If you were a political activist of a certain age you will have been inspired to attend demonstrations by flyposted posters designed by David King, worn a badge designed by him, read a book with a cover by him and shared his concerns about Vietnam, apartheid, nuclear weapons and the National Front. King’s bold, simple designs were instantly recognisable and were just everywhere
, though probably few gave thought to the designer!
Beyond the agitprop, David King’s activism included the cause of Trotsky against Stalinism. It might be hard for younger activists to understand but for decades last century it was necessary for King and his co-thinkers to celebrate the Russian Revolution but to condemn the gravedigger of the revolution, one Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin. King’s books The Great Purges (with Isaac Deutcher), The Commissar Vanishes and Ordinary Citizens: the victims of Stalin are almost but necessarily unbearable in printing the photographs of political activists and, well, ordinary citizens killed in their millions by Stalin. After reading these books you cannot get some of these images out of your mind. The Commissar Vanishes is also about the way history was rewritten and revisualized to erase those who had at best fallen out of favour, at worst been murdered. In that book, revisited here, King describes how one survivor, the constructivist artist Alexander Rodchenko even blanked out photos in his own book collection of those who had fallen.
In his later years David King had become one of the world’s experts on Soviet art, curating a famous exhibition at the Tate, which became his final publisher. He had collected posters, badges, leaflets, books from the Soviet past and was perhaps uniquely able to curate these exhibitions and books, such as Rodchenko’s exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford.
If you were not so much a political activist you perhaps also saw his design for Crafts
, City Limits
, Sunday Times Magazine
, London Review of Books
, Penguin book covers…though the Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland
album sleeve might not have been a great idea. This book also describes King’s photographic and design techniques which means that as well as grey-haired activists marching down memory lane it would be a useful read for any design student.
Rick Poyner and Yale have done an excellent production job on this book, the first to cover the whole career of David King, who died in 2016. They have done him proud.