It seems only fitting that Anton Otto Fischer, an artist best known for seascapes, began his career working on merchant vessels and steam ships. After immigrating to New York, Fischer assisted the American illustrator A.B. Frost. This experience led Fischer to pursue an education in Paris, where he developed his personal design aesthetic.
Fischer’s 1942 poster A Careless Word carries a similar message to Fredrick Siebel’s dramatic poster Someone Talked.
Both posters caution that open discussion of military tactics could lead to the unnecessary loss of life. Siebel’s poster shows a man drowning in the dark expanse of the ocean; this presentation makes the viewer culpable for a loss of a specific life. But Fischer presents the subject matter quite differently; his design of the same topic concentrates on the resulting mass destruction of careless conversation, documenting the devastation in its entirety.
Another way in which these two posters differ is through Fischer’s presentation of the topic in his signature painterly style. Fischer’s poster looks as if it was done on canvas, distinguishing himself and his work from other graphic designers of the time. Each “brush”-stroke and highlight is visible. The streaks of yellow, orange and red of the ocean reflect the burning ship as the smoke of the ship trails off blending with the ambiguous sky. Two sailors are seen ravaged by the destruction of their ship, with torn shirts, rescued by a lifeboat. All of these elements create a romanticized image of war and its destruction. This imagery is put in direct conflict with the stark white lettering stating, “A careless word… A NEEDLESS SINKING.” This text brings Fischer’s poster back into the realm of graphic design, but ultimately through this juxtaposition the tragedy of the scene is heightened.
Julia Pelkofsky is a Master’s Fellow in the Department of Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. She is currently working on her MA in the History of Decorative Arts and Design at Parsons, the New School for Design.