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‘Selling the Dream’: Taking on the world with travel posters

Word count: 660

‘Selling the Dream’: Taking on the world with travel posters

Peter Alsop tells us how New Zealand first developed a tourism brand and marketed it to the world through travel posters and other tourism publicity – the focus of new book ‘Selling the Dream’.

In the early 1900s, New Zealand could see a prosperous future in tourism but, to win that, needed an initial foothold in a competitive global industry. There was no clear identity for New Zealand itself, let alone an established tourism proposition. Without the web, TV and even colour photography, our publicity pioneers had to design travel posters – and make them good enough to compete with those of the world’s best poster artists. And as if being a newcomer wasn’t tough enough, we had to convince the most adventurous of northern hemisphere travellers to travel six weeks to get here by boat.

Overcoming these and other challenges must count as one of New Zealand’s most striking achievements on the international stage. The artwork was pivotal in creating our tourism industry and in shaping our national identity as New Zealanders. It is some of the finest graphic art ever produced in New Zealand, and as arresting and impressive today as when it was first created.

A foundation of this story was the establishment of the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts in 1901, the first government tourism agency in the world (now Tourism New Zealand). Forthwith, dreamy campaigns included 'Scenic Wonderland’, 'The Pocket Edition of the World', ‘Thousands of feet above worry level’, ‘The Sportsman’s Paradise’, ‘Maoriland’ and ‘A World in Itself’ – suggestive of the exotica, diversity, adventure and escapism New Zealand had on offer.

As with most successes, the environment was also ripe. In the early 1900s, the "art of the street" would have surely impressed. Outdoor advertising beautified railway stations, as well as the landscape as thousands of advertising hoardings were progressively erected along the rail network. There was also a marked shift in poster style from typography to eye-catching graphic work, a trend that would strengthen to underpin the golden age of the travel poster in the 1930s. And commensurate with the growth of international boat travel (and much later air), posters were swapped internationally through reciprocal display agreements with other governments and transportation companies.

A hallmark of the best posters was their simplicity using a ‘stripped back’ style. With posters needing to weave their magic on a passing gaze, simplicity was the essence of success – but if you think it looks easy give it a try! From this poster style, it is easy to see the conception of ‘pop art’ (coming decades later) and many facets of modern advertising. There is also good evidence that developments in commercial art lead the fine arts in New Zealand; until now a largely missing chapter in our art history.

Also spare a thought for the artisan production techniques used, such as stone lithography and silk-screen printing. We now take for granted a click of an icon or drop-down menu, whereas our publicity pioneers had to create fonts; completely redo paintings; and, to enable reproduction, use hand-cut stencils for screen-printing or slabs coated with greasy inks for lithography.

Were these pioneers good? Yes, very good, and certainly good enough to impress 50-100 years on. Let's also remember that these artworks, with lasting historical significance, were only designed for momentary appreciation and disposal. Instead, some posters luckily survive and resurface to again work their magic, this time in a comprehensive celebratory book.

‘Selling the Dream’ by Peter Alsop, Gary Stewart and Dave Bamford is a 408 page coffee table book with close to 1000 images and 11 specially commissioned research essays. The book will appeal to multiple audiences, including people interested in tourism, art, design, social history, heritage, culture and national identity. It is available from www.sellingthedream.co.nz with a 10% online discount and free postage within New Zealand. Be prepared to reminisce, feel even better about this great country, and plan your next New Zealand adventure.

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Endorsements for possible use

The book includes multiple endorsements, which may be quoted for the purposes of media reporting.

Short-form endorsements

I’m amazed we even had artists and designers of this calibre operating in New Zealand! I can’t praise the book highly enough. Dick Frizzell Artist

This book fills me with pride as a New Zealander and with huge energy to further lift our tourism potential and success. Martin Snedden Chief Executive, Tourism Industry Association New Zealand

This is the stuff of Kiwi dreams. Al Brown Chef and Writer

It is in the art of the poster that artists use their imagination and invention to unashamedly celebrate and reveal the uniqueness of the New Zealand scene. Hamish Keith Cultural Historian

This beautiful book is a wonderful acknowledgement of the importance of graphic design within the history of New Zealand art. Fran Walsh Writer

This is a fantastic pictorial record of how New Zealand developed the essential foundations of the tourism industry we enjoy today. George Hickton Chief Executive, Tourism New Zealand 1999–2009

Complete endorsements

Dick Frizzell, Artist

‘What an unbelievable avalanche of images! To see such a beautiful and painstaking catalogue is quite literally breathtaking. One superficially knows the works are “hand-done”, but not until you go deeper into the images with this in mind can you really appreciate the exemplary craftsmanship. It makes me dizzy and a little bit inadequate just thinking about it, and I’m amazed we even had artists and designers of this calibre operating in New Zealand! I can’t praise the book highly enough.’

Martin Snedden, Chief Executive, Tourism Industry Association New Zealand

‘This inspiring book underscores the fantastic product that New Zealand’s tourism industry has offered from the outset, as well as the creativity and passion of the people in the industry. The images speak as loudly and positively about New Zealand today as when they were first made. This book fills me with pride as a New Zealander and with huge energy to further lift our tourism potential and success.’

Fran Walsh, Writer

‘I am so glad these images have been brought together in this beautiful book. It is a wonderful acknowledgement of the importance of graphic design within the history of New Zealand art. I know a lot of people will get enormous pleasure from rediscovering how the world saw us and how we saw ourselves.’

George Hickton, Chief Executive, Tourism New Zealand 1999-2009

‘For over a century now, New Zealand has pioneered many advances in tourism marketing, with the hope and enthusiasm of the world’s youngest country on show. This is a fantastic pictorial record of how New Zealand developed the essential foundations of the tourism industry we enjoy today.’



Alan Collins, Art Director and Manager, National Publicity Studio 1944-86

‘Having crafted some of these images and supported the creation of many others, I was thrilled to read this book. It is a timely and timeless celebration of almost-forgotten New Zealand art. We did our utmost in the day to faithfully portray the best of New Zealand, and in a creative and alluring way to grab attention both here and abroad. This wonderful publication will similarly arrest and, like the art, impress for a long, long time.’

Hamish Keith, Cultural Historian

‘New Zealand artists have celebrated the landscape for its unique forms and sharp, clear light. They have also used those qualities to represent the greater concerns of their art. But it is in the art of the poster that artists use their imagination and invention to unashamedly celebrate and reveal the uniqueness of the New Zealand landscape and the New Zealand scene. Quite by chance they began to do that here in what was a golden age of the tourist poster. Who those artists were and what wonderful things they made this beautiful book richly reveals.’

Al Brown, Chef and Writer

‘This is the stuff of Kiwi dreams. These images instinctively yank at why we love this great country. This is a book of lasting enjoyment that will rekindle your favourite holiday memories.’

Mark Stocker, Associate Professor, Department of History & Art History, University of Otago

‘You’ve sold me this particular dream alright. Ka kite ano Toss, Colin and Ralph; kia ora Marcus King and Leonard Mitchell! This book is one fantastic contribution to New Zealand art history.’


ENDS

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