Shamble into London’s National Army Museum for the exhibition “The Art of Persuasion: Wartime Posters by Abram Games” and you’ll stride out taller—chin raised, posture erect, snapping off crisp salutes at passersby. September 1 marks the 80th anniversary of Germany’s invasion of Poland, which plunged Europe into a second world war. This arcade of wartime and postwar propaganda commemorates the power of one man’s spartan imagination to rouse Britain to face the momentous challenge. Raised in London’s East End, Games (real name, Abraham Gamse) was a graphic-design prodigy elevated to the task of serving as the War Office’s official war-poster artist.
Despite the exhibition’s title, Games’s bold art did more than exercise persuasion. It sought to change not only minds but behavior, motivating, inspiring, and activating average civilians to heroic and heraldic purpose. Idealism and industrial-strength imagery were boldly wed in his work. The brushed-metal finish and streamlined dynamism of the posters—their futurist and Constructivist vocabulary of vortex spirals, curved arrows, bladed lines, and pumped-up typography—are infused with uniform urgency, and suffused with a Hollywood glamour that some found unsuitable. (Games’s recruitment poster for the women’s branch of the army was pulled after fussbudgets complained that its profile of a “blonde bombshell” looked like a lipstick ad.) Games also strove to prepare soldiers for the postwar peace. His poster promoting education is ribboned with the promise of “New Knowledge New Worlds New Pleasures.” Sounds good—sign us up! —James Wolcott