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Geoffrey and Dahl Collings were extraordinary people. They trained in Australia - he in Queensland she in Sydney. They met and married in Sydney and began to work together. We're talking the thirties here. Most of you reading this will gulp with embarrassment that you are being asked to take people from that period seriously, but remember that in Europe Surrealism and Dada were grabbing people by the throat, and Rodchenko and Tatlin were working design revolutionaries, not just big thick books in the University
Library from which could be gleaned some nifty typography.
E McKnight Kauffer was designing his famous London Underground posters at the time. AM Cassandre in Paris was similarly redefining the poster and Raymond Loewy was redefining just about everything. The Bauhaus was still in full swing, redefining anything that Loewy missed, and Hitler was about to come down on them all like a ton of bricks, just in case there wasn't enough excitement.
In Australia the pastoral poster was all the vogue. You could sell just about anything with a paddock full of sheep. But to whom? The target market was less than six million
The bright young designers of this period, people like Geoff and Dahl (Dulcie),
Alistair Morrison, Gordon Andrews, and Douglas Annand were well aware of what was going on in Europe. Gebrauchsgraphik magazine from Germany got them all goosey and various of them departed Australia with the intention of working abroad, not just sightseeing.
Geoff Collings had worked in London on a previous trip. In 1930 he had a job at WH Smith and Sons, and had done night classes at some famous art schools. After his return and their marriage in 1933 they planned to revisit London. They hit town in 1935.
Then something happened which in my view moulded the attitudes of the best of Australia's graphic designers from then on. While Geoff was working as Art Director of American ad agency Erwin Wasey, Dalll fell into a job at Simpson of Piccadilly, a famous London department store, which was in the process of what we would now call a total re-branding.
The enlightened mandarins of Simpson had miraculously hired Lazlo Maholy-Nagy and Gyorgy Kepes, two of the senior professors of the Bauhaus who had recently left Germany after the Nazis had closed the famous institution.
This, she says, was the high point of her life, and she has written eloquently on what it was like to work with the Hungarian mavens of the
She introduced fellow Australian, Alistair Morrison into the melange, and he has spoken of Maholy-Nagy's effect on the way he saw the relationships between art and design.
Gordon Andrews and Englishman, Richard Haughton James were there at the time, Jimmy James inheriting Geoff's job at Erwin Wasey.
They had certainly made their presence felt in pre-war London, and in the catalogue of an exhibition of the work of Geoff, Dahl, and Alistair Morrison called Three Australians at the Lund Humphries Galleries in 1938, no less a luminary than E McKnight Kauffer wrote that the quality they shared of simple directness 'seems to come from their affinity with the open air life of their own
Returning to Australia in 1938 (Wow! Did these people move!), they established the 'Design Centre' a multidisciplinary entity with their colleague Jimmy Haughton James, and they promoted the Bauhaus concepts of 'Useful Art'. They produced graphics, product design, exhibitions, photography and film, an involvement which seduced them entirely, and by 1954 their work in graphic design began to diminish and they worked solely in film until retirement. Their energy and achievement influenced the Sydney scene enormously and the craftoriented essences of Gordon Andrews, AI Morrison, Harry Williamson, and through the people that Harry taught, permeated the Bauhaus legacy through generations of designers.
Jimmy James came to Melbourne and that force was redirected through Max Forbes, Dick Beck, even Les Mason sniffed a bit of it, and Brian Sadgrove a lot.
Our piece of Utopia ... our unbroken link to the Bauhaus.
Max Robinson 2002
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