Artist dips into French-flavored past for posters of beach life

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What did you bring back from the coast besides sunburn? A fall-apart T-shirt or disposable sun visor manufactured in a Malaysian sweatshop?

Aurelio Grisanty has created more aesthetic souvenirs: Breathtaking travel posters for more than 50 beach- or town-specific locales along the Atlantic seaboard. Each is done in an art deco style, as though each was a luxurious destination Fred and Ginger would motor to in a 1934 Packard.

Even Myrtle Beach!

Delaware-based Grisanty is in the process of rolling out his Beach Town Posters line. Each is 18 by 24 inches -- a tad smaller than your typical poster but printed on heavy paper (80-pound stock). And eminently suitable for wearing a frame in your dining room.

WHO IS THIS GUY? Grisanty, 59, was born in the Dominican Republic and went to Michigan as a high school exchange student. He took a degree in graphic design and fine arts at Autonoma University in Mexico City and became a design director at a Dominican advertising agency -- a job he chucked to produce original artwork in the Washington area. Grisanty's pieces -- canvases, prints and murals in a variety of media -- have been featured in individual and group shows at museums and galleries from Chile to Pittsburgh.

HOW THE POSTERS BEGAN: "After 20-some years in D.C., I decided to take a break and go to the beach -- so I got a little apartment on the Delaware coast," Grisanty said in a recent telephone interview.

"When I was little, my grandparents had a beach house in the Dominican Republic that had French posters on the walls. Those were happy memories, and I wanted to put them here in my apartment, in remembrance of my childhood. Then I thought, 'Why not do a poster right here, showing Rehoboth, Del.?' I did this -- and sold it.

"I designed two more and showed them to galleries around here. And that's how this started, around 2003.

"At that point, I started going down the coast. My goal is to do the whole thing -- I'm now doing posters around Key West, Fla. -- then maybe doing the other side of the country."

THE DECO STYLE: "I needed a time frame for these posters, and I kept thinking of the beautiful beach posters done in France in the 1920s and '30s.

"That time frame worked perfectly: The towns on the Delaware coast only became known nationally in the '30s and '40s when people began vacationing there. I thought if I gave the posters a certain look -- the veneer of age -- it would instantly give the towns a unique and missing heritage.

"I can't really point to any one artist who influenced me for these posters, but I have a good knowledge of period styles."

WHAT HE USES: "A computer, using a combination of Photoshop and Painter programs. I don't use a mouse; I use a graphic pen and a tablet. Painter simulates material I'd use in actual painting -- brushes of different angles and hardness; paint, charcoal ... anything I want."

WHAT HE SHOWS: "Sometimes it's hard to find icons. When I got to Fenwick Island (in Delaware), there was nothing there but an old lighthouse that had been moved away from the shore.

"The Internet gives me a lot of background information: I can Google a town and get an idea of what images to look for.

Then I visit the places to get an idea of the geographical situation -- to make sure a building shown on the Internet is still there -- and figure out how I might use it."

THE OCCASIONAL TIME WARP: "I'm aware that Hilton Head wasn't a tourist place in the 1930s -- that it's much, much newer. That said, golf is a large part of the island's appeal, so the Hilton Head poster has a golfer dressed as people once did for that sport. And I learned there's a fantastic parade of old cars that's staged in Hilton Head. That's how I got the idea of including a bright-yellow 1930s racing car."

HOW LONG IT TAKES TO DO A POSTER: "At a minimum, five days. At the most, two months."

EASIEST ONE TO DO: "Duck, on the Outer Banks. I went there and saw a red-headed duck -- their symbol! -- so I put it on a beach chair and that was it. The idea came to me in five minutes."

HARDEST ONE TO DO: "I'm working on the poster for Atlantic City, N.J., and that's difficult because the place is so huge and confusing. What do I show? When I'm there, I see things from the past as well as things that look as though they're from the future."

HIS FAVORITE: "Cape Hatteras, because I was able to convey depth and richness in all the parts of the sky and in the water."

HOW FAR HE LIVES FROM BEACH: "From my apartment, it's one mile. I can't see the ocean from my window. But I can see a pond."

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FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Aurelio Grisanty's posters are becoming available in resort shops and sell for about $30. They can also be ordered via www.beachtownposters.com.



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