Work / Publication

Christopher Wilson explores influential designer Richard Hollis’ work for Whitechapel Gallery

Widely regarded as one of the most influential British graphic designers, Richard Hollis is the focus of designer and writer Christopher Wilson’s latest book, Richard Hollis designs for the Whitechapel.

Choosing to focus on the designer’s works for Whitechapel Art Gallery may come as a surprise to some Richard Hollis fanatics, but as the author explains: “This book makes no argument that the Whitechapel represents his ‘best’ or most ‘important’ work”. The Whitechapel was not even the client Richard designed for the most, nor is a body of work that comes to mind when his name is spoken, “but in many other respects the Whitechapel work demonstrates in microcosm Hollis’ approach to design,” explains the author.

Richard’s relationship with the gallery began in 1969 producing work until 1973, before returning from 1978-85. Working for the Whitechapel gallery obviously meant interacting and representing the work of artists on display and “so it changed my direction,” Richard explains in the book. This was a part of the process the designer revelled in, with a “desire to work as closely as possible with clients, ideally designing with them rather than for them,” explains Christopher. This approach saw the graphic designer’s collaborations grow, but also his aesthetic stance, allowing him to work across “catalogues, programmes, posters of varying formats, invitations, signage and advertisements,” the book explains.

Chronologically organised, Christopher explains that the book actually has “two main characters: the British graphic designer Richard Hollis and the Whitechapel Art Gallery in east London”. By introducing both, the author provides a fresh perspective including the historical beginnings of Whitechapel Art Gallery, setting a different scene to how the individual reader may know the gallery personally or not at all. Christopher also does this with Richard, introducing his work outside of the context of the gallery, even opening one chapter with an old school report from the designer’s art class in 1951 describing his “considerable talent”.

Once the two combine in later chapters, Christopher describes the “two phases of the gallery’s life,” even including the period where Richard didn’t work there, through to the years after his position and the designer who stepped into his role post 1985, Peter Saville. The gems however lie within Richard’s work for the gallery, particularly during a time where there was a “radical change in the methods of print production,” says the author. In turn the book methodically documents the “technical shifts” in the graphic designer’s work, from “hot metal composition and letterpress printing through to photocomposition, rub-down lettering, paste-up, and on to desktop publishing”.

The author’s own relationship with Richard Hollis is an interesting one, working as his assistant designer from 1999 — 2003, where he became “interested in his thinking and methods, and felt that these were worthy of a detailed study”. In turn, Richard Hollis designs for the Whitechapel combines both an analytical and personal study on the designer in comparison to other design-led monographs.

Richard Hollis designs for the Whitechapel is available from Hyphen Press here.


Richard Hollis designs for the Whitechapel: 1982, Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti


Richard Hollis designs for the Whitechapel: 1980, Merz


Richard Hollis designs for the Whitechapel: 1980, Jewish East End


Richard Hollis designs for the Whitechapel: 1970, Modern Chairs


RicRichard Hollis designs for the Whitechapel: 1969, Gaucher


Richard Hollis designs for the Whitechapel


Richard Hollis designs for the Whitechapel


Richard Hollis designs for the Whitechapel