Romek Marber: Graphics

Colchester School of Art’s Minories Galleries has launched a new exhibition on the work of graphic designer Romek Marber. Best known for his innovative Penguin Crime Series, the show also provides a chance to see his work for The Economist, the Observer Magazine and a range of other clients

Promotional sign for the Penguin Crime series, designed by Romek Marber, on the floor of the Minories Gallery space. Image courtesy The Minories Galleries

Colchester School of Art’s Minories Galleries has launched a new exhibition on the work of graphic designer Romek Marber. Best known for his innovative Penguin Crime Series, the show also provides a chance to see his work for The Economist, the Observer Magazine and a range of other clients…

Born in Poland in 1925, as a teenager Marber was deported to the Bochnia ghetto in 1939. Three year’s later, he was saved from being transported to the Belzec death camp by the actions of a sergeant Kurzbach, the commander of the forced-labour workshop in the town.

Various Penguin-related material designed by Marber

Marber arrived in the UK in 1946, reuniting with his father and brother, and studied at St Martins in the early 1950s, before attending the Royal College of Art in 1953.

Having worked on covers for The Economist, in 1961 Penguin’s Germano Facetti commissioned the young designer to design two book covers for the author Simeon Potter before giving Marber the chance to work across an entire sequence of titles for Penguin Crime.

“To launch the new Crime series I was asked to do twenty titles,” the designer recalled in a talk given to the Penguin Collectors Society in 2007 (later published in the book, Penguin By Illustrators). “The month was June and the books had to be on display in October. The ‘grid’ and the rather dark visual images, suggestive of crime, had an immediate impact.”

Penguin Crime covers

The design approach – the ‘Marber grid’ – which evolved from his work was so successful that, as Rick Poynor suggests, “Facetti applied it, effectively unchanged, to the blue Pelicans and to the orange covers of Penguin fiction. Before long its spirit pervaded the entire list.”

Some examples of Marber’s covers for The Economist from 1960-67. Image courtesy The Minories Galleries

While Marber’s Crime series has become a classic of modern book design (though at the time his role in its development was underplayed), the Minories Gallery covers his wider graphic output, and includes images of his earlier covers for The Economist (which had led Facetti to invite him to Penguin), New Society, Robert Nicholson’s London Guides, Town, Queen and the Observer, where he worked as the Magazine’s first art director in 1964.

From 1964-65 Marber was appointed as art director launching the Observer Magazine and continued until 1966 as design consultant. Image courtesy The Minories Galleries

Curated by Kaavous Clayton, Graphics also has displays of Marber’s lesser known logo and identity work (below, left), including a series of panels of designs for the wire fencing company, Norvic (second image, below) in which a familiar shade of green pops up once again.

Now in his 88th year, Marber has rightly assumed his position as one of the most interesting and important graphic designers to have worked in Britain – his efforts in book publishing alone are worthy of an entire exhibition. This new show looks to widen his appeal to those interested in the history of book design and also in the development of mid-century graphics.

Romek Marber: Graphics is at the Minories Galleries, Colchester School of Art, 74 High Street, Colchester CO1 1UE. until October 26. More details at colchester.ac.uk/art/minories.

Work for the London Planetarium, above right

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