The Letraset Insurectionary
Review of David King Designer Activist Visual Historian, by Rick Poynor
Like many1970s teenagers, a postal order dispatched to Finsbury Park, London initiated my engagement with politics. I received by return several sheets of lapel stickers, a poster and some leaflets. All bore a five-point star enclosing the words ‘ROCK AGAINST RACISM’.
As important as the politics and music was this material’s visual impact. There were John Heartfield-esque collages juxtaposing British fascist leaders with Hitler. Margaret Thatcher’s head appeared severed with a sickle, and missiles reigned on piles of skeletons. Taut slogans in Franklin Gothic Bold appeared at attention-grabbing angles.
As Rick Poynor’s ‘David King Designer Activist Visual Historian’, establishes, the graphic identity of the 70s and 80s left was largely the work of this one designer – who died in 2016. As well as Rock Against Racism and the Anti Nazi League (he designed both logos), The Anti Apartheid Movement, CND, several international solidarity campaigns and various left newspapers all owed their identity to King. His work for the NUJ has never been bettered – as well as the posters, King designed the NUJ posters based on classic film stills that still hang in our offices.
Agitprop was only one side of King, however. From 1965 to 1975 as designer The Sunday Times Magazine, he pioneered an approach to words and pictures that is imitated yet. He designed book covers, album sleeves and was an internationally recognised curator of early Soviet graphics.
Poynor’s beautifully-produced monograph is the summation such a body of work deserves – as well as an evocative transport to the days when the off-set litho appeared to be history’s locomotive.
David King Designer Activist Visual Historian, by Rick Poynor. Yale University Press £30.