Abram Games (1914 – 1996) British graphic and industrial designer

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Abram Games in the Studio
Abram Games in the Studio

War time graphic artist

Abram Games (1914 – 1996) was a British graphic designer. His work, which is sophisticated but vibrant compared to that of his contemporaries, has earned him a position in the pantheon of the best graphic designers of the twentieth century. In acknowledging his power as a propagandist, he claimed, “I wind the spring and the public, in looking at the poster, will have that spring released in its mind.” His work is essentially a chronicle of the era’s social history due to the length of his career — over six decades. Games’ images are among the most well-known in the United Kingdom. The 1941 “Join the ATS” poster, dubbed the “blonde bombshell” recruitment poster, is an example. His work is recognised for its “striking colour, bold graphic ideas, and beautifully integrated typography”.

The 'Blonde Bombshell' by Abram Games
The ‘Blonde Bombshell’ by Abram Games

Early Years

Abraham Gamse was born on July 29, 1914, in Whitechapel, London, the day after World War I began. He was the son of Joseph Gamse, a Latvian photographer, and Sarah, nee Rosenberg, a seamstress born on the Russian-Polish border. When Abram was 12 years old, his father immigrated to the United Kingdom in 1904 and anglicised the family name to Games. At the age of 16, Games left Hackney Downs School and enrolled at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London. Games departed Saint Martin’s after two terms, disillusioned by the lectures and concerned about the cost of studying there.

London Underground Poster by Abram Games
London Underground Poster by Abram Games

On the other hand, Games was determined to make a name for himself as a poster artist, so he took night sessions in life drawing while working as a “studio boy” for the commercial design firm Askew-Young in London between 1932 and 1936.  His contribution placed second in the Health Council Competition in 1934. He won a poster competition sponsored by the London County Council in 1935. He worked on his own as a freelance poster artist from 1936 to 1940. Games received many high-profile commissions from the General Post Office, London Transport, Royal Dutch Shell, and others after a piece about him appeared in the prominent journal Art and Industry in 1937.

World War Two

Games was recruited into the British Army at the outbreak of World War Two. He remained in the army until 1941 when he was approached by the War Office’s Public Relations Department, which needed a graphic designer to create a recruitment poster for the Royal Armoured Corps. Games’ duty as the Official War Artist for Posters began in 1942 and resulted in approximately 100 posters. Games was given a lot of artistic leeway, which allowed him to create a lot of fascinating images, many of which had surrealist aspects.

Blonde Bombshell

Games intended to change the ATS’s drab image. The blonde bombshell, a recruitment ad for the Auxiliary Territorial Service, was one of his early works. Still, officials were concerned that the gorgeous image he created might entice young women to join for the “wrong reasons,” thus the poster was swiftly withdrawn. Winston Churchill criticised the design Games replaced it with as being too “Soviet.”

Your talk may kill

Another prominent billboard was Your Talk May Kill Your Comrades (1942). A spiral symbolising gossip emerges from a soldier’s mouth and transforms into a bayonet striking three of his comrades. In that and other posters, such as He Talked…They Died (1943), part of the Careless Talk campaign, Games used the photographic methods he had learned from his father. Games also did several works for the War Artists’ Advisory Committee in addition to his poster work.

Your talk may kill your comrades', 1942 by Abram Games
Your talk may kill your comrades’, 1942 by Abram Games

Conflict with Winston Churchill

Later in the War, Churchill ordered a poster Games had produced to be taken off the wall of the Poster Design in Wartime Britain exhibition at Harrods in 1943. Games and Frank Newbould had been commissioned by the Army Bureau of Current Affairs (ABCA) to create posters for a series called Your Britain – Fight for It Now. Games offered a series of three Modernist buildings designed to combat poverty, disease, and hardship. At the same time, Newbould produced countryside pictures akin to the pre-war trip posters he had created for various railway companies. The ad that irritated Churchill the most was the Berthold Lubetkin-designed Finsbury Health Centre replacing a derelict structure with a rickets-affected youngster. Churchill saw this as a smear on the circumstances in British cities and ordered the poster to be taken down. Another poster in the series was pulled from the Association of International Artists’ Poster Design in Wartime Britain exhibition by Ernest Bevin, the wartime Minister of Labour.

Your Britain Fight for it Now designed by Abram Games
Your Britain Fight for it Now designed by Abram Games

Post World War Two Career

Games restarted his independent career in 1946, working for companies like Royal Dutch Shell, the Financial Times, Guinness, British Airways, London Transport, and El Al. He designed stamps for the United Kingdom, Ireland, Israel, Jersey, and Portugal. In addition, he created the JFS school’s logo. Penguin Books book jackets and logos for the 1951 Festival of Britain (which won the competition in 1948) and the 1965 Queen’s Award to Industry. In 1954, he was one of the first people to create a moving on-screen sign for BBC Television. He was also a muralist. 

Games was a visiting lecturer in graphic design at the Royal College of Art in London from 1946 to 1953 and was awarded the OBE for contributions to graphic design in 1958. He was named a Royal Designer for Industry in 1959. (RDI). In the late 1960s, he also developed the swan tile motif for the Victoria line platforms of Stockwell tube station.

Supporter of Jewish Causes

Games had been among the first in Britain to see evidence of the atrocities committed at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp when photographs taken there by British troops arrived at the War Office in 1945. In the same year, he created a billboard called “Give Clothing for Liberated Jewry,” and he frequently supported Jewish and Israeli causes. Games, who was Jewish, spent time in Israel in the 1950s, when he drew stamps for the Israeli Post Office, including for the 1953 Conquest of the Desert exhibition, and taught a postage-stamp design course, among other things. He also created covers for The Jewish Chronicle and prints for the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain’s prayer books. In 1960, Games created the poster “Freedom from Hunger” for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Give Clothing for Liberated Jewry Poster designed by Abram Games
Give Clothing for Liberated Jewry Poster designed by Abram Games

Industrial Designer

Games was also an industrial designer. The design of the 1947 Cona vacuum coffee maker (produced from 1949, reworked in 1959, and still in production) and inventions such as a circular vacuum cleaner and a Gestetner portable handheld duplicating machine from the early 1960s, which were not put into production due to the demise of mimeography, were among the activities in this discipline.

Games might create up to 30 little preliminary sketches before combining two or three into the final one while creating a poster design. He would start tiny in the development process, claiming that if poster designs “don’t work an inch high, they won’t work.” As source material, he would use a vast quantity of photographic photographs. Purportedly, if a client rejected a proposed design (which seldom occurred), Games would resign and suggest that the client commission someone else.

The National Army Museum in London purchased a series of his posters in 2013, all of which were signed by Games and in excellent shape.

Personal Life

Games married Marianne Salfeld, the daughter of German orthodox Jewish émigrés, in October 1945 and moved to Surbiton, Surrey, to live with her father. They relocated to north London in 1948 and remained in the same house until their deaths. Naomi, Daniel, and Sophie were their three children.

Marianne died in 1988, and Games died on August 27, 1996, in London.

Exhibitions

  • Abram Games, Graphic Designer (1914–1996): Maximum Meaning, Minimum Means, Design Museum, London, 2003
  • Abram Games, Maximum Meaning, Minimum Means, The Minories, Colchester, 2011
  • Designing the 20th Century: Life and Work of Abram Games, Jewish Museum London, 2014–2015
  • Abram Games – Maximum Meaning Minimum Means, Dick Institute Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire, 2015
  • The Art of Persuasion: Wartime posters by Abram Games, National Army Museum, London: 6 April-24 November 2019

Abram Games in Our Design Shop

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Wikipedia contributors. (2021, June 9). Abram Games. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:00, July 3, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Abram_Games&oldid=1027658992

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