Today, Supergraphics means ‘big graphics’ – the word Discount in 30ft letters on the side of a building, for example: billboards are often referred to as ‘supergraphics’. But there was a time – the 1960s – when applying paint and graphics to buildings was part of a radical new movement in architecture: a time when it seemed to be signalling a new direction in the way we think about buildings and how we interact with them; a time when, as Life magazine wrote in 1968, ‘the whole idea of supergraphics is to knock down walls with paint.’
In its early days (it launched as a weekly magazine in 1936), Life was a pioneering source of photojournalism. The work of photographers such as Edward Steichen, Dorothea Lange, Lee Miller and Robert Capa were featured in its pages. For many Americans, Life was the precursor of television: it offered a rich mix of images and news. But by 1972, down from a circulation high of 8m, the magazine had been eclipsed by TV and ceased weekly publication. Over the years, it has reappeared intermittently in a variety of formats.
In May 1968, Life wrote about Supergraphics. The article is a light-touch look at subject with the main emphasis on supergarphics as a domestic interior décor cure-all. Life writes helpfully: “awkward areas in a house, apartment office are easily painted away.”
The magazine nevertheless shows lots of work by the great Barbara Stauffacher Solomon – the doyenne of Supergraphics. Her famous graphic makeover of the Sea Ranch in Northern California, was for many, Supergraphics’ finest hour.
“Mrs Stauffached” says Life, “did most of her designing right on the walls with charcoal, letting two sign painters fill in the colors. In the ladies lavatory, she drew half a heart that becomes a whole one when reflected in the mirror (shown). Along the stairway, she places a bold directional arrow that points the way upstairs to the women’s locker room, a half circle borders a doorway through which is seen a matching half.”
The work of another Supergraphics pioneer – Doug Michels – is shown. And the short article ends with a quote from Charles Moore, a giant of post war American architecture. ‘Supergraphics,’ says Moore, is ‘a magnificent device for playing with scale. They make a toy out of a room.’
You can find out more about Supergraphics and read a long interview with Barbara Stauffacher Solomon in the book Supergraphics – Transforming Space: Graphic Design for Walls, Buildings & Spaces (Unit 02). This book is only available from this website. Order here