The Delahaye ‘Johnnie Walker’ posters

Poster-pair

In June of this year I was contacted by Elizabeth Bruneau, the head art buyer at New York advertising agency Anomaly, an agency that this year won the Advertising Age magazine’s prestigious Creativity Innovators of the Year award. Elizabeth was proposing the commission of two posters and five key frames for an upcoming commercial. This would be an eleven minute online film for Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky, starring Jude LawJudeLaw and Giancarlo Giannini, and directed by Jake Scott of RSA Films. For the posters, which were to promote the film, I was given an open brief: “Just create two of your posters”, said art director Mark Sarosi. The five key frames would be animated as a ten second sequence in the film. At this point I have to say that in my long career I’ve not enjoyed the experience of an art director saying, effectively, “Do whatever you want.”

The commercial was to be a sequel to last year’s gorgeously shot six minute movie, also by Jake Scott, called ‘The Gentleman’s Wager”  in which two wealthy friends, spending some leisure time on Giannini’s beautiful luxury yacht, “rarer than rare”, agree to a bet. Law says that he wants the boat, but is told it’s not for sale. He says, “I don’t want to buy it. I want to win it. With a dance.” Jude Law wins the bet and the boat.

The Gentleman’s Wager II finds us in Giannini’s wonderful Italian country house, where Jude Law is shown a treasured 1936 Delahaye 135S racing car, again “rarer than rare”. Law bets that he can restore the car and drive it to Monaco by noon the next day. Giannini accepts the wager, adding that if Law succeeds he will throw in the house as well, and the film follows his progress. (I won’t spoil it for you, you can watch the entire eleven minutes here: http://bit.ly/1kvokIg). Along the way you can enjoy an appearance by the lovely Chinese actress Zhao Wei, and cameo spots by Jenson Button and Mika Häkkinen.

HaynesMotorMuseum

To find reference for the car I drove the 250 miles from home to the immensely impressive Haynes Motor Museum in Somerset where the Delahaye 135S is stored for display. Here the staff were extremely gracious and cooperative, and gave me exclusive access, bringing the car into the yard for me to photograph.Delahaye This was the actual car used in the film, and is indeed ‘rarer than rare’, as there were only twelve built and each of them is unique in its bodywork. The car, incidentally, was originally owned by racing legend Rob Walker, who died in 2002 (you can read his fascinating life story here: http://bit.ly/1kvrJH7) and was heir to the Johnnie Walker company. Walker, in his passport described his occupation as ‘gentleman’, and I suspect this film is as much a tribute to Rob Walker as a promotion of the whisky brand. The commercial premiered at the Villa Mondragone on Saturday October 31 in Rome, an event hosted by Jude Law and Giancarlo Giannini.

By my standards I didn’t have very long to complete the work, just five weeks, and considering I would normally allow myself pretty much that amount of time to complete one poster this is what I call a rush job. The first poster features Law driving through the mountains of central Italy, and the second shows the race towards Monaco. The animated key frames show the section through the tunnel into France.

presentationThe premiere was a huge success and in an email to the agency a Diageo representative wrote, “The vintage car drive blew the socks off of people! And the premiere at the villa – really wish you were there! By the way – that retro poster stole the show and I mean it! It was surreal to see it outside the Sofitel Villa Borghese! And then of course at the premiere! People took them home so happily and asked for another copy in case the one they were carrying got spoilt in transit!”

It feels great to get such a heartfelt commendation from the client.

Geo Ham, The Prince of Speed.

Geo Ham, The Prince of Speed. George Hamel, better known as Geo Ham, was one of the most well known and best loved of the poster illustrators between the wars, and an enormous influence on my own work. His Monaco posters from the thirties and forties are probably his best known work, and are still among the most popular of the reproduction vintage motor racing poster market. Original prints of these posters sell through major auction houses and fetch prices of tens of thousands of pounds. The image featured above for the 1934 Monaco Grand Prix told the viewer everything they need to know at a glance: the simple, well designed text gave the event and date, and the illustration showed the sun blushed elegance of the Grand Casino, the tranquillity of the Mediterranean and the dynamic, thundering power and speed of the approaching racing cars. Thrilling.

Hamel was born in the medieval French town of Laval, in the Loire Valley, on 18 September 1900. His passion for speed probably began when he was eleven years old and he witnessed an aeroplane landing close to the town. Then just two years later he saw a race organized for cars and motorcycles in Laval, and he was hooked for life. At the age of eighteen George Hamel moved to Paris and attended the Ecole Nationale des Arts Décoratifs, and two years later he had an illustration published on the front cover of the car magazine ‘Omnia’ which he signed with his new pseudonym Geo Ham.

He began getting his illustrations and fine art published on a regular basis by 1923, particularly in the magazine L’Illustration, and by the 1930s was already established as the finest in his field. He was also a prolific book illustrator and worked as a press reporter on motor racing events and aeronautic displays. Geo Ham was commissioned to create the now iconic Art Deco paintings, prints and posters for the Monaco Grand Prix, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and many other prestigious European Races. A highlight of his life was competing in the 1934 Le Mans race in a 2 litre Derby L8, and although fuel problems forced his withdrawal, the experience only added to his passion for racing art.

Geo Ham continued to illustrate cars, planes and motorcycles well into the early 1960s. But by this time photography began to replace painting as the illustration of choice among advertisers and publishers, and gradually the name of Geo Ham “The Prince of Speed” became forgotten.

He died in June 1972, and only twelve people attended his funeral.

His influence on my own work can be clearly seen in the Alfa Romeo Le Mans poster here, the Alfa Romeo 2300 poster here, the Bentley Le Mans poster here, and The Bugatti Type 51 Monaco poster here.