Retro Art, or Retro Clip Art (also known as Retro Clipart), is the term which commonly refers to advertising artwork which was created mainly during the '40s and '50s. Although a certain amount of color artwork was also produced during that era, many printed materials were limited to one color due to the often rudimentary printing methods found in many cities at the time. As a result, professional illustrators were forced to develop a style of artwork which could be easily reproduced with a low degree of printing technology if necessary.
There are also some other reasons of course which led to the development of retro art: In the late 1800's, the popular style of illustration for commercial purposes was engraved artwork. Artists would go to tremendous trouble to create very fine line shading in all the drawings,. We've all seen this style of artwork in posters and ads from the old west, or the Victorian era for example.
At the turn of the century came the Art Nouveau revolution in France, which featured highly simplified, graphic drawings; a style which was largely frowned upon by art experts at the time. This style was quickly followed by Russian Constructivism during the Bolshevik Revolution in the teens, which truly solidified the trend towards simplified, graphic drawings, and helped contribute toward the Art Deco movement of the twenties.
By 1930, the effects of all these trends had fully seeped into the world of commercial art, at which point commercial illustrators collectively decided to do away with the meticulous cross-hatching, stippling and other intricate forms of line shading which had been the norm up to that time. This type of shading was now seen as "old-fashioned", and the trend began in earnest towards creating drawings which contained no line shading whatsoever. With practice, they got better and better at it, and by 1940, every artist worth their salt was able to figure out how to divide any image into pure black or white regions.
This is the main element which is so fascinating and captivating about this style of artwork, besides the quaint and often humorous subject matter, clothing and hairstyles. Just the fact that these artists could represent anything without using color or line-shading at all, makes retro art a truly unique and significant style of illustration for all times.
Retro Art has become extremely popular of late, mainly because we are so overwhelmed with unbelievable computer graphics, but also due to a recent yearning to get back to the simpler ways of yesteryear. Ironically, combining these types of simple retro images with modern layouts, provides more depth and dimension than could ever be acquired through the implementation of the most complex 3D modelling techniques!
Finally, Retro Art is only now beginning to achieve the same level of status and historical recognition as is accorded Art Deco, Russian Constructivism or Art Nouveau.