Obituary: Richard Bird

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The Independent Online
Richard Bird, graphic artist and designer: born Kenya 28 November 1948; died London 26 January 1993.

IF THE STREETS are the art galleries of the people Richard Bird certainly provided them with the shock of the new. He was one of the most gifted and original image-makers working in British graphic design and his posters for the National Theatre were revolutionary in their simplicity and power.

'Dickie' Bird was born in Kenya, the son of a coffee planter, and came at the age of 20 to England, where he enrolled in 1968 at the Brighton College of Art. After leaving art school he joined the graphic design firm of Ken Briggs which had been commissioned to design posters and programmes for Laurence Olivier's newly founded National Theatre at the Old Vic. Their work quickly achieved the decisive, uncluttered presentation which became their trademark and was to give a whole new impetus to modern theatre publicity, far removed, in its combination of colour, line and vivid simple imagery, from the usual notion of theatre graphics.

When the National Theatre moved to its vast new concrete powerhouse on the South Bank Bird consolidated his position by joining the staff there as chief Egraphic designer and it was here, with his associate Michael MaTHER write erroryhew, that he designed more than 200 posters. For theatre-goers on their way to and from the National, these provided an eye-catching diversion and to see them displayed in quantity gave one an added sense of their particular quality and brilliance - the wolf's head with its long, slavering red tongue for Volpone, the statue with its toppled head for Lorenzaccio, the Hockney poolside with figure for Tales from Hollywood, the warrior's visage scrawled over with graffiti for Coriolanus - all these devices were intended to go swiftly to the heart and meaning of the play.

In the mid-Eighties he set up his own consultancy, taking on a wide variety of work for film and theatre. Among the posters he produced for the cinema were Jack Clayton's The Passion of Judith Hearne, John Schlesinger's The Falcon and the Snowman and Charles Sturridge's A Handful of Dust, produced by me.

He thrived best, however, working in an environment offered him both freedom and sympathetic support. Starting his own business at the beginning of the economic chill was perhaps a wrong decision, if for no other reason than for the fact that he was now forced to become preoccupied with administration, staffing and budgets rather than fostering his own art and creativity - the thing he did best. Indeed, it was at the National Theatre that he did his best work: there he spent the happiest and the most creative and fulfilling time of his career. 'For the best times ever,' he inscribed a poster to the then head of publicity, John Goodwin.

Matters were solved for him when, in 1988, his consultancy was taken over by the leading entertainment agent Dewynters, where he remained until his death. Dickie Bird was a charming companion to his friends and colleagues who will miss his grace and light, unfailing humour and the wit and alertness which informed everything he undertook. His death, which deprives commercial art of a leading creative talent follows that, seven years ago, of his long-time friend Jean-Loup Desvignes.