MICHAL BONCZA recommends an exhibition of posters by women designers that have adorned London’s transport system for a century
Poster Girls: A Century of Art and Design London Transport Museum 5/5
OVER the years, London transport posters have been faithful visual companions for millions, tempting travellers with seductive destinations, adventure and discovery – who’ll ever forget David Booth’s Tate Gallery by Tube?
But it’s a little-known fact that many of the most outstanding have been created by women and what this exhibition does is to highlight their role in providing moments of uplift during what can be a gruelling negotiation of the capital’s transport system.
The “girls” of the tongue-in-cheek title are not on the posters but the creative force behind them and the 130 designs on display reveal an astonishing graphic eloquence and vigorous imagination, threaded though with elements of humour or reflection.
Many a male designer must have envied their success back in the day. At the time, they blew to smithereens the idea that only “feminine” subjects were appropriate for women to address.
The Tube owes much of its visual identity to Frank Pick who, as managing director of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London, was behind some of its most enduring icons — the Johnston typeface, Charles Holden’s art deco station architecture, the roundel Tube logo and Harry Beck’s legendary map of the underground, to name but a few.
His vision of promoting exceptional visual communication in public life included the commissioning of the women designers on display in this exhibition but, sadly, they were paid less for their work than their male counterparts. A few hid behind initials or anonymity and their work remains unattributed.
Included in the exhibition is the first poster by a woman, Ella Coates’s 1910 Kew Gardens by Tram. It oozes the pastoral tranquillity of autumn, with transparent waters and warm ochres of vegetation.
There is subtle political ridicule of the elites in Regent Park Zoo by Arnrid Banniza Johnston and brilliantly succinct advice by “Miss Bowden” to Travel Underground when it rains, while the composition of Epsom Summer Meeting by Andrew Power (Sybil Andrews) takes the breath away.
Equally stunning is Dora M Batty’s RAF Display Colindale with an art deco spiral at its centre and Lesley Saddington’s Chagallesque Simply Showbiz by Tube and Bus.
Reproductions of these sumptuous visuals were bought to adorn homes in the capital and the relatively inexpensive reproductions of them now available make an attractive gift option.
The London Transport Museum has also published an album dedicated entirely to the work of these trailblazing paragons of design, with excellent large-scale reproductions, historic background and biographical notes on the 170 women known to have designed posters for the transport network.
The exhibition continues until January 2019 and is accompanied by an array of events for all ages up until then, themed to celebrate the passing of the Representation of the People Act of 1918, which gave women the right to vote. For more information visit ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on
COMPETITION Win a copy of Poster Girls Courtesy of LT Museum, we’ve a copy of Poster Girls to give away as a prize. All you have to do is tell us the number of women who designed posters for LT and send your answer on a postcard to: Poster Girls Competition, 52 Beachy Road, London E3 2NS or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please ensure you include your full name and address with your answer. Closing date: Monday November 27, 2017