The Life and Work of Abram Games

16 June 2016

At the beginning of 2015 I was lucky enough to see the Designing the 20th Century: Life and Work of Abram Games exhibition at the Jewish Museum in London.

The exhibition celebrated the 100th anniversary of his birth and showcased his contribution to British design.

Early Life

Born in Whitechapel in London in 1914, his father having emigrated to Britain in 1904, was a Latvian photographer and his mother was a seamstress born on the border of Russia and Poland. Games began studying at Saint Martin's School of Art in London but the cost of the tuition meant he had to leave shortly after beginning.

Determined to create posters for a living he quickly got a job at commercial design company Askew-Young as a 'studio boy'. In 1935 he won the London County Council poster competition and for the following 5 years worked as a freelance designer. He gained high profile commissions for General Post Office and London Transport.

Official War Artist

Games served in the army until 1941 when he was asked to be the official war artist. His first poster was a recruitment poster for the Royal Armoured Corps. Eye catching and striking, I like it's simplicity and sharp lines.

“maximum meaning, minimum means — Abram Games”

Some of his posters had darker and direct messages that, such as the 'Your talk may kill your comrades' poster. He was given a lot of creative freedom and in his time as war artist he produced over 100 posters.

Festival of Britain, 1951

The war had ended but Britain was still in a state of social and economic reform, and the nation needed something to lift spirits. The Festival of Britain was intended to be a 'tonic for the nation' with a showcase of the best of British graphic, textiles and furniture design. London's South Bank was the venue and more than 8.5 million people visited.

Games created many of the posters used to advertise the event, incorporating heraldic imagery, and angular geometry to create a modern portrait of the nation.

The Festival of Britain logo scamps

The Festival of Britain programme cover

The Exhibition

His work is simple in its execution often using minimal imagery and strong typography but portraying thoughtful messages. He believed that hard work was needed to create brilliant design rather than only inspiration, as he summarises here:

“Break all the rules providing you break them successfully. When you've finished the job and consider it well done, start again.”

The exhibition contained many of Games' best posters as well as some beautiful paintings of his grandmother and a self-portrait. These paintings in particular were wonderful to see as I wasn't aware he was such a great fine artist. Overall, the exhibition was a great tribute to a fantastic designer. See more about the Jewish Museum on their website

I also found a great article about Abram Games’ Poster Designs in The Guardian.

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