June 16th 2012 marks the centenary of the birth of the graphic artist Manolo Prieto, author among many other works of the so popular silhouette of the Osborne bull.
Manolo Prieto –artist, painter and illustrator as he liked to present himself– was born in El Puerto de Santa María (Cadiz, Spain) in 1912, the very same city of his famous “Osborne Bull”, where its company headquarters and the Foundation of his name are to be found.
In 1928 he entered the Academy of Fine Arts of Santa Cecilia in his hometown and received a traditional art education in the fields of drawing and figure. In 1930 he moved to Madrid where he spent the rest of his career. In 1932 he was hired by “Publicitas”, the Spanish subsidiary of a Swiss advertising agency, where he met Emeterio Melendreras, who later became editor of the magazine “Arte Comercial” (Commercial Art).
Prieto was a graphic designer with a vast production and dominated many registers. Since 1942 and during the following fourteen years he designed every week the title cover for the collection “Novelas y Cuentos” (Novels and Stories) with a style each time more precise and synthetic. In 1947 he started working as the art director of the advertising agency “Azor”. He was an extraordinary poster designer, a genre in which his work of bullfighting is a highlight, he also designed posters for various theatrical productions or municipal festivals. Manolo Prieto also worked as a designer for press advertising, album covers, brands and packaging of commercial products.
In May 1957 the first billboard is placed, with the silhouette of the “Osborne Bull” created from the drawing by Prieto, at km 55 on the main road from Madrid to Burgos in Spain. The “Toro” (bull) has become since one of the most solid and original references of our collective memory in Spain. The cropped image of the Toro in the distance is part of the popular culture of our country, extending beyond our borders it has become a universal image known and admired as Spanish worldwide. Its enormous capacity to evoke comes from the happy synthesis that Prieto created between tradition and modernity, between art and industry, between nature and artifice.
The “Toro” on the road by Manolo Prieto is a bull free in nature, he also drew throughout his life different figures of bulls related to the bullfighting world, where he renovated the genre and managed to establish certain modern standards despite the aesthetic preferences of the time, or simply to advertise a famous brand of sherry, as that created in 1973 for “Fino Quinta”.
Less well known is the series of vignettes about “las suertes” of the bullfighters collected in a delightful publication titled “Toros en El Puerto” (Bulls in the Port) published in 1955. Synthetic representations as a result of such a refined knowledge and mastery of movement. In this series the bull begins to be the graphic device that later would become the world famous road billboard.