Lanny Sommese might now be working on the 2015 Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts poster, as he has done for more than 30 years. He is an internationally recognized leader in the graphic design industry perhaps most well-known among area residents for his Arts Fest posters.
But Patrick McGrady, the curator of the exhibit “Lanny Sommese: Image Maker,” views the display as the perfect opportunity for people to experience Sommese’s larger body of work.
“He does so much more than just design the posters for the arts festival in the summer,” McGrady said. “We wanted to present an overall picture of not only his career but his role as a graphic designer privately as well.”
The exhibit is in part meant to celebrate the designer’s role within the Penn State College of Arts and Architecture. Sommese retired in the spring after serving as a professor for more than 40 years.
“He has contributed so much to not only the university but also the community and the world of graphic design at both a national and international level,” McGrady said. “His students have gone on to do great things elsewhere, and I think that because of him Penn State has a glowing representation when it comes to graphic design.”
Although the Palmer Museum of Art has several of Sommese’s pieces in its collection, this is the first time since the early years of his career that it has featured an entire exhibit of his work. McGrady said he met with Sommese throughout the period of a year to review his posters and sketches before deciding which ones would end up in the exhibit. He also recorded hours of discussions with the designer in order to learn more about each piece.
“The important thing to remember about Lanny’s work is that he doesn’t consider what he does art,” McGrady said.
McGrady said Sommese works under the philosophy that a graphic designer does not create art because the designer produces images to serve the specific needs of his or her clients. Graphic designers typically must take into account a set budget, a target audience and other factors that most artists don’t need to consider.
“Designing is not art-making,” Sommese said. He said that designers “are concerned with getting results, like selling products, filling auditoriums, identifying companies and presenting information understandably.”
“This is very much reflected in the way we put together the show,” McGrady said. “He teaches that you don’t design images in a vacuum.”
Of course, placing Sommese’s work in a museum allows people to view his posters in a new light.
“It could be a Renaissance painting or a poster for coffee; all of these things when you bring them into a museum, you create a new context,” McGrady said. “When you see things in an art museum their context is going to be distinct.”