Black Cat Café Poster


In a time when everybody has a copy of Photoshop, and desktop publishing is so ubiquitous that to refer to it as anything other than “using Word” seems almost troglodytic, it’s easy to forget the extreme efforts and almost obsessive attention to detail that went into executing even the simplest of pre-computer-assisted graphic designs. If ever there were a poster-child (unintentional pun, I swear) for said devotion to details combined with an expressive yet elegant simplicity, it would be Neville Smith.

Recently awarded a Les Usherwood Lifetime Achievement Award by the Advertising and Design Club of Canada, Smith has created a body of work that would make most accomplished designers insecure (including envy-inducing work with the Government of Canada’s Exhibition Commission for Expo ’67 and Expo ’70). Yet it is Smith’s unassuming Black Cat Café poster that remains synonymous with his fanatical quest for perfection.

An almost textbook exercise in the fundamentals of good graphic design, Smith plays with symmetry, colour, hierarchy and focus so adeptly that it borders on manipulative. Smith went on to win more than 20 international design awards for Black Cat, and any graphic designer trained in Canada over the last 15 years will instantly recognize it as the aspirational exemplar of composition cruelly dangled before them by their first year instructors.

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