Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fathers and Sons: The Vargas Mexican Movie Poster Dynasty

The production of fine movie posters during the Golden Age of Mexican cinema was for some a family business. Noted early Mexican movie poster artist and entrepreneur Juan Antonio Vargas Ocampo (1890-1955), was also the father of the talented poster artist Juan Antonio Vargas Briones (1919-1970).

In the earliest stages of the Mexican film industry, film makers contracted with independent artists to make promotional posters, newspaper ads and billboards.  Ocampo became an industry innovator in the 1930s by setting up an advertising firm focused on cinema promotion.  Talkies were an important driver in the expansion of the Mexican film business, and Ocampo has the distinction of having done the art for the first sound movie (Santa 1931).

Ocampo's firm, Vargas Advertising, retained a number of prominent poster artists, including Joseph and Leopoldo Mendoza, Heriberto Andrade, Roberto Ruiz, Eduardo Urzaiz, and Ocampo's son Juan Antonio Vargas Armando Briones.  This group of artists at Vargas Advertising, together with members of the business community, founded the movie adversing guild or union, Section 46 of the STIC (Cinema Industry Union).  Section 46 encompassed all the journalists covering cinema (critics and writers),  and artists, copy writers and photographers who created movie advertising campaigns.

Juan Antonio Vargas Briones followed in his father's footsteps and became a fine poster artist in his own right. After honing his skills at the Academia de San Carlos --the most prestigious art school in Mexico, Briones quickly became successful, and his posters were among the most beautiful in the business. Briones is known for illustrating dramas, but he produced comedy posters as well (such as for Mi Mujer no es Mia).

In appraising or collecting Vargas movie posters and cinema promotional materials, it is important to note that many produced by Ocampos' ad agency had no signatures.  There is also confusion about work produced by Vargas junior and senior from the mexican film industry, and Peruvian Alberto Vargas, the WW2 era cheesecake pin-up artist.


Acknowledgements to Carles Ramirez Berg, Santo Street Newsletter, Raul Miranda Lopez, Mauricio Pena, and Rogelio Argasanchez Jr.