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How Abram Games’ bold typography became a force to reckon with


arely do you find artists that committed to their principles and their conscience, with such strong morals and overly dedicated to a cause, so much as to shun commercial success and the money that comes with it. Abram Games was one of those rare people: an artist, whose career spun over 60 years and granted him the title of one of the most emblematic British graphic designers of the 20th century. A father of modern design, he was one of the five legendary poster designers Alan Kitching and Monotype celebrated but he was so much more than just a pioneer. 

Although his work includes posters for Shell, BP, Guinness, The Financial Times and The Times amongst others, he is widely known for the public commissions granted to him in the 1940’s and 1950’s and his wartime work as Official War Poster Designer (the only person in the history of the army to be given such a title), designing more than 100 public information and propaganda posters, which have now become iconic images, evoking the aesthetics and the social unrest of the time. Especially those have played a very important role in forming British cultural identity.

Born in 1914 to Jewish immigrant parents, by the 1950’s Games had become the leading designer in Britain. Designing the 20th Century: Life and Work of Abram Games, the exhibition that has opened at the Jewish Museum London, takes a deep look into his artistic process. It includes original posters, paintings and sketches, all part of the rich family archive. The exhibits focus on his amazing skills, his humor (highly contrasting to the austerity of the era) and his love for vivid colors.

Games’ motto was “Maximum meaning, minimum means”, and truly his work centered on trying to convey the message in the most plain, still powerful way. Having worked alongside his photographer father, he learnt how to practice techniques such as the use of a pin-hole camera, photogram paper and the natural sunlight, but his mind was set on becoming a commercial artist, so he learnt how to use an airbrush and develop prints in a darkroom. All of those things were the driving force behind his creations. He came to be a very good airbrusher, who preferred to redraw his source material with pencil and airbrush, so as to preserve total control over the image, which demanded great skill as well as devotion.

Games’ motto was “Maximum meaning, minimum means”. His work centered on trying to convey the message in the most plain, still powerful way. 

The impetus of his design comes from bauhaus and constructivism, with geometric strictness and bluntness, as well as bright colors to get people’s attention - combined with Surrealism, a whole different strand of art, but very popular at the time. However, what made his posters so iconic was that Abram Games made the lettering an integral part of the image, the message would not be as loud without one or the other: he always used typography and image to create a new entity. “My work has been called symbolic, but I regard it as integration, a combination of all the parts into an inevitable whole”, he wrote in his 1960 book Over My Shoulder.

He was also very serious about taking responsibility for the entirety of his every project. He was known for only offering one version of his work, which could either be accepted or left. Artistic freedom was of great importance to him, and he never stopped putting it to good use. Throughout his life, he produced many designs for Jewish organizations, most of them for free, while in his final years, he worked for a range of public service and charitable organisations.

The exhibition held until 4 January 2015 is curated by Games’s children and it also explores how his family influenced him in developing his designing work. He was a humanist and a socialist above everything else and he believed that the designer had a great responsibility towards the public. Games was a man with a strong moral dedication to his every cause. He was literally the poster person for principles and social awareness.

By Marianne Kalemi