, Bauhaus-inspired style of Róbert Berény and Sándor Bortnyik. Kemény learned much about typography in Gábor’s studio, his special talent on this field is present on the Biopon poster.
At the end of the 60s Kemény’s posters meant a new quality in Hungarian poster design. In the 70s he was followed by many others, so the streets became colourful thanks to the “American style” posters. Kemény felt that the style had lost its originality, he gave it up and turned to something new again: he started to draw and work on the field of conceptual art.
In the late 60s posters like Biopon held a secret message to the people passing by, they represented the western culture, the “free world”. According to Kemény: The change of the system was not achieved by politicians only, it was well prepared by musicians, writers and artists, like me.”