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Signs that sell!!

THEY ARE EVERYWHERE, beseeching you with their beguiling naivete to purchase the most diverse products and embrace lost causes. Signs painted with vivid colors selling the delights of reconditioned clutches, pearly false teeth, homemade underwear, and slightly used coffins. They are the latter-day frescoes of small town merchandising. Signs for future archeologists that will help them describe and decipher a culture full of enigmatic objects and forgotten obsessions.

In an age of mass merchandising and slick promotional transnational campaigns for products with well-known logotypes, these popular icons are a reminder of the vanishing world of the sign painters, the clear-sighted interpreters of local taste. Their medium is the public space of our cities and their work is one of a kind.

These anonymous illustrators exhibit the most diverse styles and iconography. The point is to transparently communicate the product or service being sold, usually in places where literacy is not high. Their message must be simple and clear, appealing to the local population with a direct visual language.

Whatever style they use it is always with strong, brilliant primary colors, usually glossy enamel or industrial paints. The materials must be able to withstand the rigors of local weather and adapt to the walls on which they are painted.

One of the most common characteristics of this popular language is its use of humor, intended or otherwise. Weird renderings of toys, ice cream cones of the most unexpected flavors, mutant broiled chickens, enigmatic automobile parts and soppy hot dogs are part of the repertoire of these unknown painters.

Among the most interesting manifestations of this local tradition are photographer's backdrops. In this genre, artists have the opportunity to display their virtuosity in the heroic scale. These backdrops sometimes represent landscapes nearby or exotic locales which the clients or the painter will never visit. They are a perfect medium to let the widest fantasies scar.

Despite the presence of strong local visual traditions it is inevitable that some influences from abroad creep into the imagery and the language of these popular illustrators. It is now possible to see in the most remote villages of Latin America small shops with English names and borrowed images. And when the rain and the sun bleach and dissolve these images, another part of the intricate web of local culture will be lost forever.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:the art of Latin American sign painters
Author:Montecino, Marcelo
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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