Poster of the Week: London Zoo

LondonZooAbramGames
London Zoo, Abram Games, 1976 ©Estate of Abram Games

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In 1975, 38 years after receiving his first commission from London Transport, Abram Games was asked to design a poster for the Zoo-   it would be his last design for them. a subject that would bring  back happy memories of taking his children to the zoo, a short tube journey from his London home.

In October 1975, Michael Levey, then assistant to Bryce Beaumont, wrote to Games stating;

‘We need a gay, colourful and light-hearted poster with a message integrated with the design. I would suggest we try not to complicate it too much, partly because our chairman is a great believer in classic simplicity, and partly because, although we fight to maintain standards, it must be admitted that, for all the giant technical advances of recent years, one cannot always expect the level of individual craftsmanship that we took for granted, say, twenty years ago!’

A few months later Beaumont retired and Levey became London Transport’s Publicity Officer. By now, London Transport was publishing only four posters a year, most of which were contracted out to advertising agencies. Levey was confident that he had commissioned the right designer for the job. Abram’s last few posters for London Transport had been graphic, colourful designs and in 1970 he had designed a geometric tiled mural for Stockwell on the new Victoria Line. He no longer used the airbrush, but painted his artwork in flat, brightly coloured gouache, which afforded his designs ‘more power for impact, a freer relaxed approach and a reduction of printing costs’. Abram’s shibboleth, ‘maximum meaning, minimum means’ was more apt than ever.

London Transport had published many posters for London Zoo since 1913. On all of the posters Regent’s Park or Camden Town were recommended as the closest stations, so it was unusual that Abram’s poster brief specified Baker Street as being the nearest. Zoo posters were mostly comprised of animal illustrations with added text. No designer had yet integrated imagery, typography, or the recognizable roundel. Abram had decided his poster would be a visual puzzle, designed to intrigue and be witty. He sketched his initial thoughts on layout paper, which the Estate of Abram Games still treasures. He experimented with zebras, giraffes and leopards – all animals with strong geometric markings. Eventually, he decided to settle on a tiger, constructed from bars and circles using the same elements of London Transport’s roundel, which he concealed within the poster. Abram often hid the names of his loved ones in his posters. His first granddaughter was born in Israel just before Impress printed the poster in 1976, thus ‘Revital’ appears in Hebrew script.

abramgames_sketches
© Estate of Abram Games

The tiger was a huge hit with the public and attracted the attention of Ernst Gombrich, the art historian who admiringly scrutinized the poster in ‘The Image and the Eye’ in 1982.

Abram responded to Gombrich, stating ‘Your philosophical analysis intrigued me because a designer’s approach takes most of the described considerations ‘en courant’ as it were and without deliberate consciousness except at the back of the mind. All the same, as an ‘analytical worker’ I recalled and recognized my developments as I read your words.’

Games’s ‘Tiger’ is still for sale in London Transport Museum’s shop. His family are proud that the poster has been made into a stamp celebrating London Underground’s 150th anniversary.

AbramGames_stamp

Games said ‘I never work large because posters seen from a distance are small. If ideas don’t work an inch high, they will never work’. Had he been here today he would have jested, ‘I told you it would make a great stamp!’

Written by Naomi Games

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