“Graphic Clarity” at Russell Day Gallery in Everett showcases posters, books and other printed objects from 1950 to 1980 that use modernist design. The exhibit, presented by Everett resident Sean Wolcott and his graphic design studio Rationale, is on display through Oct. 26. (Sean Wolcott)

“Graphic Clarity” at Russell Day Gallery in Everett showcases posters, books and other printed objects from 1950 to 1980 that use modernist design. The exhibit, presented by Everett resident Sean Wolcott and his graphic design studio Rationale, is on display through Oct. 26. (Sean Wolcott)

Rare modernist posters on display at EvCC gallery

See Everett graphic designer Sean Wolcott’s collection of posters from 1950-80 through Oct. 26.

Some were bought in Europe, others were lucky finds on eBay.

Sean Wolcott’s collection of modernist posters from the 1950s to the ’80s represent a revolutionary era of graphic design. Their use of geometric shapes, bold typography, bright colors and abstract concepts was considered radical at the time, and greatly influenced modern design.

“Graphic Clarity,” on display through Oct. 26, features the works of more than 30 designers from around the world. Most of the posters in the exhibit are the only known copies.

Modernist design has long resonated with Wolcott, a graphic designer from Everett. Though the posters in his collection were made 40 or 60 years ago, Wolcott considers them to be “perpetually modern” because their design techniques are still used today.

He’s not only impressed by the designs themselves, but the fact that they were made with mathematical-like precision before the computer age.

“It’s a learning tool,” Wolcott said of the exhibition. “Considering how much of an important role design plays on everyday communication and society, it’s nice to have a retrospective to talk about where things come from.”

The roots of modernist design can be traced to Bauhaus, an influential German art school from 1919 to 1933 best known for designs based on functionalism and simplicity. The school’s instructors fled Germany during the rise of the Nazi party — which ultimately closed the school — but continued to share their ideas and methods.

Wolcott said Bauhaus’s ethos of embracing pure forms and reducing design to fundamental elements spread across the globe in the late 1940s. In the years that followed, the Bauhaus style influenced the designs of everything from skyscrapers to chairs.

Wolcott said style has long been relevant because of its simplicity and clarity — hence the name of the show.

“The iPhone screen or an average website would look different if it weren’t for the graphic, typographical and conceptual influences that came from that time,” he said.

Wolcott, 41, has been a graphic designer for 20 years. He owns Rationale, a design studio in Seattle, and also teaches and speakers on modern design.

He said the Bauhaus and modernist styles have influenced his own work as a designer. Because of this, the art forms tend to catch his eye no matter where he is. When he finds a poster, brochure or pamphlet he likes, he adds it to his collection. He’s been collecting for about 10 years.

Artists featured in the exhibit include Switzerland’s Armin Hofmann, Wim Crouwel from the Netherlands and Irwin McFadden of Portland, Oregon, and Italy’s Massimo Vignelli.

Look for Massimo Vignelli’s poster from the 32nd annual Venice International Art Biennale in 1964. Vignelli, who was Wolcott’s personal mentor before his death in 2014, was heavily influenced by the Bauhaus style.

Vignelli designed the now iconic map for New York City’s subway in 1972. It is considered a landmark in modernism information design for providing clarity to a busy transit system.

Evan Thompson: 360-544-2999, ethompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @evanthompson_1.

If you go

What: “Graphic Clarity”

Where: Russell Day Gallery, Everett Community College, 2000 Tower St., Everett

When: Through Oct. 26, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday

Cost: Free

More: www.everettcc.edu/gallery or www.rationale-design.com

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