HotHouse: Abram Games

Today’s HotHouse talk was hosted by Abram Games’ daughter, all about his work.

A little backstory – Abram Games (1914-1996) was a British graphic designer, marked as one of the best in the 20th century. He was working for over six decades, therefore his work also carries as a big part of history. Games’ favourite tool of the trade was an airbrush, and he continued to use it to make most of his work. 

Abram Games’ parents came to England from Eastern Europe, fleeing from the war – they were jewish. They lived most of their lives in East London. Abram got sent to an art college, even though his parents did not have a lot of money, however, he quit after two terms because he hated the tutors and all the students were copying each other’s work. Upon leaving he swore that neither him, nor his future children, would attend an art school; the oath did not uphold for long, his children did go to art college and he himself went on to lecture in the Royal College of Art in his later life.

Abram had a very interesting way of working: due to the technology back in the day, graphic designers had to hand letter everything on a poster, so he tried to involve the least possible amount of type, yet bring forward a strong message. He loved his work getting noticed, even if the attention to it wasn’t positive. Games was a very rebellious person and did not want to apologise to anyone – after getting fired by the company he worked for as a designer, he worked for himself and denounced working for anyone else. He also did not give anyone the copyrights to his work, maintaining that was one of his biggest values.

His work was ahead of its time and people didn’t always understand it, so it was quite difficult for him to find paid work. Once his work was published however, he bought 70 copies of the magazine, ripped out the double page spreads of each one, wrote a hand written letter about his work and himself, and sent them out to various possible employers. Not very long after, he got employed by Frank Pick – chief executive officer and vice-chairman of the London Passenger Transport Board and got to design posters for London Transport.

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When the WWII started, Games  was conscripted into the British Army. He served until 1941 when he was approached by the Public Relations Department of the War Office who were looking for a graphic designer to produce a recruitment poster for the Royal Armoured Corps. From then on, he was titled the Official War Artist and produced over a 100 posters. They were mainly propaganda posters, but not just for the general public – some were army propaganda FOR the army, telling the soldiers about the importance of good hygiene, how to do certain things and so on. Some were about the prevention of various diseases as well. Abram Games was the artist that produced the iconic “Blonde Bombshell” poster which the current government didn’t really like: during the time of war, the parliament fought over that poster for nearly five weeks, debating whether or not it should be banned.
The posters Games produced while in the army, were made with only a small selection of colours and produced by chrome lithography, meaning that a lot of manual labour went into the production. abraham_games_03

Abram games had also made a lot of posters, rushing people to help those in need, such as Jews after the horrors of the Holocaust, and army men to be mindful about mines they left around after training and such. These posters scared people and made them uncomfortable, therefore they got loads of attention and were talked about very widely. blind d709e7c5-a73c-4d53-837f-ec36c4c38313-1372x2040

Games produced posters even after the war had ended, mostly to bring attention to issues in society and disliked making posters that were meant as a form of advertising to sell items. He also did work for the BBC that was released on television and frightened people – the animated image involved spinning circles with a smaller circle in the middle, and people thought that they were being hypnotised.
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He made many various posters for different companies, such as Guinness, The London Zoo and many more. At the later stages of his career, his work became simpler and simpler but still with a strong message. He did so mindfully, still holding on to his motto, “maximum meaning, minimal means”. This approach did not woo everyone and sometimes companies would even take months to decide if they wanted to use the work, however more often than not they ended up using it and got a lot of praise for taking bold choices for advertising.

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The talk, hosted by the Abram Games’ daughter was very interesting, a lot of it told from her perspective, with unimaginable joy and pride in her father. It was very insightful as we got to know about him as a personality, not just about his work, which sometimes makes the work feel more distant and maybe even uninteresting, but this was not the case. I thoroughly enjoyed having this opportunity to know Games’ work from another perspective.

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