Edward McKnight Kauffer

September 3, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Poster_1My recent post about the new Oyster Card holders and how much better they were than last years Olympic posters, reminded me that I’ve never written about one of this countries most gifted poster designers…

Despite being generally thought of in terms of British graphic design, Edward Kauffer was actually born in Montana, USA in 1890. After moves to San Fransisco (1910) and Chicago (1912) in the continuing pursuit of learning and perfecting his art, McKnight Kauffer was honoured with the offer of sponsorship by one of his professors, Joseph McKnight to study abroad at the Académie Moderne in Paris. In gratitude for this show of faith, Kauffer added the professors name to his own…

Unfortunately for the young American, this chance of a lifetime was unduly cut short, as within a year of his arrival in Paris in 1913, War broke out across Europe and he moved on once again for the relative safety of London. It was here that he finally got the opportunity to allow his abilities and his now familiar style to develop. Thanks to commissions predominantly from London Transport and London Underground, McKnight Kauffer produced over 140 of the most memorable and arresting images of the period, an achievement matched only, I would argue, by Abram Games.

After this hugely successful career in the UK, War interrupted McKnight Kauffer yet again and he left for New York in 1940, where he struggled to match his previous successes despite producing some very memorable works for American Airlines.

McKnight Kauffer’s graphic style is at once challenging and comforting. To my eyes his work was, and indeed remains successful, due to its skillful combination of the bold often abstract shapes, dynamic lines and bright colours that are so intrinsic to Interwar Modernism, whilst at the same time offering a level of familiarity in the form of easily recognisable flowers, birds, people, trains and the like, that allows the work to be enjoyed by as wide an audience as possible.

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