Exhibition honors artist Bob Coonts for roles in American West Program and Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition

Jason Frazier
Bob Coonts

For an artist, when you want to make a big impact  a poster is the way to go, according to Bob Coonts, Fort Collins artist and Colorado State University graphic design emeritus faculty member. It’s the nature of the medium.

“A poster has to be observed rather quickly so you need to communicate its message quickly,” Coonts said. “You maybe only have a moment, somebody is walking or riding a bike past it, and you have just seconds to capture somebody’s attention to make me stop and take a second look.” 

Coonts will be honored on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at a special retrospective showcasing posters he designed over the past 50 years for the American West Program. The posters will be on display through Dec. 4 as part of a companion satellite show to the Colorado International Invitational Poster Exhibition. The 22nd biennial show kicks off with an artist talk and reception featuring Honor Laureate Taiwanese designer Apex Lin on Sept. 21.

The start of something big

Most of the poster art scene is found in metropolitan areas where larger than life images tower over pedestrians as they go about their day, Coonts said. The CIIPE director emeritus co-founded the exhibition with fellow CSU faculty John Sorbie and Phil Risbeck, now professor emeritus.

In 1978, the three colleagues were all displaying work at a poster invitational in Warsaw, Poland and decided to bring a similar exhibition to CSU. 

“It was really the brainchild of John and Phil,” Coonts said. “They invited me in to be part of the committee and to get this thing off the ground.” 

The next year the first CIIPE was held and has been breaking new ground ever since, putting CSU on the map as a hub for poster art and graphic design. 

Viewers in gallery

“When the show started in 1979 it was actually the first of its kind in the U.S.,” Coonts said. “We were really proud to have established a show like this in Fort Collins, Colorado.” 

The show has brought in big name artists, such as Shigeo Fukuda and Saul Bass, who was known for logos that have stood the test of time, including for the Girl Scouts of America, as well as for creating the iconic title sequence for the movie “West Side Story.” 

Bass was a juror for the exhibition one year, said Coonts, who remembered driving the famous graphic designer back to the airport after the show. 

“We were talking, and he said, ‘What you guys have done in Fort Collins should really be applauded because you would think a poster show like this would need to be in New York City or Los Angeles or Chicago. But you made it work here. It’s like you’ve made Fort Collins ‘Poster City USA.’”

Imagining the American West

When the American West Program was created in 1972, Coonts was tapped to design the event poster – little did he know that that first poster was just the beginning. 

Throughout its 50 years, Coonts designed posters for the program, a cross-disciplinary series created by scientists, humanists, engineers and artists as a way to explore common themes related to the American West, in its most expansive form between 1972 and 2002. He still remembers that first poster. 

“That first year, they didn’t really have an overall theme,” he said. “I remember I thought about it a lot because it just seemed so big to me, the idea of representing the entire American West.” 

In the end, Coonts used a line-converted photo of grasslands, complete with a red sky and a purple sun setting in the background. 

“That was the image to me that said the American West, the large expanse of grasslands and the colors in my eye anyway,” he said. “I still think it’s a pretty darn good poster, certainly to begin the series with. Although looking back, I had no idea at the time how many more of these posters I’d be doing.”

22nd CIIPE

Schedule of events

Bob Coonts: Interpreting the West 
Tuesday, Sept. 20  
Exhibition Reception & Comments: 5 p.m. at the Nancy Richardson Design Center

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the American West program at CSU, posters created by CIIPE co-founder and director emeritus Bob Coonts will be on display at the Nancy Richardson Design Center. There will be brief remarks by John Gravdahl, Leisl Carr-Childers, and Bob Coonts as well as commemorative posters created by Jason Fraizer for attendees.

Exhibition open Sept. 20 – Oct. 18

CIIPE Honor Laureate: Apex Lin
Wednesday, Sept. 21
Artist Talk & Reception: Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 5:30 p.m. Organ Recital Hall, UCA
Reception to follow in the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art, University Center for the Arts

In conjunction with the Department of Art and Art History, the Gregory Allicar Museum of Art highlights the work of a selected honor laureate in the museum’s Works on Paper Gallery. The 22nd CIIPE Honor Laureate is Taiwanese designer Apex Lin, who has gained worldwide recognition for his posters and is responsible for the visual identities of some of China’s biggest companies.

22nd CIIPE Honor Laureate is Taiwanese designer Apex Lin
22nd CIIPE Honor Laureate is Taiwanese designer Apex Lin

CIIPE Opening Night
Friday, Sept. 23
Reception: 6 p.m., Lory Student Center Theatre
Awards and Ribbon Cutting: 6:30 p.m., Lory Student Center Theatre
Exhibition 7 to 9 p.m., Curfman Gallery, Lory Student Center and Hatton Gallery, Visual Arts Building

CIIPE Main Exhibition
Friday, Sept. 23 – Friday, Nov. 4, 2022
Curfman Gallery, Lory Student Center, and Hatton Gallery, Visual Arts Building

Presented with the support of the Department of Art and Art History, the Department of History, the College of Liberal Arts, the  Gregory Allicar Museum of Art, the Nancy Richardson Design Center, and the Lory Student Center.