The man behind the Osborne bull

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IF YOU are planning a trip to Madrid over the next few months, you may like to include a visit to the Spanish National Museum of Decorative Art on your cultural agenda.

Until the end of October the venue will be exhibiting the work of the man responsible for creating perhaps the most iconic symbol of Spain throughout the world, Manolo Prieto.

Not everyone in Spain, including the Spanish know Snr Prieto, but few are unfamiliar with his most famous design: the Osborne bull, whose silhouette can be seen standing proudly against the skyline of many of Spain’s major highways.

Born in Puerto de Santa María, part of the sherry region of Andalucia in 1912, Prieto was a pioneer of graphic design in Spain.

He was contracted by the Osborne sherry company in 1956 to come up with an image to advertise the company’s Veterano brandy, with 500 of his bulls eventually being erected on major National road throughout the country.

He also applied his skills in campaigns for clients including state railway company Renfe, Spanish national airline Iberia and Nestlé.

The Osborne bull, however, remains his most famous creation and the design was chosen by the Promotion of Decorative Arts (FAD) in 2003 as the icon of Spain’s 20th century.

In 1997, the country’s Supreme Court even raised the roadside bulls, which are roughly 14 meters in height, to ‘National Symbol’ status, excluding them from a law that prohibits billboards outside city limits. In addition, it is frequently emblazoned on national flags as well as on a range of Osborne approved souvenirs.

Besides advertising, Prieto, who died in 1991, also designed 618 book covers, for a series called Novelas y Cuentas, over a period of 17 years from 1940–1957.

These cover designs form the basis of the exhibition which is now on show at Museum in Montalbán street in Madrid and runs until October 22 and are complemented by sketches, trial prints and personal objects.

The pocket-sized Novelas y Cuentos literature series was sold in kiosks in the middle of last century. But although he was working within an ultra-conservative social framework, Prieto, a Communist Party militant, shunned the traditional advertising graphics of the period.

He adopted techniques closer to the artistic vanguard that gave scope to his immense imagination and highlighted his talent for abstraction and for working with limited means, all of which make him relevant today.

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