I went along to the Royal College of Art to see the GraphicsRCA: Fifty Years and Beyond exhibition, which runs until 22 December. It spans from 1963 to the present. But, importantly, the years from 1948 to 1963 were the very foundation of British contemporary graphics. Although not included in this exhibition I was commissioned to write an essay on the period. It will appear in the forthcoming book that accompanies the exhibition...
One of the things that struck me about the period was the lack of female designers and illustrators that went on to greater heights post RCA when compared to their male counterparts. Of course, marriage and children are the main disruptors; caring for the family leeches the creative force through sheer fatigue, leaving little enthusiasm for much else. I have always found it a sad fact that so many highly creative women are curtailed before they lift off to fulfil their potential.
Two RCA female alumnae of the 1950s that did surface were June Fraser, who produced large scale station mural for the Leicester Square Underground Station and went on to become a design advisor for John Lewis. The other was Gaynor Chapman, who also has a London Underground connection.
Born in 1935, Chapman attended the Epsom School of Art and was one of the bright young things at the RCA in the early ’50s, where she studied illustration and graphics. The combination of these two disciplines is very evident in her work, which has a deliberate, compartmentalised graphic structure, emphasised by the use of a visible, irregular black keyline. Some of her most stunning pieces were commissioned by London Transport for its poster series. Have a look...
She also produced projects for BP, COI, Shell, ICI and Air France, and she created a large mural for the ship SS Dover. Most of her work appeared in the 1960s/1970s, when she taught graphics at the Brighton College of Art and continued to paint. She died in 2000, aged 65.
Last Saturday was a beautifully bright autumnal morning. I strolled from my home in Clerkenwell to Sir John Soane’s Museum at Lincoln’s Inn Fields to see what turned out to be a delightful little exhibition of engravings, etchings, screen prints and lithographs called Face to Face. It is a collection on the development of portraiture by British printmakers from the mid-20th century to the present.
If you have never been to Sir John Soane’s Museum, it is a wonderful, labyrinthine collection of artefacts curated by Soane during the 19th century. It is packed floor to ceiling with classical casts, models, books, paintings and room settings with furniture for every mood.
Above some of the treasures collected by Sir John Soane
Tracey Emin at the White Cube Galley in front of one of her extreem blow ups
Having absorbed the portraits in the exhibition, I thought about a review that I had read the day before in The Guardian. It was about Tracey Emin’s new show at the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey, where she has an array of work from sculpture and neon to embroidery and drawing. In the glowing, five-star review, art critic Jonathan Jones linked Emin’s understanding of drawing with that of Michelangelo. I had to read that line twice. Why?
Well, this is a drawing by Michelangelo…
And this is a drawing by Emin…
Either Jones should have gone to Specsavers or he needs to be certified – or perhaps both. Emin’s drawing ability is frankly laughable. However, Jones went on and on to say that Emin’s drawing skills are “a master class in how to use traditional artistic skills in the 21st century”. He added that her nudes “have a real sense of observation”.
And three more descriptions I couldn’t resist sharing: “Framed blue meditations on the human body”, “Flowing and pooling lines of gouache define form with real authority” and “The rough, unfinished suggestiveness of her style evokes pain, suffering, and solitude”. I agree with the pain and suffering.
I have loved the skill of artists who draw beautifully ever since I was a small boy. In my professional life, I have had the pleasure of commissioning very many great people. So, it was baffling for me when Emin was appointed ‘Professor’ of Drawing at the Royal Academy a few years back. Emin has said she’d never learnt to draw. But the RA still went ahead with the appointment. In a recent Guardian web chat, she said: “They sacked me.” I wonder why?
Imagine the Royal Academy of Music employing a violin teacher who could barely play the instrument. Or a film school appointing an editor who couldn’t edit or a cinematographer who had never used a camera – you get my drift. It just wouldn’t happen. But, in the world of ‘fine’ art, it’s okay; you can appoint a Professor of Drawing who frankly can’t. But at the time of Emin’s appointment, the RA produced a postcard of one of her drawings to sell in its shop…
Going along to the White Cube Gallery did not change my view. If you have a pristine, white gallery space with perfect frames hung and aligned beautifully and the works printed with great craft onto exquisitely textured watercolour paper, virtually anything will look good. In fact, the metal and skeletal plinths that hold Emin’s dreadfully lumpy bronzes are far more interesting than the works they support. It is often the artist fabricators who are the unsung heroes, whose behind-the-scenes work transforms the ideas of artists into reality.
White Cube. The perfect gallery space.
One of Emin's sculptural works.
The tables were very nice.
The Soane exhibition is an example of a collection of artists who have the ability to draw. Emin gets by with extreme blow-ups of her crude drawings. We all know that enlargements, with their accidental textures and imperfections, help make works look far more interesting than they actually are. Emin has now reached such heightened celebrity that she could even wipe her bottom on a piece of the best Fabriano handmade paper and have it framed and hung in the White Cube and it would be lauded by Jones as “The height of truthful autobiographical artistic expression” or some similar claptrap.
Anyway, here are some of my favourite artists/illustrators in no particular order. They all have one thing in common: they can draw…
Glynn Boyd Harte
I could have gone on and on. My point is all the above are widely different in style and technique, but they all have something the Tracey Emin lacks in drawing, supreme ability.
In the 21st century, an artist’s celebrity is as, if not more, important as the work they produce.
From Lto R Harry Evans, Rupert Murdoch and William Rees-Mogg 1981
In 1981, after 12 years as art director of Radio Times, David Driver left to join The Times as it was settling under the new ownership of Rupert Murdoch. The great Harry Evans, editor of The Sunday Times, had taken up the editorship of The Times and appointed Driver as head of design. His task was to implement a major design review of the paper in collaboration with Edwin Taylor, the art director of The Times and The Sunday Times.
But both Evans and Taylor resigned a short time after, following conflicts with Murdoch. Driver found himself working under the editorship of Charles Douglas-Home. He knuckled down and put all of his energy into reorganising the look and feel of the paper, which coincided with a move from hot metal setting to photocomposition. The illustrator was his old friend Peter Brookes, who Driver had not only commissioned throughout his Radio Times years but also on an earlier project, Inside Story, at the beginning of the 1970s.
Covers of Inside Story illustrated by Peter Brookes in 1971.
Driver donated his time to designing and pasting up each issue of Inside Story,using a basic typewriter for the body text and News Gothic for the headlines.
Peter Brookes illustrated the two-colour wraparound covers; as can be seen, early signs of what was to become his destiny were beginning to surface. Driver recalls suggesting political cartooning to Brookes at a lunch. Shortly after that, he sent Driver a rather excitable letter, in which he said:
“Many thanks indeed for a most stimulating lunch yesterday. In fact, so stimulating is the idea of the cartoon that it is well-nigh impossible to think about anything else... I'd give anything for the chance – it’s totally where my interests now lie.”
Brookes did start to produce the occasional political cartoon for The Times but didn’t actually become its full-time political cartoonist until 1992, when Peter Stothard became editor.
Peter Brookes cartoon from 2012 during the phone hacking scandal.
The mid-1980s were a time of tumultuous change in the newspaper world. Eddie Shah, proprietor of the new newspaper Today, confronted the print unions head-on following Margaret Thatcher’s subduing of the print unions. But Shah's paper became the catalyst that ignited a bitter fight with the unions.
Eddie Shah with the first copy of his title Today 1986
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Murdoch was secretly having state-of-the-art printing presses set up at a new building located in Wapping: an initiative that had the full support of Thatcher, who was determined to crush the unions even further.
The Times moved from New Printing House Square, Gray’s Inn Road, to their new offices in Wapping. But, as Driver and his journalistic colleagues were to discover, their new offices quickly became a prime target for the unions, and they were engulfed under siege conditions.
SOGAT's year-long battle with Murdoch.
Driver recalls being bussed in each day to run the gauntlet of the baying print union workers who had surrounded the building in a bitter strike against News International Papers. It finally ended after an agonising year.
The end of an era.
Murdoch was triumphant and the production of newspapers had changed forever: on-screen make-up became the norm, leaving behind the traditional hands-on paste-up.
Driver’s daily routine would start at home at around 8am with a scan through all of the early edition newspapers while simultaneously eating breakfast. On his drive to The Times, he would listen to BBC4’s Today programme. At 11am, he would attend the morning conference with all of the section editors to run through the day's news agenda.
Around midday, Driver would have a conversation with the deputy editor about any special commissions and graphics/illustration. These would be progressed for delivery late afternoon. At 4pm, there would be an afternoon conference, where all news items would be firmed up. Layouts would be developed, assembled and designed ready for around 8pm. Driver followed this relentless routine for 27 years. I may be wrong, but I think he is the newspaper industry’s longest-serving design director.
For Driver, his time overseeing the design of The Times never achieved the same glittering accolades as his period at Radio Times. But it was recognised by the US Society of Newspaper Design Awards in1987. In 2003, he managed the change from broadsheet format to tabloid or ‘compact’ format, as The Times likes to call it. For a while, they ran both broadsheet and compact versions but dropped the former completely in 2004.
In 2006, Driver was involved in the introduction of a new typeface. Neville Brody was commissioned to redefine Times2 and advise on the main paper, which included the new display typeface Times Modern. Luke Prowse designed the display fonts, which were similar in spirit to Mercury, and Edwina Ellis drew a new masthead, which was introduced at the same time.
Just two posters from a run that spans decades designed for the Francis Kyle Gallery 1978
Above stamps for Nature Conservation 1986 and the interior of the presentation pack for Royal Mail 350th anniversary 1985.
One would have thought that, with the relentless schedule of The Times,Driver could do little else, but, as can be seen above, he designed posters and catalogues for long-term client Francis Kyle Gallery and stamps and presentation packs for Royal Mail. In 2001, Driver was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in recognition of his outstanding contribution to design and his long association with Anglia Ruskin University.
Royal Mail stamp book cover and internal presentation pack spread for British Gardens 1983
David Driver at The Times
Driver left The Times on 8th August 2008. As is tradition, The Times produced a special cover for him to keep. He left the now almost silent atmosphere of 21st- century newspaper publishing, none of the curls of blue tobacco smoke hovering over the heads of the journalists tapping away on their noisy typewriters in the newsroom. That was a thing of the past, as was Driver on that last day. I find it astonishing that there is no mention of him on The Times’ Wikipedia page.
Six years on, what has Driver been doing? During the process of writing this profile, I met with him three times as we raked over our collective years in the design world. Like so many really talented creative people I have met over the years, he is extremely modest about his considerable talent – once again confirming my belief that those who have it never shout about it. Their work speaks for itself.
During our conversations, it transpired that, since retiring from The Times, Driver has been working on a series of illustrations based on aspects of the 1960s: a period rich in significant world events that have always fascinated him.
1. The Lee Harvey Oswald plan to assassinate John F. Kennedy 1963.
2. The death of Marilyn Monroe 1962.
3. Soviet space flight
This is not a commissioned project but self-initiated. He brought a large portfolio to my studio via taxi to avoid possible damage. He was visibly resistant about actually showing it to me, prolonging our conversation to delay the moment. He finally admitted that he was very nervous about unveiling the illustrations to me and had been dreading the moment, as very few people had seen them.
4. Animal space flight
Half an hour later, I was in a state of semi-shock. It was some of the most stunning and individual work I had seen in a long time. I asked him why he had never illustrated for Radio Times. “No I never did”, he said. I realised now why he was such a brilliant art director: his personal ability as an illustrator gave him a unique insight into the craft and the possibilities of illustration. During his period at Radio Times, he trail-blazed new ways of explaining complex issues through diagrams, often pairing two different illustrators on one story to great effect.
5. US Moon landing detail 1969.
6. Russian space flight
7. The Cuban missile crisis 1962.
It would be a tragedy if Driver’s work were not exposed in the commercial arena. But finding the right kinds of clients or agent is going to be key for him to work effectively. There are very few art directors working today who could match up to his brilliance, so commissioning him would need a super-bright person with the autonomy or willing to fight the banality of the sales executives and their safe predictability. Only The Guardian, New Yorker, Monocle and The New York Times come to mind as publications that could recognise the possibilities in Driver’s work.
8. The assassination of John.F. Kennedy 1963.
9. The Great Train Robbery 1963.
The bases of all of these illustrations are the humble pencil – and a 7H at that. The immaculately precise cross-hatching is mind-boggling. Some of the images are partly collaged or have areas of metallic paint, but all are symmetrically arranged as only a designer would do. The images reproduced here are so small that they cannot do justice to the originals, but I have pulled out some details to give a better idea.
I sincerely hope that we will see Driver’s work used in a sophisticated publishing arena in the not too distant future.
If you missed part one of the David Driver story click here
And if you would like to hear an interview with The Times political cartoonist Peter Brookes click here
It was almost as big as a telephone box and from the late 1950’s to the 1970’s, most design studios and freelance illustrators had one of these beauties.
When scalable photocopiers were introduced in the 1980’s the writing was on the wall for the old workhorse, and then along came the Mac to finally killed it off. A few must survive in some old dusty analog studios or are slowly rusting in garden sheds up and down the country.
The illustrator Raymond Briggs wrote the following little appreciation (well, maybe not appreciation) of the Grant for AOI's magazine Illustrators back in the late 1970’s.
THE SEVENTIES ILLUSTRATOR'S PRAYER
Which art in College,
The Grant be Thy Name.
Thy Copy come.
Thy light be on,
In Art as It is in Design.
Give us this Way our Easy Bread,
And Forgive us our Tracepapers,
As we Forgive Them that Trace Off before us.
And Lead us not into Life Classes;
But Deliver us from Drawing:
For Thine is The Kodak,
The Polaroid and Pentax,
For Agfa and Agfa.
© Raymond Briggs
At the same time, the wonderfully witty Arthur Robbins produced this delightful ditty to compliment Briggs' poem.
This little series was produced to populate an annual report for City & Guilds designed by The Partners in 1994.
Thompson, sadly no longer with us, was also an outstanding graphic designer for which he was made a Royal Designer for Industry. More about him here.
Almost four decades ago, John Thirsk was an illustrator who was popping up everywhere. His reportage style made him the perfect choice for projects that needed a sense of ‘on the spot’ visual reality. Here are two lovely examples illustrated by Thirsk, which were designed by a very talented and prominent consultancy at the time, Delaney & Ireland.
Both projects take the form of slip-cased portfolios. The first (produced in 1978) records a two-week journey by narrow boat loaned to John Thirsk by the British Waterways Board after they had seen a series of drawings by him of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal; these drawings had been commissioned by The Sunday Times.
The second (produced in 1983) promotes Croft Port and captures the history of the company. Through Thirsk’s fluid line, the illustrations visually conjures up the atmosphere of Portugal and the process of producing their rich liquid treasure.
In 1978, during my time as Art Director at Fontana Paperbacks, I commissioned Thirsk to illustrate the cover of H. G. Wells’ Kipps. It still looks very fresh…
If you’d like to see more of John's work, you can reach him here.
Gerard Hoffnung (1925 –1959) was an illustrator and musician. He was best known for his humorous cartoons on musical themes, and also illustrated the works of novelists and poets. In 1956 Hoffnung mounted the first of his Hoffnung Festivals in London, at which classical music was spoofed for comic effect, with contributions from many eminent musicians. Here are some examples of his lovely line...