Coming at the end of a long week of press views, to be honest, I can’t say I was massively excited about an exhibition of posters. I was completely wrong in my approach and thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition which not only displayed over 100 of Games’ posters but delved into the graphic design process, explored Games as a London born child of Jewish refugees and made me think about how we communicate in an age of instagram.
Arriving at the National Army Museum on the 80th anniversary of the Royal Armoured Corps I was lucky enough to see a full size Challenger tank parked outside the main museum entrance. Games also redesigned the Corps badge so it was certainly a fitting day to visit.
I think in these days of political confusion and unrest what really struck me was the opening introduction.
“Inspired by a love of a country that had taken his family in, and driven by his socialist ideals, Abram used his art to make an important contribution to the war effort.”
Games’ mother Sarah was from Poland and his father Joseph was from Latvia, they had arrived in Britain in 1904 due to ant-semitism and pogroms in the Russian Empire. In these times of what feels like increasing animosity, it is so important to keep these stories of at the forefront of our minds.
I loved beginning not with a poster but with Games’ school report from 1925 which showed his skill in drawing was at best ‘weak’ and the general remarks state ‘Work much too careless and untidy: Lazy and indifferent’.
This is brilliant, it just shows you school reports which can feel like portents of doom at the time they are received, in reality predict very little. Abrams was determined, and his story is one of hard-work and application.
Games joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1940 and I think you get a real insight into his character in a memo he wrote on army poster propaganda. Already way ahead of his time in recognising the importance of a strong mental state, not just physical health, his first thought is to the men who he served with.
“There are a number of worrying problems with which such posters could effectively deal. The first that springs to mind is care of the feet. A considerable proportion of men suffer from foot troubles. This could be remidied (sic) by posters illustrating the need for daily washing of feet, care of nails, washing of socks etc., and the importance of the immediate report of foot sores and blisters.”
Here Games picks up on something so easily overlooked that could make a huge difference to the well being of the men.
It is fascinating to walk around and enjoy Games’ work, I love seeing the design process laid bare, his thoughts, ideas and inspirations, sketches and final designs.
The exhibition is also a window into the social concerns of the day. I particularly like the ‘blonde bombshell’ poser used as a recruitment tool for the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service) that prompted a debate in parliament over the use of lipstick.
“Our girls should be attracted into the Army through patriotism and not glamour. It is not the kind of poster to encourage mothers to send their girls into the Army.” Thelma Cazalet-Keir MP.
Games’ work is striking and powerful and as I wander around I begin to recognise his work from other exhibitions I have recently been to. I distinctly remember a poster used at the ‘Teeth Exhibition’ at the Wellcome Collection in 2018 and a malaria poster also used in the Wellcome’s ‘Can Graphic Design Save Your Life’ Exhibition in 2017. I get to a lot of exhibitions but I remember these posters clear as a bell, which is a testament to Games stunning work.
The exhibition covers the period 1941-45 but another very familiar poster from 1948 comes from when Games designed the ‘Festival of Britain’ emblem. He also worked for the Financial Times after the war and when I research that work I instantly remember his poster that used to be on the wall where I worked at the FT’s Southwark Bridge headquarters.
As a final treat you get to design a poster of your own and inspired by Games I create my own ‘on brand’ Tincture of Museum poster.
A fascinating exhibition well worth a visit and if you visit with the kids over the Easter holidays a timely reminder of however bad that school report may be there is always the opportunity to go on to great things.
The art of persuasion: Wartime posters by Abram Games is on at the National Army Museum from 6th April – 24th November 2019. For ticket prices and opening times please see the website.