Magazine article The New Yorker

Poster Boy

Magazine article The New Yorker

Poster Boy

Article excerpt

POSTER BOY

Over the decades, the Public Theatre, on Lafayette Street, has launched many a big show. Last week, the organization turned the lobby of its Newman Theatre into a permanent collection of the Public's longest-running hit: the posters of Paul Davis, which during his sixteen years of collaboration with the theatre's founder, Joe Papp, changed the face of theatrical-poster display.

Davis, a droll seventy-six-year-old Oklahoman with a helmet of silver hair, stopped by the other evening to survey his work. When Papp hired him, in 1975 (on the strength of Davis's wallop of a poster of Che Guevara, done for Evergreen Review ), the theatrical ad was a wan genre. "Everything was just typography and credits," Davis said. "The theatre poster was actually designed by agents representing the artists and the lawyers." He resolved to communicate, in his posters, "a sense of what the actors and the director were trying to do."

In Davis's hands, the posters themselves became an event. At one point, in 1976, his posters for four different shows--"The Threepenny Opera," "Streamers," "for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf," and "Hamlet"--were plastered in the subways. "It was incredibly colorful," he recalled. "It was only then that everyone began to realize that we were branding the theatre." Milton Glaser, the graphic designer, says of Davis's posters, "They create a very special excitement. His work is volumetric--sort of rounded and full; in the Renaissance sense, it's fully rendered. …

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