♢ EDITORIAL by Sal McIntyre, New York ♢
Warm weather brings tennis season, and as fans know the French Open took place in early June, Wimbledon in mid-July and the US Open will begin in just a few days. Wimbledon, played on outdoor grass courts in London, is the oldest tennis tournament in the world, active 141 years from 1877. The French Open, held on clay courts and famously called Roland Garros after the French pioneering aviator, has a long tradition of exciting poster design following it, showcasing the work of many a trailblazing artist from all over the globe. These designs are not only beautiful and historic works of graphic art— they also hold all of the atmosphere and fervor surrounding the magic of tennis, an inspired display of the sparkle and mystery that draws its fans and competitors in year after year.
The prize of the lot would probably need to be this rare set of three 1980 stone lithographs in varying color schemes by Valerio Adami, each one signed and numbered in pencil, from a very small edition of only 50. Adami’s color choices perfectly convey the wonderful tension that tennis is steeped in, suggesting sunlight so bright you need to squint.
In a popular 1981 piece by Eduardo Arroyo, also signed, the particular swagger of tennis style carries more meaning than simply the function of a sweatband. Tennis lovers will know the feeling, and Arroyo needed nothing more to convey it.
A signed 2016 piece from Marc Desgrandchamps highlights the music of the body position in its most identifiable moment, the apex of the serve, choosing to show it cleverly with the gesture of the feet in the foreground and merely the shadow of the rest of the form as seen cascading across the court underfoot.
Vladimir Velickovic, in his signed stone lithograph from 1983, captures the intensity of the athletes muscles in motion and the tennis ball as though on fire. He focuses in on a closeup of the action, wasting no time with the rest of the story.
Herve Di Rosa takes a completely unique approach, both with cartoon-inspired style and in working with the effect tennis has on its spectators— all eyes on the ball, including the ones on the ball itself.
In this signed 1984 stone lithograph by Gilles Aillaud we can almost hear the quiet of the crowd and the occasional gasp as everyone focuses intently on the drama unfolding on the court. It is a magical piece made up only of scribbled dots and marks, yet the picture coheres brilliantly.
A lyrical 1990 stone lithograph from Claude Garache displays in silhouetted perfection the grace and power of the tennis player in midair, seemingly floating. The simple color scheme and painterly rendering make this piece an immediate mood-setter, a bold and confident visual statement.
And for tennis as a general obsession, a few pieces in particular follow suit, capturing the atmosphere with aplomb— one of them being everybody’s favorite poster designer A.M. Cassandre. This work Lawn Tennis, with Cassandre’s characteristic otherworldly shadow rendering, strikes a chord as succinct as the sound of the ace. Another, by an unknown artist, is nonetheless a signed and numbered stone lithograph titled Tennis Balls, a highly stylized arrangement and concept that underline the pure joy that is the action of tennis. A third one, Tennis Player, is a signed silkscreen by Mark King, whose bright colors and energetic brushstrokes describe the scene in character as well as form.
Lastly, Konrad Klapheck shows us that distinctive octagonal shape at the base of the racquet handle, and the beauty of the racquet’s design in his piece Davis Cup, a signed stone lithograph from 1983. And both in that poster and in Raquette Ram, a Mourlot-printed stone lithograph by Rene Vincent, the fun of that special style we call vintage carries a powerful appeal, allowing for a near audible sweep of nostalgia.