All the posters designed by master of communication Abram Games during World War Two go on display in a major exhibition at the National Army Museum
Abram Games’ well-known dictum: “maximum meaning, minimum means” together with his masterful use of the airbrush, restrained colour palette, bold hand-rendered typography and often stark imagery saw him create some of the most recognisable posters of the Second World War.
From the early recruitment posters that glamorised the armed forces through the rallying calls for National Savings through to the hard hitting Displaced Person posters, they are recognised as masterpieces of reductive design that continue to influence graphic design today.
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The son of Jewish émigré parents from Latvia and the Russian-Polish border, Games joined the infantry as a private in 1940. But as an already established freelance poster designer with a client list that included London Transport and The Post Office, the Public Relations Department of the War Office soon plucked him out of the ranks to take on the important and nuanced task of aiding wartime communication and propaganda.
The year was 1941 and his first job for the War Office was designing a recruitment poster for the Royal Armoured Corps (RAC). He delivered a masterclass in simplicity and modern geometric styling that paved the way to a ‘promotion’ to Official War Artist for posters – and a relative free hand.
Over the course of the war he went on to produce over 100 poster designs that maximised the messages behind recruitment, propaganda and information for public and services alike. He also designed the new cap badge for his first commission, the RAC.
With Frank Newbould as his assistant, Games produced posters that are some of the most enduring images of the British mid-century and after the war his career continued to blossom. His designs included the emblem of the Festival of Britain and the first TV screen logo for the BBC (actually a filmed 3-D model), but this major retrospective mines the wartime period and features all of the posters he created between 1941 and 1945. Joining the museum’s fine collection of signed originals are loans from The Estate of Abram Games.
“He was proud to be a Londoner and a member of the British Army.”
Naomi Games, daughter of Abram Games, speaking on behalf of The Estate of Abram Games said the family was “delighted that our father’s war work will be exhibited at the National Army Museum.”
“He was proud to be a Londoner and a member of the British Army. It is fitting that the work of the only ever War Poster Artist is exhibited at the Museum.”
For the Museum, Director Justin Maciejewski said the work of “Games as a graphic designer and British soldier in support of the causes of freedom and social justice during the Second World War is remarkable and inspiring”.
“We are proud to be showing the full body of his work as the Army’s poster designer.”
As well as displaying the posters, the exhibition explores how Games’ Jewish refugee heritage, experiences as a soldier and the turbulent politics of wartime Britain shaped his ideas and career.
Games was a staunch socialist and his wartime position was an opportunity to communicate ideas which might help win the war, defeat fascism and also bring about social change in Britain. However, given his free hand to achieve this, his designs didn’t always meet with approval from those in the corridors of power. His early and very successful attempt to glamorise the Auxillary Territorial Service with a female soldier was quickly dubbed ‘the blonde bombshell’ and was withdrawn from circulation, pulped and replaced with a more sober depiction of a female soldier. The art critic Eric Newton described the replacement as ‘slightly Russianised’.
Later in the war both Winston Churchill and Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin objected to some of Games’ socially charged and hard hitting imagery in the Your Britain Fight For it Now series of posters, one of which featured a combination of modernist architecture and child poverty that was deemed too bleak for the wartime populace.
But Games was always slightly ahead of the curve and the exhibition examines the impact he has had on graphic design in the modern world – largely through his innate understanding of the human ability to consume essential information.
‘The art of persuasion’ examines the tools and techniques Games used to communicate his messages effectively, with particular attention to his dexterity and innovative use of the airbrush and the direct and occasionally controversial way his wartime posters marked an important progression in British graphic design.
The exhibition also incorporates interviews discussing Games’s legacy with renowned graphic artist, Alan Kitching, Executive Creative Producer of the current British Army recruitment campaign, Adam Kean, and author and lecturer at Central Saint Martins, Monika Parrinder.
This year, in conjunction with the exhibition, English Heritage will commemorate Games with a blue plaque. A timely mark of recognition and appraisal for a man of morals and boundless talent who continues to influence design industry professionals today.
The Art of Persuasion: Wartime Posters by Abram Games is at the National Army Museum, April 6 – November 24 2019. Adults £6 Concessions £5, Students £4, Serving Army personnel (+1) and under 16s free.
A public programme runs throughout the exhibition with study evenings, curator-led and British Sign Language tours, creative workshops, after hours events an academic conference on propaganda.
Explore the National Army Museum online collection of Abram Games posters.
National Army Museum
London, Greater London
The National Army Museum is a leading authority on the British Army and its impact on society past and present. We examine the army's role as protector, aggressor and peacekeeper from the British Civil Wars to the modern day. Through our collections we preserve and share stories of ordinary people…