An Oxymoron

To celebrate AIGA’s Centennial, AIGA Raleigh invited designers to create posters inspired by events that took place in the Triangle region over the past ten decades. Participating designers were asked to select a decade of interest and to submit work focused on an event occurring in that decade and designed in a style representative of the decade they chose.

Although a recent transplant to the Triangle, I consider myself a Durhamese, so the location of an event I would design about had to be Durham. And while I myself have no strong sports interests, feelings, or affiliations, my family does; and so I have acquired certain sports associations. Two come to mind where Durham is concerned but in the spirit of keeping the AIGA Centennial Poster Tour noncontroversial (the posters deserved a chance at all locations), I decided to let the devil sleep and I evoked the Bulls.

Life Magazine Cover 1939-10-16An event that drew my attention took place in 1939; that’s when the Durham Athletic Park was rebuilt after a fire. It took me a moment to realize what really struck me about that historical fact. In the mind of a person who grew up in Poland in the spirit of World War II martyrology, 1939 has one and only connotation—the Nazi invasion of Poland, the beginning of destruction, and a massive loss of lives. It is also an onset of the next round of the loss of freedom and erosion of hope for at least two generations of Poles.

Poland 1939A digression for those unfamiliar with Polish history: Poland had historically been subjected to foreign occupation. We tended to have neighbors with strong appetites for our land. So to see the year 1939 mentioned in the context of anything being “rebuilt” invokes, in the mind of a Pole, a strong sense of friction. It is an oxymoron!

To preserve that sense of internal conflict in my poster I sought to juxtapose a contemporary depiction of the (historic) Durham Athletic Park (DAP) with a worn-out look and feel of the piece as a whole. Sure enough, I found a beautiful, color photograph (released into the public domain) of a clean and orderly entrance to DAP, which I turned into a sepia image with a touch of texture and grunge.

Durham Athletic Park

I copied information about DAP’s construction from, and I adapted it to my purpose by emphasizing the year 1939 and creating a statement that to me was oxymoronic: “Rebuilt in 1939.”

Durham Athletic Park Reconstruction Info

I also wanted to maintain some aesthetic connection with the period. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, while a good segment of commercial art was still primarily (and colorfully) illustrated, there was a noticeable increase in the use of (black and white) photography in ads and posters. Since photographs themselves were devoid of vivid colors, interest and vibrancy were often added by incorporating vector graphics and lettering, and more often than not, those appeared in red.

1930-40s print aesthetic

In keeping with that aesthetic and to give my poster a somewhat ominous character (as dictated by my association of 1939 with war), I set the letters of the central statement in red (with an orange tinge to indulge my personal preference).

Although somewhat rushed, designing this poster was a truly interesting experience. It caught me by surprise not only because I had not planned on it but also because of the string of mental associations that it brought up. I am grateful to my fellow designers for not selecting the 1934-1943 decade as their inspiration, and for giving me an opportunity to explore the oxymoron.

DAP Poster Design by Basia Coulter

By Basia Coulter
Published September 7, 2014