Collage, 'Self-portrait', ink on paper / photo montage, made by Alistair Morrison, London, 1938
Alistair Morrison (1911-1998) was one of Australia's finest type and layout artists of the early to mid-20th century. He and Dahl Collings, are perhaps best known for both having worked briefly with Bauhaus designer László Moholy-Nagy in London on the design of the new Simpsons Picadilly concept store in 1937. During this time they come in contact with European modernism, including photomontage as a bold new graphic communication tool as illustrated in this self-portrait.
Morrison was also an important Australian author and writer. In 1964, under the pseudonym 'Professor' Afferback Lauder, Morrison coined the term 'Strine' for the Australian language. A compilation of his then well known 'Strine' publications, titled 'Frauffly Strine Everything', was published by Sydney Ure Smith in 1969.
Morrison also designed and hand lettered Contemporary Art Society catalogues during his presidency of the Contemporary Art Society in 1954 and Currency magazine covers shortly before becaming Chairman of the Currency Note Design Group, a group set up as an advisory committee to assist with the design of the new Australian decimal banknotes between 1963 and their release in 1966.
Anne-Marie Van de Ven, Curator, 2007
Geoffrey Collings was born on 10 November 1905 in Hamilton, Queensland. He first studied at Brisbane Technical College (1919 - 1922). He then worked as a trainee commercial artist for various firms in Brisbane, including George N. Orr's agency, which was the first advertising agency in Brisbane.
He then worked as a jackeroo on properties in Queensland and the Northern Territory for a couple of years. He returned to Brisbane in 1927 and freelanced as a commercial artist until 1930, when he left for London. In London he worked as assistant studio manager for the book distributors W. H Smith & Sons. He also attended night classes in painting and drawing at St Martins School and in etching at the Central School.
He returned to Sydney in 1933, where he met Dahl. They were married in 1933.
Dahl Collings (nee. Dulcie Wilmott) was born on 26 December 1911 in Adelaide, and died in 1988. She studied at East Sydney Technical College in 1926-1927. Her first job was with Anthony Horderns when she was eighteen. She worked on the house magazine "Hordernian Monthly". She also did freelance art work for Farmers and David Jones; and designed covers for "Home" magazine, published by the Sydney Morning Herald.
In 1935 Dahl and Geoffrey went to London where they worked until 1939. Geoffrey worked as the Art Director for the American advertising agency Erwin Wasey & Co. Dahl did freelance work until she was offered a job working for Professor Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, a leading designer from the Bauhaus. She worked on the interior design and presentation of the Simpson's Department Store in Piccadilly. Moholy-Nagy was responsible for creating the whole image of the new store. Dahl worked on designing a wide range of objects for the store including the restaurant tablecloths, clothes, window displays and tobacco tin lids. The design team included Gyorgy Kepes who was also from the Bauhaus, and Alistair Morrison. Moholy-Nagy's ideas on design, his versatility and his willingness to explore the possibilities of different media had an enormous influence on both Dahl and Geoffrey. Dahl credits him as the greatest influence on her career.
In June 1938 Dahl and Geoffrey, together with Alistair Morrison, held an exhibition of commercial art and photography at the Lund Galleries in London. The title of the exhibition was "Three Australians" and the catalogue introduction was written by the poster artist E. McKnight Kaufer.
They travelled in Spain and France. In Spain in 1936 they made their first documentary film, "Alquezar" about agrarian life in Spain.
In 1937 their first child. Donna, was born in London.
The contact with the Bauhaus designers inspired both Dahl and Geoffrey with the enthusiasm to bring the Bauhaus principles back to Australia. They returned to Sydney in 1939. On their way home they stopped in Tahiti and made the documentary film "Tiare Tahiti" about life in contemporary Polynesia.
Their second child, Silver, was born in Sydney in 1940.
Once back in Sydney they established the Design Centre with Richard Haughton James, in Phillip Street. The Design Centre specialised in industrial and commercial design. They considered themselves to be a new breed of modern designers, creating "a new kind of useful art to suit our new ways of living" (R. Haughton James, Exhibition catalogue 1939). They helped introduce the principles of modern design to Australian industry.
In June of 1939 they held an exhibition at the David Jones Galleries, called "An exhibition of Modern Industrial Art and Documentary Photos". It showed many of the layouts, designs and photographs they had made while overseas.
During this time they were also active in the Sydney branch of the Contemporary Art Society. They both exhibited in the Society's second exhibition in 1940. They were also active members of the Australian Commercial and Industrial Artists Association.
During the 1940s, Geoffrey was Art Director at "Woman" magazine. At the beginning of World War Two, he joined the Department of Home Security as a camouflage officer. He held an exhibition at the Macquarie Galleries in 1943 of drawings and gouaches relating to his experiences.
It was also during this time that his involvement in film making increased. He made films for the Civil Construction Corps, and made the film "Air strip" for the Allied Works Council. He also produced booklets on film making such as "The use of film in wartime".
In 1945 Geoffrey was the assistant director on the film "The Overlanders", directed by Harry Watt for the Baling Studio. Dahl was the costume designer for the film. Dahl also worked as the costume designer for the film "Eureka Stockade", made in 1948. From 1946 to 1949, Geoffrey was a director and senior producer for the Commonwealth Film Unit.
In 1950 they went to New York. Geoffrey worked as the Pictures Editor for the United Nations. While Dahl worked for the Australian Trade Commission designing displays for the Australian Display Centre in the Rockefeller Centre. Dahl also did some freelance work, such as drawings for Harper's magazine.
They returned to Sydney in 1954, and moved into a newly built house in Castlecrag, designed by the architects Baldwinson and Booth. During the 1950s Dahl continued her association with the Orient Line. In 1957 they established a film production company, which was called Collings Productions. They produced a number of documentary films for companies such as Qantas, CSR, and Shell.
They continued to direct and produce films until their retirement in 1970. Upon retiring they moved to Kilcare Heights on the Central Coast, where they both resumed painting. Dahl continued to have exhibitions of her work, until her death in 1988.
Prepared by Sue Davidson, 1996