Robert Brownjohn: Sex and Typography

Robert Brownjohn was a graphic designer, but he lived his life like a jazz musician. To be specific, his lifestyle was more like Charlie Parker’s. Was Bj also under Bird’s influence? According to Robert Brownjohn: Sex and Typography—a book written by Emily King on the life and work of a bold, brilliant graphic designer as well as an addictive, heavy drug-user—he did hang out with Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday and Miles “Prince of Darkness” Davis.

In the “Life” part of Sex and Typography, Brownjohn’s story—from Chicago to New York to London—is pieced together through the voices of his family, friends, colleagues and associates. Even though King has done a marvelous job of placing the interviews in a chronological order, the transition from one dialogue to the next is still choppy. Nonetheless, the individual accounts provide different perspectives of Bj’s personality, and how his behaviors shaped his design.

The “Work” section featured distinctive, innovative and provocative pieces of design including Pepsi-Cola World magazine covers, Obsession and Fantasy poster, Goldfinger title sequence and Rolling Stone’s Let it Bleed album cover. My personal favorite is the Watching Words Move experimental typography booklet. For instance, the playfulness of words, such as “addding,” “subtrcting,” “multimultiplying” and “div id ing,” is clever. One of the most striking pieces is Bj’s Peace poster. The design is minimal, but the message speaks loud. The poster is consisted of two handwritten letters PE laid next to the centered Ace of Spades followed by a scribbled question mark. Despite the controversial issues behind the work, the design concept is ingenious.

Although Bj lived ten years longer than his musician friend Parker, he, too, died young from excessive drugs abuse. Also like Parker, Bj’s had left behind invaluable works that guarantee to inspire the new generation. Mad kudos to King for sharing the life and work of a remarkable contemporary designer.