Maximum Meaning - Abram Games At Sunderland Museum

By Alastair Smith | 07 April 2005
Shows a poster of a female in profile above the words Join the ATS.

ATS by Abram Games. Courtesy of the Estate of Abram Games.

Alastair Smith, 24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Journalist, made his way over to Wearside to take in this stunning exhibition.

As an official war poster artist during the Second World War, graphic designer Abram Games created many images which are instantly recognisable, though not instantly identifiable as the work of one man.

Games was a prolific designer whose talent and creativity was not just limited to the war years or to the design of posters.

This exhibition, at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens until June 5 2005, offers a retrospective of Games’ work and an opportunity to assess his philosophy of “maximum meaning, minimum means” which was applied to all his work.

Shows a poster with an image of a human figure, its ribs made to look like ears of wheat, below the slogan Guerre a la Faim.

Guerre a la Faim by Abram Games. Courtesy of the Estate of Abram Games.

Guerre a La Faim is a striking example of how this philosophy is applied and demonstrates that sometimes a simple image with less text can have a greater impact. It also shows the designer’s devotion to humanitarian causes.

Sample sketches, showing the development of Games’ ideas through to the finished product, provide glimpses of the creative process and the extraordinary skill and detail with which he worked.

Abram Games’ skill with an airbrush was so developed that in his more flamboyant moods he signed his cheques with it, and tiny sketches on display also demonstrate this talent.

When designing posters Games would first produce images in thumbnail size, as posters would need to have impact when seen from a distance.

Once the posters were recreated in full size he would hang them on his wall for several weeks, assessing their suitability. Only when he was happy with them would he then complete his signature with a full stop.

Shows a photograph of two coffee-making machines facing away from each other.

Cona coffee machines by Abram Games. Courtesy the Estate of Abram Games.

Amongst the images on display are designs for the 1951 Festival of Britain emblem and the first animated screen identity, as well as advertisements for Guinness, Shell and the Financial Times.

But Games’ obsession for design did not end with the aesthetic. Unable to operate the Cona Coffee Machine, Games ended up buying a lathe, hiring an art student and redesigning the product entirely.

Games’ association with the Gestetner Corporation also resulted in him taking one of their copiers apart and redesigning the interior to create a new copying system, which was eventually superseded by Xerox.

As part of the exhibition a symposium on graphic design was held at the University of Sunderland and attended by Abram Games’ children Naomi and Daniel, who gave a lecture on their father’s work.

Shows a photograph of a woman and a man standing either side of a huge poster with a large, red letter G above the word Guiness, also in red.

Abram Games' children Naomi (left) and Daniel. Courtesy Tyne and Wear Museums.

Naomi is a designer herself and designed children’s books before her father died in 1996. Since then she has carried on her father’s legacy by helping to organise the exhibition and publishing a book.

“Since he died this has been a full time job for me. The plan is to have the work shown outside of London for the next three years and to show it in America, on the continent and hopefully Israel. Then the work will just be put in an archive which students can come and visit.”

For more information on Abram Games, his work and the book which supports the exhibition visit

Shows the Renaissance in the Regions logo.

Alastair Smith is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Writer in the North East region. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

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