Tom Eckersley: artist and teacher

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Tom Eckersley was the most original poster artist this country has produced and I haven’t forgotten the Beggarstaff Brothers. His ideas were deep-rooted in the visual: images sublimated into essences by his power to get maximum impact from minimum description; shapes simplified by exquisite drawing. He had little need of words, but words used by him had a subtle edge of wit, emanating still from image.” This was how Ray Watkinson, fellow Lancastrian, colleague and long-standing friend remembers Tom who died last week aged 82.

Richard Hendel, the American book designer who also knew him well, said “Tom was one of those legends, like Paul Rand in this country, who more-or-less created the field of graphic design. His bold, direct images look just as good now as they did when he made them, no matter whether it was his London Transport posters of the Thirties or the ones he did in the Seventies. He wasn’t just making pretty images; there were always intelligent, often witty, ideas underlying all his work.”

Eckersley’s posters were only part of his legacy – as the inspirational head of department at London College of Printing he was the hub of a remarkable staff which made LCP a magnet for the ambitious from around the world. I heard David Lock explaining the college to a German designer as the Fort Worth of graphic design.

“Many are the times when a tutor, struggling to pin-point a rogue element in a particular student’s work, would find Tom nearby and ready, like a casual magician, to find the solution.” says fellow-teacher Jack Warner.

His memory of people was also remarkable, according to a former student who was astonished when Tom recalled “Yarom Vardimon from Israel, isn’t it?” immediately as they met in a college corridor more than 30 years after he had graduated.

A large contingent of today’s visual practitioners owe part of their success to Tom, I count myself very fortunate to be one of them.

Tor Pettersen

Tor Pettersen & Partners,

London W1

I only met Tom Eckersley once – an elegant, self-effacing man who has always been one of my heroes, and one of the two influences (the other being Saul Bass) in switching my own career path from painting to graphic design. I wish I had known him better.

His work embodied all that was best in graphic design (a term which may not have existed when he started out); humour, wit, the visual double entendre, his ability to elicit emotion without sentimentality, and his economy of style all contributed to his influence on the influential in today’s graphics world.

By all accounts, he was also an excellent teacher, holding the strong belief that it is the practitioner who is best placed to develop the creative skills of his students (a philosophy which has sadly been eroded in the Nineties’ design educational system).

Eckersley was a major force in developing a creative discipline which even Government now acknowledges as being crucial to Britain’s cultural and commercial development.

He will be greatly missed – not least by his students.

Nicholas Jenkins

The Jenkins Group

London SW1

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