David King (graphic designer)

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David King (30 April 1943 – 11 May 2016) was a British writer, designer and historian of graphic design who, in the course of his research, assembled one of the largest collections of Soviet graphics and photographs.[1] From this collection, he created a series of revelatory books unfolding the history of the Russian Revolution, and its associated art and propaganda. King developed a special interest in Leon Trotsky and the subsequent doctoring of revolutionary photos and records. Part of King's collection is housed on the fourth floor of Tate Modern, London.[2]

Early life[edit]

King was born in Isleworth, Middlesex, and studied typography at the London School of Printing. His tutor Robin Fior introduced King to Soviet Constructivist revolutionary graphics and political art. King worked in advertising agencies and then became the art editor of The Sunday Times from 1965 to 1975. While working for The Sunday Times, King made his first research trips to Mexico and the Soviet Union in search of photos and graphics from the revolutionary period. He uncovered many unknown images of Trotsky and, with writer Francis Wyndham, King created his first book: Trotsky: A Documentary. Wyndham commented that after an apparent dearth of Trotsky images, " there were now more photographs of Trotsky than there were of Marilyn Monroe."[3]


King devoted his career to uncovering and chronicling the art of the Soviet and the Constructivist periods, developing a special interest in the doctoring of photographs and the accompanying process of historical revisionism. King published the result of his research in The Commissar Vanishes: The Falsification of Photographs and Art in Stalin’s Russia in 1997, and Ordinary Citizens: The Victims of Stalin in 2003. King’s book became the basis of an audiovisual collaboration with composer Michael Nyman, who created a soundtrack to The Commissar Vanishes, which was first performed at the Barbican Centre, London, in 1999.[3]

King also worked as a graphic designer in the record business designing covers for The Who Sell Out and Axis: Bold as Love. His design for the Jimi Hendrix album Electric Ladyland generated controversy by featuring a David Montgomery photo of 19 nude women. The photo was considered too risqué for the US edition of the album. King developed his photographic skills to produce a book about Muhammad Ali: I Am King: A Photographic Biography of Muhammad Ali, published in 1975.[2]

In the 1970s, King created posters and graphics for many political groups, including the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the National Union of Journalists. He originated the red-and-yellow arrow logo for the Anti-Nazi League and also designed posters for Rock Against Racism concerts and marches.[2]

Working with the art gallery Modern Art Oxford, King designed a series of catalogues and posters for Soviet art exhibitions, including Alexander Rodchenko, Vladimir Mayakovsky: Twenty Years of Work and Art Into Production: Soviet Textiles, Fashion and Ceramics 1917–1935.[3]

King's collection grew to more than 250,000 items which have formed the basis for a series of exhibitions in Tate Modern. Professor Stephen F. Cohen described King's work as "a one-man archaeological expedition into the lost world, the destroyed world, of the original Soviet leadership. He was determined to unearth everything that Stalin had buried so deeply and so bloodily."[2]

King identified with the values of the revolutionary movement he chronicled. In his book Red Star Over Russia, he wrote: "Even as a child I detested capitalism. I thought it was unfair. I also loathed religion and monarchy. I found the clothes they dressed up in sinister and frightening. I used to dream, like all children, how life would be in the 21st century. If anyone had told me there would still be inequality, racism, kings, queens and religious maniacs stalking the planet, I would have considered them crazy."[4]


  • Trotsky: A Documentary, Penguin Books, 1972, ISBN 978-0140035223
  • I Am King: a photographic biography of Muhammad Ali. Penguin, 1975, ISBN 0140040889
  • How the GPU Murdered Trotsky, 1977, by the International Committee of the Fourth International, illustrations by David King
  • David Elliott & David King: Alexander Rodchenko. Museum of Modern Art Oxford, 1979, ISBN 090583612X
  • David Elliott & David King: Mayakovsky: Twenty Years of Work. 1982, ISBN 090583626X
  • David King & Cathy Porter: Blood & Laughter: Caricatures from the 1905 Revolution. 1983, ISBN 0224021559
  • David Elliott & David King: Art into Production: Soviet Textiles, Fashion and Ceramics, 1917–35., 1984, ISBN 0905836472
  • Isaac Deutscher & David King: The Great Purges. 1984, ISBN 0631139230
  • Trotsky : a photographic biography. 1986, ISBN 063114689X, by David King, Tamara Deutscher (introduction), James Ryan (commentary)
  • The Commissar Vanishes. 1997
  • Ordinary Citizens: The Victims of Stalin. 2003, ISBN 1903427150
  • Red Star Over Russia: A Visual History of the Soviet Union. 2009, ISBN 978-1-854376862
  • Russian Revolutionary Posters: From Civil War to Socialist Realism, from Bolshevism to the End of Stalinism. 2012, ISBN 1849760195
  • David King & Ernst Volland: John Heartfield: Laughter is a Devastating Weapon. 2015, ISBN 978-1849761840


In 2020, Yale University Press published Rick Poynor's book David King: Designer, Activist, Visual Historian.[5]


  1. ^ Woods, Alan. "David King Passes Away: A Tragic Loss". In Defence of Marxism. Retrieved 13 May 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d Grimes, William (18 May 2016). "David King, 73, Dies; Graphic Designer Amassed Trove of Soviet Political Art". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  3. ^ a b c Hollis, Richard (25 May 2016). "David King obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 August 2016.
  4. ^ King, David (2009), Red Star Over Russia, p. 15.
  5. ^ Poynor, Rick. "About this site". David King: Designer, Activist, Visual Historian. Retrieved 25 August 2021.

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