Aesthetic Explorations: Retro-futurism

Although many of these visions seem almost comical now, the spirit in which they were created crystallizes the essence of how the future was described prior to the 1980s.
There was a time in the past when the future was thought as a beautiful place of cooperation, peace, beauty and of course, convenience. But the times have changed, popular media paints a grim, dystopian picture of conflict and turmoil. The Matrix series, The Hunger Games and the more recent book Ready Player one are such examples. There is no question that these are great works and must be appreciated! But the vision of the future prior to this shift in the notion fascinates me and is worth investigating.

Retro-futurism : Refers to the futuristic visions from eras past which can be in the form of art, TV shows, movies and novels.The following Images are an attempt to examine the features of this aesthetic and possibly provide a cross-section of the vision of the public prior to the 1980s.

The poster from the 1939 World Fair in New York featuring Hughes Industries showing glimpses of the Jet-pack.

The artwork shows a future of promise and wonders where man was able to take to the skies with no effort. The aesthetic was inspired from the current technology and the materials used at that particular time period, hence one would find a lot of wood and leather being used in conjunction with hi-tech equipment.

The Jetsons (1962-1963)

The Jetsons was a TV show which originally aired in the 1960s followed the misadventures of a family. The helper robot Rosie was a pleasant with a gentle personality and got along well with the family. I find it fascinating the public perception of robots and artificial intelligence has skewed into a darker path in the last twenty five years or so with TV show movies like The TerminatorThe Matrix Series and Ex-Machina. Although there has always been books and movies which portray a dystopian future like 1984 and the movie Westworld, it did not seem to affect the optimism of the general population until much later.

The Ford FX-Atmos concept car (1954)

Cars were no exception to this aesthetic. The 1954 Ford FX-Atmos had jet engines, a glass-bubble style canopy, radar dashboard and jet-plane like fins with plush wood panels and analogue style instrument cluster with chrome coated toggle switches. I thoroughly enjoy the fusion of perceived futurism with present style technology.

Jetta: Teen-Age Sweetheart of the 21st Century (1952)

The comic which began in 1954 explored the life of teenagers in the 21th Century. These comics give insights into the optimistic mindset of the creative authors of that time period.

It was the beginning of the cold war and the era of rockets was dawning, we can observe the inspiration for the design of the rocket that landed on the moon in this Tintin comic was the iconic German V2 rocket.

The “Kuba Komet” home entertainment system (1950)

Furniture design itself took a more futuristic approach with this German entertainment system, using current materials with contemporary shapes loosely based on the Bauhaus design philosophy.
I look retro-futuristic design as a fascinating slice of time and mentality of the people in the past eras. I do not have the answer to what caused the shift to a more pessimistic view of the future. However I do believe that popularization of optimistic art and design can indeed slowly but surely shift the attitude to a more brighter vision, where once again we can dream of a happy future filled with wonders.










concept car, furniture, future, futurism, retro-futurism, retrofuturism, tintin, TV
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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Olivia Watkins
    January 25, 2017 5:02 pm

    I think you picked a very poignant topic. The only thing I would want to add here is how is this “dystopian future” being related to today ? Since Kellyanne Conway’s comments on “alternative facts” George Orwell’s Book 1984 has hit amazons book list #1 spot in sales. So I have a feeling we could be seeing a resurgence of this sort of culture if we haven’t already with the Hunger Games and Divergent series. I think we are all hoping for a little less Orwell and a lot more Jetsons right about now 🙂


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