The playful wit of Games

A tiger constructed of rails and roads and wheels. This witty image by Abram Games (1914-1996) is in a show of original artwork for posters at London's Transport Museum (until Jan. 4). London Transport has had a long history of commissioning posters to advertise its services. At one time it notably employed some of Britain's most adventurous artists in an "art for all" effort to persuade people that all they had to do was hop on a bus or delve into the Underground to be wafted away from the concrete jungle to places idyllic and natural - parks and gardens, the zoo, even the distant countryside.

Games was a prolific graphic designer, responsible for a string of posters, as well as book covers, stamps, and emblems (he preferred the word to "logos") over his 60-year career.

But he was a "commercial" rather than a "fine" artist. The line between these two realms is not as clearly drawn as most fine artists would like to think. It is even possible that billboards and posters might tell future historians more about the mind-set of specific periods than paintings do. And who would say that Games is not an artist in the fullest sense of the word?

Never a team man, he worked alone. His posters, though impersonal in their immaculate finish, often expressed his own fiercely held convictions, particularly during World War II. Even this late poster for London Transport was tellingly done by an artist who never drove a car. His daughter, Naomi Games, records in a new book about her father that he used public transport, "freeing himself to doodle and think."

His doodles evolved into sophisticated visual puzzles designed to intrigue.

His tiger poster, showing Games's awareness of optical and kinetic art by artists like Agam or Vasarely, demands several looks before its hidden signs are all revealed. Double meanings abound. The word "zoo" doubles as a moving vehicle; the engaging beast's tail is like a route map, its whiskers suggest rails; its haunch is the London Transport "roundel," the organization's longstanding and universally familiar emblem.

Another exhibition of Abram Games's work is on view at London's Design Museum until Nov. 30.

• 'Abram Games, Graphic Designer: Maximum Meaning, Minimum Means,' by Naomi Games, Catherine Moriarty, and June Rose, is published in the UK by Lund Humphries and in the United States by Princeton Architectural Press.

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