The Daily Heller: Tom Eckersley Defines the British Poster

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There is a sense of deja vu when I see the posters in Tom Eckersley: A Mid-century Modern Master by Paul Rennie. I feel I've seen many of these before in retrospectives, but they are not always by Eckersley, who is undoubtedly a major figure in the heritage of British posters. I see a variety of styles in his work rooted in the Modernist spirit and symbolic approach, but I also cannot shake the idea that I'm looking at, say, E. McKnight Kauffer and his use of painting, collage, photography, geometry, gothic typefaces, lettering and all the other tropes.

Many of Eckersley's World War II posters help to define the graphic power of the period, while others mimic it. Still, like most graphic designers working in the 1930s–1960s, comparisons will inevitably be made. (Kauffer was in the U.S. after 1940, and Abram Games, another Modernist, was also a staunch propaganda artist in Great Britain during the war.) If any designer produces just a handful of decidedly original work, that's a lot to ask for. Eckersley did that.

Among my favorite Eckersley images is the cover for Graphis 31 (1950), a scenic vignette of a flat black (ISOTOPE-styled) poster hanger, on a ladder, brush in hand, gluing together separate sheets that form the human eye to symbolize (who and what is) the target of all consumer design.

Eckersley did some of his most iconic work as cautionary messages for the National Safety First Association (NSFA) and The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). The posters he did for the homefront and his enlistment in the RAF justly make Eckersley a hero of the U.K., as well as a poster man of distinction. While I quibble about the use of modernist tropes, his later minimalist modern work stood on a pedestal all its own.

Rennie's solid historical research and text make this a worthy welcome addition to design studies.

Broken Rungs Cause Broken Limbs, RoSPA, 1944.
A Child's Life, RoSPA, 1950s.

Take Your Gas Mask Everywhere, RoSPA, 1939.

Overseas Telephone, 1940s.
Central Line Extensions London Transport, 1948.