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                     SAUL BASS

New York 1920 - Los Angeles 1996


The eminence of Saul Bass is visual rather than verbal, much like his ubiquitous imagery. Controversial when they first appeared, Bass' stunningly spare graphics define the potent, hip, and harsh aesthetic of the Ď50s and Ď60s. In his 50-year career Bass left a clear imprint on the communications industry, particularly in film and advertising. His stark, symbolic images, which were used in both print and animated ads, implemented a new design form that relied on visuals over language to deliver the message. Bass, born in 1929, studied at the Art Students League and at Brooklyn College. As a freelance designer and art director in New York, he made his first attempts to rework typefaces in order to alter the picture and text components of movie ads. Bass subsequently moved to Los Angeles; after working at several advertising agencies he formed Saul Bass Associates. Bass first came into view in 1949 with his print ad for Kirk Douglasí film "The Champion." In 1955, Bassí graphics for Otto Premingerís "The Man with the Golden Arm" gained instant notoriety: rather than a glossy photo of Frank Sinatra, the ads prominently displayed a woodblock-like arm that represented heroin use. This graphic symbolization of themes (for example, the directional arrows coming off the words "North" and "Northwest"), along with the use of jagged typefaces, basic colors, and a disturbingly off-kilter graphic style were instantly distinguishable from the conventional, realistic images of the period. Bass himself credits the "mood and feeling" of the images, over the mere use of graphics, for the success of this style. Yet the ad for "Anatomy of a Murder" plainly exalts the basics of graphic design -- for example, the background's solid red suggesting an overflow of blood -- even as it delivers the thematic essence of its content. Bass built a highly productive collaboration with Preminger, Hitchcock, and others, occasionally doing select directorial work. The most famous (though faintly contested) example of Bassí specialized direction is the shower scene in "Psycho." This film sequence, with its reliance on visuals instead of dialogue, represented Bass at his best. The Bass' reductionism easily parlayed itself into the creation of corporate identities. Bass designed logos for United Airlines, Quaker Oats, AT&T, and Exxon, consistently producing symbolic images in the visual idiom of the present. Awarded the U.S. Art Director of the Year in 1957, and elected to the Art Directors Club of New York Hall of Fame in 1978, Bass left such a mark on communications that blatant imitations -- the simplest form of homage -- still run rampant today.
(Artand)

 


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