Tuesday, 14 December 2010

50s Illustration

This exercise involved researching the 1950s and then creating an illustration of somebody seated surrounded by objects, to describe to a teenager what the 1950s were like.

The  Fifties Source Book suggests that Richard Hamilton's "Just what is it that makes today's homes so different' sums up the 1950s. However, I'm not sure that today's teenagers would get exactly what it was like to live in the 1950s from it...



Until the 1950s in the UK, was still suffering from 'post war' rationing, which wasn't lifted until 1954. The spectre of war still hung over people's heads, with bomb shelters still featuring in housing designs as new Suburban developments sprang up - luring families to the suburbs away from devastated town and city centres.

Following the years of war and austerity was a new era of rampant commercialism, stemming from the US. This was the time when advertisers played on people to throw away their old stuff and buy new and better all the time.  They used the Ideal of the 'Nuclear Family'.

In America there was a huge swing to get women back into their roles as housewives after the war years... and new-fangled gadgets to make them 'happy in the home' were flooding the market place. Fridges, toasters, fitted 'designer' kitchens, hoovers, Tupperware, cheaper modern designs for furniture and furnishings sprang up. People were urged to throw away the old and buy newer better smarter stuff. Prefab houses and Open Plan living began to become fashionable - many stores we a familiar with today e,g. Ikea and Habitat have their design roots firmly in the 50s, when modular systems came to the high street, along with rack shelving and G-plan furniture. Furnishings were garish and Wall papers were used to delineate areas within the open plan living room. And the Colour Palettes were expanding, Pinks and Oranges, pastels and bright colours were all available.

Advertisers used magazines such as Elle and Vogue to sell cosmetics to Women who aspired to look like models and Movie Goddesses like Grace Kelly, Maryline Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. Product endorsement began

But for all for of this new stuff packing the shops, for many families life was still tough, and their homes would have been filled with the same stuff as it had been in the late 40s, but to this by the late 50s many would have added Televisions and record players. And with Television, the advertisers found a whole new audience. The Queens' Coronation was watched all over the world by an audience of about 20 million, and the nation's obsession with TV soaps began - with the launch of Coronation Street in 1960. But if one looks at the early sets of Coronation Street, that's probably what the end of the 50s was like for many average, working class families, ducks on the walls, dull furnishings, dark cold Victorian semis. A far cry from the Dream being pedalled by Advertisers.

 The 50s saw the emergence of the Space Race, with the US and Russia vying to conquer Space and fly to the moon. And with this a whole new excitement and fascination with Sci Fi, UFO spotting, the moon. This filtered into design - the modular space age designs, the predominance of space inspired design in fabrics. In particular Space seems to have inspired one of the most influential designers of the era, Alexander Calder
vertical constellation with Bomb 1943 (but still I think relevant)


This was considered the 'silver age for Comic Strips books, with space travel and superheros undergoing a bit of a renaissance after the war. Comic book design motifs can be seen in advertising artwork.

The term Teenager was born in the 1950s. They provided a whole new advertising target. They began to get a voice in the 1950s laying the foundations for the 1960s. Fashion designers began to create for the teenage market, at the beginning of the decade, girls were dressed like their mothers, by the end, they had their own fashion. And so did the boys! Their lifestyle was changing - they were beginning to be allowed out to coffee bars and bowling alleys on their own! Teenage gangs emerged. Teenage interests  were exploited on the big screen with films like 'Rebel without a Cause' - teenagers were being given a voice. The Star, James Dean's was a Teen Idol, with his Death in 1955 one of THE news stories of the decade.


And then there was the Rock and Roll scene, which had a dramatic impact on Teenagers. They now had new heros, Elvis, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, an antidote to the 'Mum and Dad music' of Pat Boone, Rosemary Cloony and Perry Como. Films like 'Rock around the Clock' (1956) aimed to depict a wholesome youth out to have fun, but the older generation was concerned that this new Group of Teenagers were becoming 'delinquants' - as shown in films like High School Confidential (1958).

So this was a time when Teenagers had a voice and this made the Adult popuation aprehensive and the message was 'Mothers - stay at home and sort out your teenagers!  But during the war women had had a taster of another lifestyle -  and the stage was set for the 1960s!

Talking to my own parents and others who were teenagers at the time made me realise that although this commecrial age had taken off, all this new stuff was slow to reach some parts of Britain. So in my Illustration, I decided to take the aspirational nature of the 1950s but temper it slightly.
Initial Sketch

This was my first sketch. I used the internet, google images and the Fifties Source Book for reference for furnishings such as Chair shapes, lamps and shelving systems. I got rid of the Dado Rail and picture rails, but kept a fireplace, went for an 'open plan' feel, but with the kitchen and large Fridge in the background. I used different wallpapers on different walls, and added elements of teenage life, in the form of records, magazines, phones to communicate with friends, fashion - capri pants and head scarves etc. But I used Dad smoking in his easy chair and Mum in the background hoovering to illustrate the roles of men and women. I stretched reality by putting the TV on and not having everybody watching it together although in reality i think it is more likely that they would all have been watching something together. I was going to put 'the Coronation of Elizabeth 11 on the TV, but I thought that they really would all sit down together for that one! So this was the finished piece. I rather wish I had done it with acrylics or some other paint to get a flatter colour effect more like the posters of the time.

Final Image for 1950s for a Teenager


On reflection, I have slightly expanded the brief, which calls for someone sitting in a chair. I have a Dad sitting in a chair surrounded by his family. If I get time, I might return to the brief and try just a teenager surrounded by teenage stuff. However I am quite pleased with the details, phones, pepsi bottle, records etc, although if I did a closer up image  I could copy some actual record covers. Here I was working too small to achieve what was in my head!


Bibliographical Notes: for interesting reminiscences about Britain in the 1950s see BBC news reflections of the 1950s - I also drew on http://www.filmsite.org/50sintro.html and http://www.bbc.co.uk/homes/design/period_1950s.shtml



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