Bob Gill, graphic designer who elevated the "message", dies at 90

Bob Gill, the irreverent graphic designer who helped transform his profession from its decorative roots into a business of ideas, died N...


Bob Gill, the irreverent graphic designer who helped transform his profession from its decorative roots into a business of ideas, died Nov. 9 in Brooklyn. He was 90 years old.

The death, in a hospice, was confirmed by his wife, Sara Fishko.

Mr. Gill once played the piano with the drummer Charlie watts (and urged him to join an unknown group called the Rolling Stones); co-created “Beatlemania,” the late 1970s pop extravaganza on Broadway; wrote and illustrated a dozen children’s books; and redesigned High Times magazine, the once-fashionable chronicle of drug culture. But these achievements were parallel concerts.

His profession and his religion were graphic design, and with peers like George Lois, the legendary artistic director of Esquire who once dropped an image of Andy Warhol in a can of soup for the cover of his magazine – Mr. Gill was part of a revolution in his profession. He passionately felt that good design was about communicating a message, not imposing a fashionable aesthetic on a customer.

For a long time, much of the history of art in the service of commerce has been devoted to decorating, “making things elegant,” said Michael Bierut, partner at Pentagram, the global design firm from a London advertising agency. founded in part by Mr. Gill.

“Bob wasn’t the only one of his generation who thought you should be able to sell the idea over the phone,” he added, “that it didn’t depend on your sense of color or your ability to make a beautiful layout. But Bob was absolutely obsessed with it.

Salty and opinionated, Mr. Gill was a master of the visual pun. A 1964 advertisement for the El Al airline, promoting Israel’s mild climate, showed a photograph of a man lying on a beach chair and wearing only a bathing suit and diaper. solar oil. “This is a winter coat,” the tagline reads.

In 1970, for a brochure of a car rental company listing its terms, Mr. Gill, to convey the idea that the terms were easy to understand, created a title page which stated in large print: “We hate the fine print. A 1976 poster for Broadway was a collage of the kind of superlatives used in theater reviews – “Spectacular” … “Masterful” … “Unbelievable” – and seemed to be ripped off the headlines.

His poster for Bob Fosse’s 1978 musical, “Dancin ‘,” was a crazy collage of limbs – an indelible image for generations of New Yorkers.

“He was modern without being a strict modernist,” said Steven Heller, art director and author of, among other design books, “The Moderns: Midcentury American Graphic Design”. “His work was not very rewarding. His work was down to earth.

Mr Bierut said: “He was a bit of a revolutionary bomb-thrower working in the system. His real legacy is the ideological stance he has taken on behalf of the profession. He was really a polemicist.

Mr. Gill was perhaps also known for his oft-quoted sayings – spoken at conferences and collected in books like “Forget All the Rules You Ever Learned About Graphic Design” (1981), a bible for generations of designers – that he was for his personal projects.

“If you have something true to say, it will come to itself,” was one; “Boring words need interesting graphics” was another. His most categorical conviction: “There are no bad clients, there are only bad designers. “

Mr. Gill taught design for 50 years, primarily at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, where he joined the faculty in 1956. He was a captivating lecturer – fiery, acerbic and thought-provoking. When asked, as he inevitably was, what his favorite job was, he might first bark, as he did in a short film produced by the school in 2018, a Yiddish term for an idiot before saying, “It doesn’t make any difference. I am not interested in the problem, I am interested in the solution. My approach, which hasn’t changed much, is to fight against the influence of culture.

Robert Charles Gill was born January 17, 1931 in Brooklyn. His father, Jack Gill, left when Bob was 2, and his mother, Frieda (Gotthelf) Gill, struggled to make a living as a piano teacher. Bob was his first student. He was part of a jazz band at the age of 10, and as a teenager he spent summers playing at the seaside resorts of Borscht-Belt in the Catskills.

He attended Manhattan High School of Music & Art (now Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts), spent two years at the Philadelphia Museum School of Art (now University of the Arts) and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for six months. Enlisted in the Army in 1952, he was a member of the Design Corps working in Washington.

Returning to New York in 1954, he began freelance as an illustrator and designer. Her work has appeared in Esquire, the Nation, Glamor and other magazines. In 1960 he moved to London, where Mr. Watts was his design assistant until the Rolling Stones called him. The two performed for office parties once or twice, with Mr. Gill at the piano.

In 1962, Mr. Gill and British designers Alan Fletcher and Colin Forbes opened what would become a new advertising agency, Fletcher / Forbes / Gill (April Fool’s Day, they liked to point out). Their work, for Time Life, Penguin Books and Pirelli Tires, was idea-driven, witty and brash and iconic of the moment – London in the Sixties. Mr. Gill returned to freelance in 1967 and in 1972 the agency rebranded itself as Pentagram. Mr. Gill has said more than once that if he had stayed he would have been a rich man.

In 1975 he returned to New York to work and teach again at the School of Visual Arts. He accepted a position as director of a pornographic film (“The Double Exposure of Holly”) for the simple reasons that someone had asked him and that it would be an experience he had never had, even if it was. almost dissuaded him from having sex. for life, he said.

A more sustainable project was “Beatlemania”, a multimedia extravaganza conceived with his friend Robert Rabinowitz, artist and set designer. It featured visual and oral history from the 1960s as well as performances by a Beatles cover band. Critics weren’t sure what to think, but audiences flocked to it and it aired on Broadway from 1977 to 1979.

In the mid-1980s, Mr. Gill found a date with Ms. Fishko, longtime host and producer of public radio, with a little subterfuge. He had been hired to advertise a Brooklyn Academy of Music show called “Sheer Romance.” He asked his producer to invite Ms. Fishko to his apartment to audition for the voiceover for the commercial, and he hired her on the spot. But Ms Fishko’s deep, soothing voice wasn’t the kind of panting voice the client was looking for, and her recording was quickly replaced.

Mr. Gill called to tell him the news, then asked for a date. It turned out that he had been listening to her Sunday morning classical music program on WNYC for months and was determined to meet her. They married in 1987.

Besides Mrs. Fishko, Mr. Gill is survived by his son Jack and daughter Kate F. Gill. An early marriage to magazine artistic director Ruth Ansel ended in divorce, as did her marriage to Bobby Mills, a British artist and teacher.

He collected his work in “Bob Gill So Far” (2011), which Print magazine called compulsory reading by “one of America’s greatest graphic thinkers” who “prayed above all for elegance and wit”.

In the book, he took up his axiom that there are no bad clients, only bad designers.

“No matter how many times your amazing, absolutely brilliant work is rejected by the client,” he wrote, “for some stupid and arbitrary reason, there is often another amazing and absolutely brilliant solution possible.”

“Sometimes it’s even better.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Bob Gill, graphic designer who elevated the "message", dies at 90
Bob Gill, graphic designer who elevated the "message", dies at 90
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