It is with great sadness that we report the death of Robin Fior, a former Pluto Press art director and the designer of our ‘double P’ logo. Robin was also a great graphic designer in his own right, as well as a teacher, journalist and political activist. Robin was at the heart of the radical movements in the late 1960s, designing not only the Pluto logo, but other iconic radical images of the time, such as the cover of the Black Dwarf journal. In 1972, Robin moved to Lisbon where he lived for the rest of his life: teaching, designing, writing and raising a family.
Writing in the Guardian, Richard Hollis pays tribute to his life and work:
Fior’s work followed no style. He looked at the new kinds of advertising design brought to London by designers from New York. He admired their verbal and visual wit, every word of the copy considered and integrated into a graphic ensemble. He visited the Neue Grafik designers in Switzerland, impressed by their discipline and the cool objectivity of their advertisements. These and other influences were added to a variety of graphic styles and methods – comic-style illustration, hand-written lettering, printing on wrapping paper. For Marxist designers – even in Switzerland – the gloss of technically perfect print reflected the human and material waste of capitalism. In 1964 Fior signed a manifesto titled First Things First (published in the Guardian), a largely unheeded call for designers to work in the public service rather than commercial interests.
In 1972 Fior left Britain and his family for Portugal, accepting an invitation to help establish a school of art and visual communication in Lisbon. Known as Ar.Co, the school opened the following year and he taught there for more than 30 years until his retirement.
In an atmosphere of impending political change, Fior joined opposition groups. One of them was the co-operative design group Praxis. He devised a symbol for MES, the movement for left socialism, and laid out its weekly newspaper. Several of his comrades from the Lisbon café society, given posts in the new government, offered him work. One impressive outcome of liberalisation was a number of large posters he designed in support of independence movements in the Portuguese colonies. Based on the countries’ flags, these colourful geometrical constructions were widely displayed, hugely admired internationally, and quite original.
In 1976 Fior was a co-founder of the Portuguese Designers’ Association. He benefited from a printing trade that retained traditional craft skills, where letterpress had not been entirely superseded by offset printing. Intricately hand-folded invitations and small posters for art galleries and cultural events in Lisbon revealed their message in a sequence. These he described as “unfolders”. It was by examining the grammatical structure of a message, he argued, that a typographical solution could be found.
The deliberation in his work processes was echoed in his conversation. Language was his chief concern. Friends would wait a long time for him to complete a sentence, haltingly delivered, punctuated with an elaborate pun. He was very funny.
Visit the Guardian to read the obituary in full.