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Max Forbes was the consummate graphic designer. A natural exponent of Robert Pirsiq's 'quality' principle, he brought to his life and work an unerring rightness.
His approach was all encompassing. The clothes, the food, the wine, the car, the corporate identity-all were one to Max. If they did not celebrate the highest quality, then they did not exist.
He drove a Bentley.
138 He was one of that generation of Australians who lost their youth in the war, not reaching the Royal Melbourne Technical College (as RMIT was then known) until I947· where he briefly studied industrial design.
By 1948 he was assistant to Richard Houghton James, the Engishman who had arrived from London by way of the Collings studio in Sydney, and who turned the Melbourne commercial art establishment on its ear.
Graphic design was an unknown term in those days, but Jimmy James brought with him the whiff of the English design rennaissance which followed the end of the war.
Max Forbes went to see for himself, and was elected a member of the prestigious Society of Industrial Artists (MSIA) in London in 1951. There he met, and worked with, the great English design pioneers, Milner Gray of the Design Research Unit, and FHK (Freddie) Henrion.
On returning to Melbourne he and Peter Clemenger presented an exhibition of advertising and graphic design pieces they had collected during their travels together in Europe. Called the 'International Exhibition of Advertising and Design', and located at the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings, in 1953, it showed for the first time an array of work of leading international designers, previously only seen, with luck, in magazines-work of people like Herbert Leupin, Donald Brun, OHW Hadank, Kurt Wirth and many others.
This exhibition, which Max designed, had a profound effect on our fledgling industry in Melbourne, and probably more than anything marks the beginning of an awareness of the graphic designer as someone special Max's achievement covered graphics, furniture, exhibitions, packaging, and early environmental work. He designed street decorations for the Olympic Games in '56, the Royal visit in '62, and Moomba in '63 in a time when our city fathers could barely think beyond a few straggly banners.
He was one of the four Australian designers chosen by the Reserve Bank compete for the design of Australia's decimal currency.
The late fifties early sixties, were exciting years in the Melbourne design world. There were no big studios. Most designers worked with one or two assistants, or none at all. Typesetting was archaic, with little choice of fonts Clients for the most part were reactionary, most designers, cautious.
But there were strong influences on those who chose to be receptive.
Max Forbes and Dick Beck held the English line, with fine craftsmanship and elegant typography predominant Arthur Leydin, fresh from Will Burton's studio in the States and his 'Dimension' group of freelance designers, pursued the muscular American approach and over everybody, like an Illokusai wave, splashed the Swiss School of typography
And Les Mason was yet to arrive. Max Forbes led by example. He was uncompromising with clients, generous in his encouragement of younger designers, fierce in his denunciation of anything phoney, and never for a moment deviated from his commitment to quality. If it was not as perfect as a Gothic Arch, then more work needed to be done on it.
I celebrate his elevation into Paperpoint AGDA's Hall of Fame.
Max Robinson 1996
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