Raymond Savignac was born November 6, 1907. His parents had moved to Paris to overcome their difficult living conditions and attempted, through their work, to become their own bosses. They bought a small workers restaurant and did well.
Despite his dreams of becoming a professional cyclist, At the age of 15 Savignac decided to quit school and become a draftsman. He spent a miserable time drawing and coloring bus maps for the Compagnie des Transports Parisiens. At this job he discovered caricature drawing thanks to one of his elder colleagues. For the little boy he was, his parents café was an excellent place for observation. His evenings he would spend drawing the clients and taking classes in industrial design.
“I learned to smoke, play pool and lots of other things that were useless but that gave me a taste for frivolity. And it suited me very well ... "
Later he joined Robert Lortac's animation studio to work on cartoon commercials for cinema.
in 1933, Savignac, discouraged by his lack of professional success, showed Cassandre, artistic director of ‘l’Alliance Graphique’, some poster projects to see if he was right to persevere in the path of commercial design. Savignac left with the order for a poster and a brochure. This was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration of many years.*
Savignac now had his foot in the door as Cassandre gave him regular assignments, helped him in the execution of some works, introduced him to his friends and helped him integrate in his studio.
“to learn, I only had to watch. Open my ears and listen. Because while working, he discoursed. He commented aloud what he would do, what he intended to do to get the right effect. This oral secretion, that was not addressed to me, was the best training possible."*
His style had little in common with Cassandre's purist compositions, but they shared the love for recurring comic characters (cf. Dubonnet).
Cassandre's departure in 1938 to the U.S. ended their collaboration. Savignac was drafted into the army at the outbreak of war in 1939 as secretary postman and was demobilized in 1940.\After demobilization, and during the Nazi occupation of France, Savignac was again unemployed. He himself describes these difficult years as uninteresting. A colleague suggested he should take part in an exhibition, which was quite unusual for a commercial artist.
In 1942 Savignac's work was spotted by advertising agent Robert Guérin, handyman of l’Oreal and Monsavon CEO’s, a lucky break that led to his success.
“like all innovators, savignac had a difficult start. When I showed his first models to some big advertisers the reaction was the same everywhere: Violently negative. Yet I had before me intelligent men well above the average. None had been able to see what is now blindingly obvious to everyone.”*
After the end of the Second World War a new age of optimism and consumerism dawned in France. This change in lifestyle implied a growing need for imagery, signage, publishing and so on. France had not largely participated in the typographic movements that occurred in Central Europe, it had no particular interest. The graphic arts in France was characterized by some stand-alone figures.
France opened up to avant-garde in the 1950’s and combined their native creativity with foreign developments. A light witty trend emerged with the rise of poster artists such as Bernard Villemot, Raymond savignac, Jacques Nathan-garamond and Jean Colin.*
In 1948 Savignac teamed up with Villemot, renowned poster artist, who invited him to come work in his studio. Their joint exhibition displays and especially their campaign for Monsavon soap marks the beginning of his success. This iconic poster represents a pink cow, its udders dripping milk into a large bar of Monsavon soap.
“I usually take two images that I melt into one.” Savignac says, “As for Monsavon milk, I thought simply of a soap for the word ‘monsavon’ and of a cow for ‘milk.’”
And the cow was a huge success. Not only because she openly broke with the usual elegant fresh complexion and was more or less suggestively undressed, but because she made the public smile. That was its great strength.
Savignac’s posters are primarily a visual gag, causing attention in some way, either by curiosity or by laughter. His advertisements are not too intellectual. They are joyful, invigorating, simple, almost elementary.
“A poster must not be merely the graphic transposition of a promotional idea, but first, a message of optimism for the general public.” Savignac states. “It can not worry about individual reactions, it is doomed to diagrammatic language, clear and brutal, leaving no room for story and subtlety.”
After the success of the Monsavon-campaing Savignac became an independent designer and was hired to help sell everything from soup to soft drinks, shoe-polishes and painkillers. He was ever present on walls, fences and in the subways working for Bic, SNCF, Aspro, and many others.
His posters were simple. For the pain reliever Aspro he showed a line of traffic coursing through the sufferer's head. It shows no solution, only a real problem. His poster for Bic pens depicted a schoolboy whose head was a shiny ballpoint. To advertise half-price railway tickets, he drew half a person. His poster for Dunlop tires showed a motorist driving, not a car, but four tires and a spare.*
He said his intellectual inspiration was Charlie Chaplin and the other slapstick comedians."It is the taste of the gag that made me analyze the art of Chaplin. After that he has never left me. My goal was to put some slapstick in my posters."*
Raymond Savignac is the last in a line of french poster artists such as Colin and Cassandre, who used art to address the common man. In the 1970s, Savignac survived the rise of the photographic poster, by then becoming more economical to produce.
He lurched towards contemporary advertising techniques and their heavy dependence on photographs rather than the broad, bold strokes in which he pioneered.
In 1979 he left Paris and settled in Normandy. Having passed the age of 70 he still continued to accept commissions. His career lasted for 50 years. During this time Raymond Savignac completed more than 600 posters.
He died October 28, 2002 at the age of 94.