Top Graphic Designer – Robert Brownjohn

Robert Brownjohn

had a very intensely productive but very short life working as a graphic designer but probably better known for his connection to the Bond films with the spectacular title shots of ‘From Russia With Love’ and ‘Goldfinger’. His main style was to blend the formal concepts of graphic design with the more modern fifties and sixties culture both in the United States and in Great Britain. He is noted for helping to redefine people’s understanding of graphic design from the more traditional and formal to the conceptual emphasis on content over form with ordinary images.

robert brownjohn Robert Brownjohn was born on August 8th 1925 in Newark New Jersey. His parents were British born and his father was a bus driver. Once he started attending secondary school at a New Jersey high school an art teacher noticed his flair for art and helped him to win a place at the Institute of Design in Chicago. There he met and émigré Mondy Nagy who had emigrated from Germany. He had adapted the Institute of Chicago into the style of the famous Bauhaus in Germany.

LIFE BJMondy Nagy had a philosophy which was a mix of modernism and constructivism, leading the students into a very novel and modern way of thinking about their designs.

‘The goal is no longer to recreate the classical craftsman, artist and artisan with the aim of fitting him into the industrial age,… by now technology has become as much a part of life as metabolism. The task therefore is to educate the contemporary man as an integrator, the new designer able to evaluate human needs warped by machine civilisation…’

The influence Mondy Nagy had on Brownjohn was, of course, to be seen in much of his work.

LIFE goldfingerAfter attending the Institute of Design, Brownjohn obtained his first job with an architectural planner in Chicago and after a while returned to the Institute to teach.

As the 1950s approached, Brownjohn went freelance and had many clients including Columbia Records. During this period he started to lead an increasingly flamboyant lifestyle mixing with people from his other great love – music. He was often to be seen with the jazz musicians Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. However, he also at this stage started to take heroin which was later to be instrumental in shortening his life. In 1957 he met Donna Walters and they had a daughter called Eliza.

Some of his works of this period were the album cover for the Philharmonic Orchestra in 1958 where he fused his love of music with typography and transformed some bricks (the idea of which he had obtained from his little daughter’s building bricks’ together with some disused typographer’s blocks to create the image of old and new. This mish mash of wooden blocks showed his intellectual ability to think outside the box whilst also showing his appreciation of everyday objects. He was also to use bare breasts for Robert Fraser’s Obsession and also show a gold plated torso of a woman for the titles of ‘Goldfinger’.

In 1957, Brownjohn, Chermayeff and Geismar went into business together in New York emphasising their work on typographical graphic design. They produced a booklet called ‘Watching words move’. This was a series of typographical jokes that had been inspired by games they had played in their breaks in the business. They were also asked to produce the Xmas decorations for Pepsi Cola in 1957 which caused a stir because of its flamboyance.

Unfortunately, in 1959, Brownjohn’s drug habit got worse and he decided to move to London for a new start. This was at the time of the swinging sixties and London was a hot bed of opportunity for artists and designers. Whilst here he joined the agency J Walter Thompson and in 1962 he left to join  McCann Erickson. At this time, Donna became unhappy and left Brownjohn to move with their daughter to Ibiza.

Brownjohn now started working more for movies and was contacted by Harry Salzman of James Bond fame to produce the sequence on the second James Bond movie ‘From Russia with Love’ and later ‘Goldfinger’. He used projected moving footage onto the bodies of models and filmed the results. Maholy-Nagy had used this technique on early constructivist movies in the 1920s.

Some of the most notable work from Brownjohn was in 1969 the Rolling Stones album ‘Let it Bleed’. He used moving graphics for Midland Bank in their sequence of five years of Money Talks commercials seen at the cinema. For Pirelli tyres he produced the film ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’. His final piece was a poster for the New York peace campaign in 1969 with the ace of spades playing card in laid on a plain white background with the letters PE on the left and a question mark on the right.

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