In (art) posters: the French Open

In 1980, the French Tennis Federation and the French Open Tournament Committee partnered with Galerie Lelong & Co. to begin an art tradition that the world has grown to love : commissioning contemporary artists to design the official annual poster! Each year an artist creates a piece reflecting the history, excitement, internationalism and spirit of sportsmanship that is the hallmark of the Roland Garros tournament.

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By now, a host of renowned artists have contributed to the posters. Among them are : Joan Miró, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century; Nalini Malani – the Karachi born Indian artist & also the first Asian to have created a poster for the tournament; Du Zhenjun, known for his pioneering work in digital and new media became the first Chinese artist to create a poster for the tournament.

We found these posters an excellent way to see, appreciate and learn about different visual mediums and the effect they have on a viewer. In understanding an artist’s practice, we learn about the world they grew up in, and were shaped by.

So let us dive right in to see a selection of 10 posters from the Parisian Grand Slam that we really love! 

The iconic red-clay court, the tennis ball, racquet, the umpire, crowds and even players’ hair has served as inspiration for artists who have created these posters that are no less than a cultural symbol. Take a look! 

The copyright for all images is co-owned by the artist, Galerie Lelong & the French Tennis Federation

1. Nalini Malani (2010)

We are partial to Indian women artists, and so we begin this selection with a poster by Nalini Malani. Describing her creation, Malani said she wanted to show the struggle and success of tennis players, especially women. “The young woman tennis player in the poster strides the universe (across planets) and is in a magical space with golden butterflies around her. Just as the butterflies, fame and success in the game are fleeting – the falling figure shows that sometimes one can lose —- but one has to go on playing the game. In a note accompanying the poster, Malani cited her admiration for Sania Mirza – the first Indian female tennis athlete to compete internationally.

2. Vladimir Velickovic (1983)

Serbian artist Vladimir Velickovic, was one of the most important artists of the time known for his works depicting ‘movement’.  The violence and aggression that he witnessed during the Second World War had a lasting impact on his art. The poster created by him offers a close study of a player’s movement depicted in Indian ink. The player’s physique, the focus of this painting – his rippling muscles and the powerful hit at the ball all combine to expresses the intense nature of the sport.

3. Gilles Aillaud (1984)

Look closely at this one! Using dots, dashes and the colours of the French flag, artist Gilles Aillaud created a memorable poster – the first to depict the crowds at Roland Garros.

4. Jiří Kolář (1986)

Jiří Kolář was a Czech poet, writer, and artist. His collages echoed his sentiments on a divided Europe before & during the Second World War; specifically the political and cultural disintegration of Czech Republic in the post-war period. When texts are torn up and later re-assembled, do they carry any meaning?  In this poster, the background is formed by press-clippings of the tournament and a map indicative of the game’s international appeal. 

5. Claude Garache (1990)

This design is special, because for the first time since 1980, the female form became ‘visible’ on the poster.

6. Donald Lipski (1995)

This was the first poster of the tournament that was based on a photograph. For the story of this poster though, you have to look at it upside down! In 1995, American artist Donald Lipski (known for his installations) became the first non-European to be commissioned a poster. Lipski’s works are often created from found objects such as these conjoined racquets. The story goes that the artist originally created it with the heads facing upward to show two players head to head. However, when the sculpture was sent to the tournament committee, it was accidentally reversed, and since then has been interpreted as tennis love.

7. Vik Muniz (2017)

The Brazilian artist-photographer Vik Muniz creates artworks using unusual materials and pigments then photographs it. (This was the second poster after Lipski’s work to be based on a photo!) For this poster, he ground mineral pigments to recreate the ochre-coloured court dust. According to Muniz “The colors truly are from all over the world, as the pigments come from Africa, Asia, and Australia. And since Roland-Garros is an international tournament, you’ve probably got elements in this clay from every nation represented here…”

8-9. Pierre Seinturier (2020) & Jean Claracq (2021)

The years 2020-2021 were a defining moment in human history. Distanced and digital, our lives changed, and the posters from these years are an eerie depiction of the world at the time. While the one from 2020 celebrates the crew that prepares the court for action, the one from 2021 shows us the tournament in times of curfew.

10. The 2022 poster by Louise Sartor

This poster too, boasts of a first – the ball kids make a debut in this one. The poster celebrates these young (12-16 year olds) unsung, but indispensable participants of the tournament. Their concentration, skill and efficiency have come to be a the pride of Roland Garros. Given that Europe is observing 2022 as the Year of the Youth, the poster is spot on.

Art Posters from the French Open (1980-)

As you can imagine, choosing 10 posters wasn’t easy. But if this post piqued your interest in art or tennis (or both!), head over to the official Roland Garros gallery to see all posters from 1980! Don’t forget to share your favourites with us in the comments below.

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