Thursday, July 09, 2009


Parisian artist Paul Colins was arguably the best jazz poster artist ever, and this (above) is his most famous poster.

Like everybody else in Paris in 1925 he was bowled over by the Revue Negre, which featured Josephine Baker dancing in a banana outfit. The revue also introduced 'The Charleston" to France. Audiences went nuts!

The famous bananas (above).

Baker dancing to "Hot Hot Hottentot!"

Colin couldn't fit all his impressions into posters so he did a series of lithographs for a book called "Le Tumulte Noir," which is where most of these pictures are from. Baker sat for him several times.

The odd angles of the poses struck by the dancers wowed everybody... did the frank sexuality.

In Colin's words, Baker was "part boxer kangaroo, part rubber woman, part female Tarzan." Baker was one of the all-time great free-form dancers.

Here's (above) the kind of thing Colins did when he wasn't drawing jazz artists.

Are some of these pictures racist? I honestly don't know. When they're done as well as these are, the whole question gets hard to focus on. You could argue that the red minstrel lips are a racial stereotype, on the other hand the artist clearly admires many of the people he depicts, even when he makes fun of them.


JoJo said...

This is amazing. I love the composition of the third poster. The contrast in the shapes between the man and woman is great.

Now I need to find more.

Brubaker said...

Fun drawings here. I gotta go look this guy up.

I can imagine people being uncomfortable with these. Racial caricatures from this time-frame have negative connotation due to the severe racism that was going on at the time, where blacks were considered sub-human (and sadly, there are still a lot of people who feel that today). Speaking as a Japanese, I do feel awkward watching wartime cartoons, even though I understand the context of when it was made.

I can only imagine how all those sitcoms with gay stereotypes will fare 50 years from now.

Ignatz said...

Thank you so much for introducing me to this artist, Eddie!! He has become a favorite.

By the way, I discovered that there's a complete collection of Milt Gross' comic work set to come out in November. It looks too good to be true, but it's available for pre-order on Amazon. Sounds like the kind of thing you'd fly through the roof with joy over! I know I did.

lastangelman said...

1.)for reasons not entirely clear, YouTube has a feature which prevents some videos from being embedded, though you are allowed to link to that video from your blog or website
2.) do not delete or feel hampered by how it will warp the kids any content you put up. Art doesn't hurt children ... twisted grown ups hurt children. Frankly, I'd be surprised if there was a huge pre-teen fan base to this blog, considering the breadth and content of this blog.
3.)Josephine Baker, one of the true world artists, never appreciated Stateside until years later when she was doing a toned down jazz cabaret in NYC. Here is link to her banana dance

lastangelman said...

Here's another link to a good Josephine Ker doc

Niki said...

My favorite poster is the third, the guy looks like a fish but it just makes me laugh! My dad would probably be a little pissed off though.

I.D.R.C. said...

...Are some of these pictures racist? I honestly don't know...."

Here is a very easy way to tell. Don't look at the art, look at how the people in the art are treated in that society.

American Picaninny art could be (and is) considered quaint and inoffensive by many. But if you examine the treatment of "picaninnies" in America you come away feeling that such art is symbolic of oppression, reduction, and hypocrisy. Much as one does when he legitimately and rationally understands the controversy over the Cleveland Indians' Chief Wahoo, or even the team's name. It is not celebration of a people, it is celebration of the ownership of a people.

The very reason Josephine Baker went to Paris and fled her rising stardom in the Harlem Rennaisance to do so, was to be treated like a human being by a society that would completely accept her.

Gerard D. de Souza said...

Thank you for posting these. I have a couple small b&W pictures of these in an art deco book. Thank you for telling us the artist's name. I do not think these are racist. THey are caricatured. My impression of the way Europeans especially pre WWII embraced blacks were as Americans bringing this Jazz idiom to their country. From what I understand they were treated more like Americans abroad than in their home country. If anything Blacks perhaps were viewed as exotic as the sexy savage jungle themes Josephine Baker would do.
Racist would suggest inferiority of the subject and superiority of the audience. These do not seem to say this. They seem to say come out and have a good time with this genuine new entertainment.

Anonymous said...


The method you suggest for detecting racism in art is severely flawed. The only easy way to detect racism is to hear an explanation directly from the artist.

Your method, unless thoroughly researched, oversimplifies and generalizes a vague emotion that was popular in the era (This flaw is directly related to the misuse of nonexistent "societies" in your gathering of evidence). Even avoiding the generalization that comes with the term "society," you still will never know whether there was indeed an indecent thought behind the work.

Perhaps the only way your idea could work is by swapping "society" for "the company they keep." It is still a guess, but based in much more solid logic.

These posters were made to advertise a show, and nothing more. Blackface caricatures and shows were popular because they were entertaining, not because the U.S. was once a homogeneous pool of Archie Bunkers (It wasn't).

I.D.R.C. said...


The method has no flaw. The statement about the method may have had one. It is difficult to reduce such a concept to a pithy sentence without relying on readers to understand the intent.

Here is what I left out:

Once you are sufficiently informed about the context in which the art was produced, now look at the art and consider what effect that information has on your appreciation of it, and what you think it intends, and what you think it says about its creator or promoters, regardless of their stated intentions.

You have to be smart about it and think smart things or none of this works. You can be smart, can't you?

In any case it is a far superior method to having no clue about whether art is racist or not. Any research into context and meaning is better than none.

The only easy way to detect racism is to hear an explanation directly from the artist.

That would only be true in the case where the artist made a declaration that his intent was racist.

I.D.R.C. said...

P.S. -You also have to consider what the art represents to the people who most appreciate and defend it, and that may be more significant than any other thing in determining actual racist impact, and impact is where real racial grievance is formed.

There were no oppressed blacks in Paris, in fact they were lauded and celebrated. So I am forced to ask someone on what rational basis they could be considered racist?

Anonymous said...


Your scope is still positioned too far from the artist. Art and its meaning can only be logically assessed (More inspired by a search for facts, than is art gallery interpretation) by the artist. If the artist has no statement, we do not then turn to the audience with our question of, "What were you thinking."

Doing so will give you a meaning, but the viewer represents the art just as much as a reader represents an editorial.

"Once you are sufficiently informed about the context in which the art was produced, now look at the art and consider what effect that information has on your appreciation of it, and what you think it intends, and what you think it says about its creator or promoters, regardless of their stated intentions."

This sentence exemplifies the flaw of your method. In this misuse of heuristics one is left vulnerable to bias. In fact, it is based in bias.

Your sentence about needing to be smart to understand this is entirely illogical, and I hope you only said it for the terminal insult. Your method is based too much in one's personal opinion to say it requires intelligence to utilize. This perhaps was your way of dismissing all other interpretations than yours - if anybody disagrees, they can't be smart - perhaps not.

Returning to the step after asking the artist. You are not far off in asking the audience, but what would actually be worthwhile in this interpretation is considering to whom the artist marketed the piece.

I've only touched on the artist, and I was incorrect in that. There would be two meanings that would determine whether a piece is racist - that of the artist, and that of the venue. Asking the venue directly why they show the piece and looking at who they are trying to reach (not simply who saw it, as is done in with your method), will give you this second meaning, just as with the first.

"That would only be true in the case where the artist made a declaration that his intent was racist."

Wrong. You cannot dismiss and ignore the artist's stated intent simply because it does not fit your bias. However, because it is so common to cover up one's racism, a grain of salt would be needed if the artist says the work is not racist in intent. But that does not invalidate his statement of intent.

In any case it is a far superior method to having no clue about whether art is racist or not. Any research into context and meaning is better than none.

Very true, but you still cannot draw conclusions on bad logic, just because it is "all you have." There is always, "I don't know."

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Ignatz: A complete set of Gross!!!???? Wow! Thanks for letting us know about that!

Brubaker: Your comment reminded me of an incident that happened to me, and which touches on the treatment of Japanese in WW2 cartoons. It was possibly my most embarrassing moment! I'll try to write about it soon!

Rick Roberts said...

Brubaker: Excellent point about gays in lesbians. Most of the media's portrayal of homosexuals are terribly unflattering. Gay people will look back at these sterotypes with great scorn as "minstrel shows" of this time.

I.D.R.C. said...


I think your argument is in the abstract and demonstrates no real understanding of the mechanisms of racism in society that affect real people. That is the shortest thing I can say about it.

I have removed myself from the artists intentions because in commercial art, artists are being used to sell products. How the public responds to the message has more to do with the distilled social significance of the message than does what anybody was thinking when they put pencil to paper.

I.D.R.C. said...

P.P.S. -I wasn't trying to insult you, Darby, I was expressing a hope. I think you can be smart and I think you should be smart enough to characterize my comments in a better light.

I don't see how you conclude that my method is based on personal opinion. It is based on evidence. In America there is great evidence of oppression and injustice. Use that evidence to inform you about the art that you see, and what it actually means. That could never be a flaw. that is insight. If you do not, the ONLY thing you can say is, "I don't know."

In taking the semantic scalpel to me you have still avoided the central question which substantiates my argument --how can the Paris posters be considered racist? What was the negative impact on Black Parisians?

I.D.R.C. said...


I'll put it in a purely logical format:

In any society where social injustice is normal, any art produced by members of the dominant group which depicts members of a subordinate group WILL NEARLY ALWAYS HAVE THE POTENTIAL to be racist. This is largely irrespective of the artist's intentions, particularly in commercial art. Commercial art includes applied arts, and anything else representative of humans that is mass-produced.

In a multi-ethnic society without social injustice, the potential for racism in very low. EVEN THE SAME IMAGE IN ONE SOCIETY WOULD HAVE A DIFFERENT CULTURAL EFFECT THAN IN THE OTHER.

If you were to take a sambo figurine to Paris, it may not be racist anymore, because there would be nobody to appreciate the racist undertones. It would just be a cute black kid.

That is not really my opinion, that is just the way it is.

Peter Bernard said...

Wow! OK the dancer that ruined my recent kids pitch-- she and I saw this period antique doll made of Josephine Baker in the banana outfit when we were in Harlem together in this doll factory there. Long story. This is the first time I've seen that photo though, I would have been a big Baker fan if I had been around back then. So weird, you're in my BRAIN, Uncle Eddie! Your theories are taking over my consciousness!!!! haha

Anonymous said...

You're an idiot rick. Gays were never forced into slavery or segregated for years. You're completly stupid.

Rick Roberts said...

Anon: First of all it's "completely". Secound, homosexuality has been scorned upon in this country for centuries by EVERY SINGLE RACIAL group you moron. Trying reading a book for christ's sake.

Zoran Taylor said...

ANONYMOUS: "You're an idiot, Rick. *actual content of statement* You're completely stupid."

Can someone please explain to me why the internet is overflowing with these articulate argument sandwiches made with asshole bread? It almost makes me miss the straightforward idiots of the real world.