Posters from the Liverpool Atelier

The evidence presented at Pete Cresswell’s trial, included this statement from Patrolman Harris:

The tables from the Committee Rooms on the ground floor had all been brought into the main foyer, covered with newspapers and were being used for the preparation of posters. There were cans of black paint on the tables and paint which fell on the floor was wiped off with white spirit – a can of which stood on the floor. The spirit also wiped the polish off the floor!

This was the Liverpool Atelier – the powerhouse of silkscreen maestro Frank Milner, who worked continuously through the occupation to produce dramatic and inventive posters that crystallised the Five Demands in memorable images. The one that lives in the memory of most participants is the ‘Old Chancellors’ one:

Unfortunately, only two other examples of Frank’s work survive:

Frank was clearly influence by the work of the Atelier Populaire, the poster workshop that emerged during the May events in Paris in 1968 to produce the striking images that are have become iconic of those days.

In May, as workers and students took to the streets in an unprecedented wave of strikes, walkouts and demonstrations, the Atelier Populaire was formed. The faculty and student body of the Ecole des Beaux Arts were on strike, and a number of the students gathered in the lithographic department to produce the first posters of the revolt.  On May 16th, art students, painters from outside the university and striking workers decided to permanently occupy the art school in order to produce posters that would, ‘Give concrete support to the great movement of the workers on strike who are occupying their factories in defiance of the Gaullist government’. The posters of the Atelier Populaire were designed and printed anonymously and were distributed for free. They were seen on the barricades, carried in demonstrations and were plastered on walls all over France. Their bold and provocative messages were extremely influential and still resonate today.

Statement by the Atelier Populaire:

“The posters produced by the Atelier Populaire are weapons in the service of the struggle and are an inseparable part of it. Their rightful place is in the centers of conflict, that is to say, in the streets and on the walls of the factories. To use them for decorative purposes, to display them in bourgeois places of culture or to consider them as objects of aesthetic interest is to impair both their function and their effect. This is why the Atelier Populaire has always refused to put them on sale. Even to keep them as historical evidence of a certain stage in the struggle is a betrayal, for the struggle itself is of such primary importance that the position of an “outside” observer is a fiction which inevitably plays into the hands of the ruling class. That is why these works should not be taken as the final outcome of an experience, but as an inducement for finding, through contact with the masses, new levels of action, both on the cultural and the political plane.”

Bourgeois that I am, I have the following poster, framed, on my wall:


In 2008 the Hayward Gallery mounted an exhibition of Atelier posters.  The exhibition notes included the following:

1968 was the year that rocked the world. A time of unparalleled upheaval across the world, the remarkable events of 1968 created a legacy that was to shape a generation. To commemorate the revolutionary spirit of 1968, and to celebrate its own 40th birthday, The Hayward is presenting the first major display in the UK of posters produced by students and workers in Paris during the strikes of May 1968.

These posters comprise some of the most brilliant graphic works ever to have been associated with a movement for social and political change. Produced anonymously by art students and striking workers, the posters were distributed for free, their bold graphic messages appearing on the barricades, carried in demonstrations and plastered on walls across France.

On New Year’s Eve 1967 the French president, Charles de Gaulle, broadcast his annual message to the French public. ‘I greet the year 1968 with serenity…It is impossible to see how France today could be paralysed by crisis as she has been in the past.’ Just six months later he was fighting for his political life. Anger and frustration over poverty, unemployment and de Gaulle’s conservative rule gave rise to a mass movement for social change. An unprecedented wave of wild-cat strikes, walkouts and demonstrations by students, followed by a general strike, paralysed the French capital.

On 16 May students and faculty spontaneously took over the Ecole des Beaux Arts to form the Atelier Populaire (Popular Workshop), producing hundreds of silkscreen posters in an extraordinary outpouring of political graphic art. In a statement, the Atelier Populaire declared the posters ‘weapons in the service of the struggle…an inseparable part of it. Their rightful place is in the centres of conflict, that is to say, in the streets and on the walls of the factories’.

Under the cobblestones, the beach…

See also:


5 thoughts on “Posters from the Liverpool Atelier”

  1. Just wonderful 🙂

    I remember these posters as if it were, aaaah, forty years ago.

    Bliss was it in that dawn….

    And at the going down of the sun….

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