December 5, 2011

An Opportunity to Create

Luba Lukova; New York, New York, USA

Author: John Foster

Topics: Color, Handmade, Layouts, Profiles

Although it would be a mistake to place too much significance on the early stages of Luba Lukova's career and her childhood in the shadow of Bulgarian communism, her upbringing in a restrictive society has indeed had an undeniable influence on her work. Oppression—and the battle creativity wages against it—are evident in nearly everything she touches. She puts her heart into each and every illustration, and the clarity and conciseness of her vision belie the conviction of an artist who relishes the opportunity to create.

"Posters bring a kind of humanness and emotion that the screen-based media can't provide yet."

However, the qualities that make Lukova's work so special are part of her, not just her background. Training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Sophia may have informed her sense of typography and imagery, but it takes only a few minutes of talking with her before you realize that the accent that has remained strong more than a decade after her decision to remain in New York during a trip to the United States cannot mask a deeply thoughtful person. It is curiosity, compassion, and, most important, empathy with her subjects that form the almost iconically simple images that grace her work. The humanity of the images transcends their black-and-white plainness.

Lukova is perhaps the most successful of current designers at speaking to an audience with direct simplicity wrapped in a sophisticated package. Her sturdy yet delicate images have drawn comparisons to everyone from the German expressionists to Picasso. Her admirable reputation in the illustration world has plum assignments coming into her studio daily. Her work has appeared in nearly every publication of significance and worldwide in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Congress, Japan's Museum of Modern Art, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and others. She is also the recipient of a Gold Medal at the International Poster Biennial in Mexico and the ICOGRADA Excellence Award from the Festival Internationale d'Affiches in Chaumont, France.

Kindred Spirits

Though Lukova's images have justifiably won rave reviews for themselves, her posters are where her work shines brightest. Perhaps this is because the medium is perfect for her favored strong central imagery. It is also a grand opportunity for her to display her secret weapon: a beautiful and sophisticated sense of typography that is hidden in straight illustration. As suspected, she reveals that she "very much likes Polish poster design from the 1970s." Lukova's work is kindred to that amazing decade of posters, mirroring the power of its fascinating conceptual images and tightly executed hand-drawn type. Her designs, like those of past masters, go beyond the statement of information to invoke thought and investigation.

She also finds inspiration from expected sources. "My influences are definitely from fine art, literature, and theater—artists such as Picasso, Goya, Rembrandt, Käthe Kollwitz, folk art, Shakespeare, and Chekhov." Not to mention her Bulgarian influences, such as "Alexander Poplilov, Asen Stareishinski, and Iliya Beshkov," and some that are more personal, like "the films of Charlie Chaplin, and my grandmother, who was an artist."


Lukova loves the opportunities presented by the poster. "The poster has to be accessible and visible because the viewer has only seconds to grasp its meaning." She has a theory explaining its rebirth: "Posters bring a kind of humanness and emotion that the screen-based media can't provide yet." She may be selling her own talents short in that regard. She has the ability to convey a connection that few others can. It is no coincidence that she may be the only designer mentioned in the same breath as Picasso these days. Of course, that ability to communicate intimately with the viewer has an odd side effect: theft. Lukova mentions she "enjoys everything about designing posters, but especially when someone steals them from the theater lobby."

She might still have a spark of rebellion against an oppressive society left in her.

Source: New Masters of Poster Design