Designs by Gilbert Lesser

A behind the scenes look at some of Gilbert Lesser’s design work from Graphic Communications for the Performing Arts (1981):

Equus was Lesser’s first attempt at a theatre poster, and, while it has since probably come to be as famous as the play itself, it evolved separately and after several false starts. The original London design was discarded before the American premiere, and after a few frustrating attempts with other designers, playwright Peter Shaffer recommended his friend Lesser for the project. He tried several appraoches, including a typographical logo and an intricate ‘stained glass’ treatment of a horse, both of which gave way to the hard-edged geometry of the final design. The horse’s head was originally going to be printed in orange and acid green, but Lesser opted for black and white when he learned that one of the play’s producers was affected by orange-green color blindness. He prefers black and white in any event.

The Elephant Man, another of Lesser’s most memorable designs, represents an attempt to evoke the lead character’s distorted physicality without being grotesque. ‘The final poster represents the one and only version.’

Lesser develops his images through a reading of the script. ‘Rarely do I talk to anyone involved in the play. The producers of Arthur Miller’s The American Clock told me that Miller wanted to discuss concepts for the poster, so I made sure to finish it before we even met. When I showed him what I had done, he said, ‘Well, there’s not much use in talking, is there?’ But he liked the poster very much.'”

Twelve years later, a review of a career retrospective at The Maryland Institute College of Art got to the heart of Lesser’s design approach:

“It reflects the way he worked, using cut or torn paper because, according to Ed Gold, his longtime friend, fellow graphic designer and former schoolmate at the Maryland Institute, ‘He couldn’t draw worth a damn.'”