Since 1893 a building in Battersea has been host to numerous, genre-spanning events. From being a home for social and political unions, a venue for plays or performances and all night dancing parties in aid of charities. Since 1981, the building, which was originally a town hall, has been occupied as an independent arts centre known as Battersea Arts Centre, and each and every one of these events has been accompanied by a poster to attract various audiences. In aid of its 125th birthday, Battersea Arts Centre is celebrating its cultural heritage by digitising its entire poster archive.
“The posters are a great visual way of understanding the huge breadth of activity that has happened here over the decades, how embedded the building has always been in the local community and how what happened in Battersea reflected what was happening across the country,” says Lucy Parker, Battersea Arts Centre’s collections access manager. Operating as both a museum and cultural centre, the venue does “a huge amount of Heritage Lottery Funded-work aimed at inspiring people by our past to make changes to their future,” Lucy tells us. “Showcasing the range of radical, uplifting, entertaining and thought-provoking events that have happened here is one way to do that.”
Digitising its poster archive has allowed Battersea Arts Centre to create an online exhibition of sorts, where you can scroll through each of the event’s visual interpretations. Mainly used for advertising, “they cover everything from memorial services after the Titanic disaster to wrestling matches in the 1970s,” Lucy explains, also noting how many of the events of the past retain a presence at the arts centre, “such as theatre, concerts, workshops and talks.”
In terms of design styles and a growing aesthetic lineage over time, Lucy admits the centre is “only just beginning to uncover some of this lost history”. As many of the posters would have been commissioned by the local town hall employees with a short deadline, many of the designs were the work of “local printers in London who contributed to creating really beautiful typographical arrangements,” she says.
Take the posters produced between 1910-1920 where posters which were “printed at many different small printers working throughout London,” and you can spot their addresses at the bottom. Lucy and the Battersea Arts Centre team have also been able to dig out notable design names such as the Bathley brothers, “who had a local reputation, but their work needs to be better celebrated” and St Clements Press the creators of its Fancy Dress Ball poster, “who also, incidentally, printed the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union – the Suffragettes) newspaper, Votes For Women.
As time moves forward, the graphic trends featured in the posters also morph as “many of the posters also typify something of the era in which they were made,” says Lucy. “The combinations of different typefaces evoke something of these eras. Many of the posters in the 1970s and 1980s reflect a DIY punk aesthetic as well.” Lucy also picks up on a poster for the band Muvvers Pride, a screen-printed poster which “captures the punk aesthetic” while “poking fun at the well-known brand of white sliced bread at the time ‘Mothers Pride’,” she explains. “It’s just pink ink printed on white paper – with the letters masked over to reveal the paper underneath. Really simple but effective as a design!”
You can see Battersea Arts Centre’s extended poster collection in an online exhibition here, and discover a timeline of graphic and typographic styles. Each of the posters are taken from the archive here, which is available for everyone to access.
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