Creative Thinking, Views and Musings

Art in the Underground

Monday, May 10, 2010
I first became aware of the tremendous contribution made by London Transport to the graphic design and art world while studying art in Dublin during the early 80’s. Since the late nineteenth century, London Transport had been showcasing English artists both on its station walls in the form of posters and in it’s printed passenger information. On a trip to London in 1980, I visited the London Transport museum that had just opened that year, and fell in love with the company’s collection of posters designed for both advertising and informational purposes.

Many years later in 1996, working on the corporate identity redesign for Ireland’s national public transport company, CIE Group, I returned to the museum for inspiration. I bought a great little book on London Transports design and art history and fell in love once again – with the posters of London Transport.

Although the graphic posters of London Transport had come into use in the late eighteen hundreds, it was not until Mr. Frank Pick began to implement a comprehensive corporate identity system in 1908 that the graphic poster became a central part of London Transports visual identity. In the 1920s and 30s, London Transport posters had become extremely high quality with many well-known contemporary artists being commissioned. The collection of work spanning almost 120 years represents the finest representations of cubism, futurism, and vorticism.

London Transport’s commitment to art and design succeeded in bringing an awareness of art and design to a much wider audience than art galleries could ever have done. The company’s continued efforts to showcase the very best in contemporary art and design is obvious when you travel around London.

Next time you’re there, the London Transport museum is a must! Here is just a small sampling of posters:

Ancient and Modern, by Bill Leeson, 1966.Queue please, by Harry Stevens, 1977. Medium: Gouache.London Transport at London's service, by Misha Black and John Barker, 1947.Highgate Ponds, by Howard Hodgkin, 1989.
Museum of Natural History, by Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1923. Medium: Gouache.Power, by Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1930. Medium: Gouache.London Transport, by Man Ray, 1938.Tube map, by David Shrigley, 2006.
Women Conductors Required, by unknown artist, 1951.The Tower, by Hans Unger, 1969.Pantomimes and Circuses, by Joan Beales, 1954.