Tom Eckersley, one of the godfathers of modern graphic design, would have turned 100 this year. Tom Eckersley: Master of the Poster, an exhibition at the London College of Communication, celebrates the centenary of his birth, showcasing 40 of his most striking posters from the 1940s to the 1980s. He was, perhaps, one of the few designers who could take a subject like the dangers of long hair and turn it into an artful and bold work of art.
After working as an RAF cartographer during WWII, Eckersley became a professor at the LCC (then called the London College of Printing), where he set up the U.K.’s first undergraduate graphic design course in 1954. Many of his students would later rise to fame: he taught wild illustrator Ralph Steadman (of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas notoriety), art world mogul Charles Saatchi, and advertising’s John Hegarty.
“As 21st century communication design and media races ever onwards, finding a moment to pause and reflect upon the discipline’s past, amidst the barrage of multi-disciplinary, multi-platform, multi-layered visual messages, is increasingly relevant,” Professor Lawrence Zeegen, Dean of the School of Design at LCC, said in a statement. “It is crucial in our understanding and appreciation of communication design’s past, present, and future.”
Eckersley's playful, no-fuss style was characterized by colorful geometric shapes, often resembling cut-paper collage, and his work was comissioned by clients from Shell, Guinness, and Gillette to the British Leprosy Relief Association. One former student, David Hillman of Pentagram, remembers Eckersley as "famous for expressing two ideas in one drawing, for instance one face with two expressions, and in all his posters there was always a strong idea."
Tom Eckersley: Master of the Poster is on view at the London College of Communication until January 29th.
[All images courtesy of the Estate of Tom Eckersley/ University of the Arts London Eckersley Archive.]