The acclaimed poster designs of two Colorado State University faculty members are being featured in a special exhibition that opened July 10 at the Denver Art Museum.
The exhibition, “Performance on Paper: The Posters of Phil Risbeck and John Sorbie,” features 30 works by Risbeck and the late Sorbie, both professors in the Department of Art and Art History.
“I’m honored to have our work featured in this new exhibition,” Risbeck said. “It means that our posters helped bring the arts at CSU and the community to life.”
A long history
Risbeck’s and Sorbie’s poster designs have a long and distinguished history announcing cultural events on campus and in the Fort Collins community, involving dance, theater, creative writing, opera and film.
“Performance on Paper” features posters drawn mostly from DAM’s permanent collection. It displays Risbeck’s and Sorbie’s experimentation with a variety of graphic techniques from the 1960s to the 1990s, including cut-and-torn paper, high-contrast photography and hand-drawn illustrations.
It also features their innovative split-fountain printing technique, a printing process in which two ink colors blend together when wet.
Sorbie established the graphic design program at CSU in 1960 and taught at the campus for about 30 years. An internationally known designer, he frequently combined photo fragments that were reassembled in unusual ways.
Risbeck was an assistant to graphic designer Herbert Bayer in Aspen, and joined the graphic design faculty under then-chair Sorbie. Like Sorbie’s work, Risbeck’s posters have employed nearly every graphic technique available, including photography, illustration and collage.
“To have the artwork of Professor Phil Risbeck and Professor John Sorbie both exhibited and collected by the Denver Art Museum is a significant accomplishment, and something our department community is very proud of,” said Suzanne Faris, head of the Department of Art and Art History. “Both of these professors have served as wonderful role models to our students, past and present.”
“If a poster is, as some people feel, a mirror of the sociological context in which it is produced, then it might be a good idea to visit Colorado,” poster designer and educator Lanny Sommese wrote of Risbeck’s and Sorbie’s work in 1976 in Novum Gebrauchsgraphik. “It must be an interesting place.”
Darrin Alfred, curator of architecture, design and graphics for the DAM, curated the new exhibition.
“Risbeck and Sorbie understood that posters are a record of society and what societies value culturally and socially, and they show us — or reacquaint us — with those things the poster does best,” he said. “For example, posters are especially effective on college campuses where you have pedestrian traffic. A successful poster speaks to an audience on the move. Risbeck and Sorbie created posters with an immense amount of visual impact, combining imagery and type, to catch the eye of roving students.”
The exhibition is on display through Jan. 8, 2017, on level 2 of the Hamilton Building at the DAM. For more information, visit http://denverartmuseum.org/exhibitions/performance-paper.