Robert Brownjohn

b.1925 - d.1970
Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1925, Brownjohn, studied art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn before enrolling at the Institute of Design in Chicago in 1944. There, he became a star student of László Moholy-Nagy, the visionary Bauhauser who was at the forefront of experiments with moving imagery. After graduating, Brownjohn stayed in Chicago, where he hung out on the South Side jazz scene with Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday and acquired a heroin habit.

In 1951, he moved to New York and co-founded a design group with two friends, Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar. As well as working for PepsiCo and the publisher Simon and Schuster, they designed part of the U.S. Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World Fair. By then, Brownjohn had defined a distinctive graphic language that reflected the influence of European modernism and American pop art, and was characterized by collages of found images and typography, visual puns, vernacular symbolism and hand-drawn details.

Still steeped in the jazz world, Brownjohn befriended Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Stan Getz, and played poker with the actor Steve McQueen. He married Donna Walters in 1955 and when their daughter Eliza was born the following year, Davis became her godfather.

In 1960, Brownjohn left New York for London with his family. His design sensibility was perfect for 1960s Britain: sexy, witty and provocative, sometimes shockingly so. A 1963 poster for the "Obsession and Fantasy" exhibition at the Robert Fraser Gallery features a close-up of a woman's breasts in which her nipples form the Os in "Obsession." His titles for "Goldfinger" and the 1963 Bond film "From Russia With Love" were fun, seductive and thrilling, yet faithful interpretations of Moholy-Nagy's avant-garde theories. For "Goldfinger," he projected footage from the movie onto a woman's gold-painted body. A golf ball slides down her cleavage, and Sean Connery as Bond runs over her thighs.

In the late-sixties his friendship with the Rolling Stones resulted in his best-known music-related work, the cover for their 1969 album Let It Bleed.

Brownjohn had come to London hoping to overcome his addiction, but failed. Yet he still produced extraordinary work until his untimely death of a heart attack in 1970, just a few days before his 45th birthday. Since his death Brownjohn's work has been the subject of several major graphic design exhibits around the world and in November 2011 the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired over 200 pieces from his estate for their permanent collection.