Really Super Graphics

The New Complete Basic Book of Home Decorating by William E. Hague, 1977

Go with the flow and embrace a revival of the '70s bravest interior decision

You may not be familiar with the word supergraphic, though odds are you know what a supergraphic is. We're talking about large linear or geometric applications – usually painted – that flow across multiple walls, ceilings, floors, or even windows. While murals are usually confined to one wall or one architectural plane, supergraphics do not play by the same rules; they flow from one surface to another, they know no boundaries and often blaze across any obstacle in their path. Supergraphics work to define and designate space - they can either emphasise architectural elements by deliberate avoidance or they can minimise significant or challenging details by painting right over them.  

The word supergraphic was originally coined by teacher and design critic C. Ray Smith in 1967. Smith was particular about his definition of the term; specifically a giant two-dimensional form applied to architectural surfaces which were too large to be contained on any one plane and excluded anything discernible like faces or alphanumerics. Smith's application elevated Supergraphics to a specific title (with a capital S), and excluded any large scale murals or installations that did not subscribe to his strict specifications. For example, the graphic elevator landings in the Barbican would not qualify under Smith's definition since they incorporate numbers - even though they are out of scale and wrap around multiple planes. Since its original designation, the general term supergraphic has come to represent any large geometric graphic that is out of scale to its surface or environment. However, a certain distinction should be made that the term should not apply to every large scale graphic. A billboard or commercial sign on a building, although out of scale and quite large, should not qualify as a supergraphic – even if painted on a wall or on multiple planes. Supergraphics should augment the personal relationship with interior space and are intended to have reality altering effects. 

Supergraphics first showed up in the mid 1960s and surged in popularity throughout the '70s. However, design trends in the '80s turned decidedly more disciplined and they quickly fell out of fashion. Recently, with the popularity of nostalgia and old being new again, supergraphics have seen a bit of a resurgence – particularly in corporate interiors via large text, icons and the use of forced perspective. Another noteworthy example can be found in the street art movement. As graffiti art becomes more mainstream, experimental designs and the use of geometrics are reminiscent of supergraphic designs from the past. Although these new applications might not pass the scrutiny of Smith's definition, we can feast our eyes on these images from the Supreme Interiors archive which highlight the genius of supergraphics at the height of their popularity. Enjoy!

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