Written by John Lewis
Globe Poster lit up the urban landscape with its Day-Glo designs for more than 80 years. The Baltimore-based company pumped out posters for carnivals, fairs, wrestling matches, religious revivals, motorcycle races, burlesque shows and, most famously, concerts. You can practically trace the development of African-American music through Globe’s work for everyone from Howlin’ Wolf and James Brown to Tupac and N.W.A, much of it posted clandestinely on city walls, lampposts and telephone poles in the dead of night.
Globe printed on durable stock, so the posters could withstand wind, rain, sleet and snow. But music fans, much to the chagrin of promoters, often claimed what the elements could not, swiping posters to decorate dorm rooms and apartments. As a result, some promoters resorted to slashing the posters with box cutters to make them less attractive to thieves.
It was street art long before the term became fashionable, street art created by a print shop that — like Colby in Los Angeles, Tilghman in Oakland and Hatch in Nashville — strove for eye-popping legibility. As Washington, D.C.’s City Paper noted: “[Globe posters] thump, bump and grind their way into the eye with the insouciant insistence of a tent-show queen. And, in the scant seconds that a driver or pedestrian spends by a phone pole or a wall splattered with the placards, Globe delivers the what who when where and how much and does so with a definite artistry.”
Globe set bold type over fluorescent inks for maximum visual impact. In-house designer Harry Knorr developed that distinctive look during his 50-year career at Globe. In the late 1950s, Knorr started placing boxing-poster-style type against bright backgrounds. The lettering was large and simple, the colors were vibrant (blues, reds, greens, oranges and yellows) and the results were startling. “Harry was a genius,” says Bob Cicero, who for decades owned Globe with his father and two brothers.
“Our basic design using Day-Glo ink [came] from Harry,” says Frank Cicero, Bob’s brother. “The idea behind the Day-Glo was to attract attention and break down the poster so it would be very readable for people.”
By dividing up the posters into blocks of color, Knorr created designs that were especially suited to hyping multi-artist soul and blues revues and, later, hip-hop extravaganzas. As a result, Globe’s iconic style instantly evokes classic R&B, soul and hip-hop. That’s why the company’s posters pop up in films such as Straight Outta Compton and Hairspray. It’s also why they’ve been exhibited at the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, the National Museum of African American History & Culture and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
In recent years, Globe has also crossed over into contemporary art. In 2004, film director/artist John Waters used elements of Globe’s carnival posters to create a limited-edition “Take the Whole Family to Marfa Texas” print that name-checked the likes of Carl Andre and Donald Judd. Waters’ Globe-inspired piece made the cover of Artforum in the summer of 2004 and hinted at Globe’s influence in contemporary art circles.
That point was driven home after Globe closed up shop in 2010, having fallen victim to changing technologies and regulations outlawing the posters. The D.C. Council, for instance, labeled the posters “visual trash” and imposed severe fines for illegally posting them, which “really killed us,” says Bob Cicero.
Rather than auctioning Globe’s holdings piecemeal, the Ciceros kept the company’s collection of wood type and archival material intact and eventually sold it to Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), so it could be used by future generations of designers and printers. MICA hired Bob as an instructor, and he now teaches the Globe aesthetic to dozens of undergrads each semester.
MICA also brings in artists to work with the collection, thereby furthering its potential and challenging students to do the same. Thus far, the likes of Trenton Doyle Hancock and POSE have journeyed to Baltimore for Globe residencies.
“In many ways, Bob is unaware how Globe has affected culture, and that’s actually refreshing,” says Hancock. “Globe has affected the way people see things, the way artists see things. I’m curious where other artists will take it, because with Globe at MICA, it’s going to be a constant evolution of identity.”