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Three Australians: Dahl & Geoffrey Collings and Alistair Morrison

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

Dahl Collings, 1937

In two previous Blog posts I wrote about the innovative enterprise devised by Peter Gregory and E McKnight Kauffer which offered artists, photographers and designers exhibition space at the Lund Humphries London office. McKnight Kauffer had a flexible arrangement with the company acting as art director to the resident design team, designing works for his own clients, and having a major influence on which exhibitors to choose. One of the aims of the exhibitions was to demonstrate the capabilities and versatility of the printing side of the business at its works in Bradford (Yorkshire). Another aim was to introduce designers from overseas to UK clients.

For example Jan Tschichold, the Leipzig-born typographer, was first introduced to the UK in 1935 via an exhibition of his work at Lund Humphries. McKnight Kauffer, who already knew of Tschichold's work and his immense reputation in Europe, was instrumental in bringing him to London. Realising that the exhibition would not introduce the typographer to a wide public, Kauffer thought it should benefit him in a 'practical' way. Tschichold's work was mounted on grey and white boards, with Kauffer's idiosyncratic drawn lines making a subtle suggestion that the background had some affinity to the designs themselves. Tschichold may not have made a great deal of impact on potential clients - the exhibition was only on for 17 days - but, as James Moran stated in his article about the Lund Humphries exhibitions in a 1963 issue of the British Printer, 'Lund Humphries were once more ahead of their time in bringing his work to the notice of the British public'. And, of course, after the war he was to return to London to work at Penguin Books introducing the Penguin Composition Rules.

Tschichold designed the layout of the 1938 (Volume 40) issue of

The Penrose Annual

Not a great deal is known today about some of the exhibitions - but I thought I would highlight this one, especially for bringing Dahl Collings, the versatile illustrator, graphic designer, photographer, filmmaker, fashion designer and painter to your attention:

Three Australians Alistair Morrison, Dahl Collings, Geoffrey Collings Exhibition at Lund Humphries

22 June – 9 July 1938

McKnight Kauffer wrote the invitation card introduction: 'Their work is so interesting that I am glad it is to be shown to the English public. I believe it is the first occasion upon which an exhibition of this kind has been devoted entirely to Australians'. Elsewhere stating: 'We must rid of the idea from our minds that Australia only stands for Sheep Farming, the Life of the Open Air, and Sports - especially Cricket'.

Alistair Morrison, Geoffrey Collings and Dahl Collings - who were they?

Alistair Morrison (1911 - 1998). In his early years Morrison was a jobbing typographer working in Melbourne but a move to Sydney offered him the opportunity to work in a more creative environment. Writing an induction into the Australian Graphic Design Association (AGDA) Hall of Fame tribute on Morrison in 2008, the renowned Australian graphic designer Max Robinson stated: 'the world at the time (I’m talking the 1930’s here), with the possible exception of England, confused us with Austria, and took no further interest'. But in 1935 Morrison followed Dahl and Geoffrey Collings to London. For all three designers, the brief time they were in London became the catalyst for change.

On returning to Australia he became an established and influential typographer, his more memorable work from the 1950s

Alistair Morrison Contemporary Art Society catalogue 1953

Geoffrey Collings (1905 - 2000). Working in Brisbane in his twenties as a freelance commercial artist, he then travelled to London in 1930 where he gained employment in the design studio of W.H. Smith, the British bookseller and stationer. Attending evening classes at St Martin's School of Art and the Central School of Arts and Crafts helped to broaden his creative output. He developed an interest in photography, an interest that was to change the direction of his career. Returning to Australia he set up a design practice in Sydney. Seeking a studio assistant he employed the young illustrator, Dulcie May Wilmott. They were married in 1933 - Dulcie became 'Dahl' and continued to be known by that name. Seeking new horizons and influences, they travelled to London in 1935. Geoffrey gained employment at the London offices of the American advertising agency Erwin, Masey and Co.

Geoffrey Collings English Derby 1936

Geoffrey Collings London, 1937

Dahl Collings (1908-1988). By the time Dahl met Geoffrey she was already a successful illustrator designing covers for The Home magazine. Now, working at the Collings Studio they collaborated on all their commissions, co-signing their work 'Dahl and Geoffrey Collings'. While Geoffrey was working at Erwin, Wasey in London, Dahl worked as a freelance designer until the Austro-Hungarian artist, photographer and educator László Moholy-Nagy (1895 - 1946), briefly seeking exile in London, asked her to help with the work he was carrying out out for Simpson of Piccadilly, the cutting-edge modernist clothes store (architect Joseph Pemberton) which was due to open in April 1936. She also came in contact with György Kepes (1906 - 2001), another Hungarian émigré who, like his good friend Moholy-Nagy, had fled the Nazi Party uprising in Germany. These influences were to have a profound effect on Dahl and Geoffrey. Both Dahl and Geoffrey became interested in photography, photomontage, and experimental filmmaking. Through her collaboration with Moholy-Nagy Dahl appreciated the importance of teamwork and integrating different disciplines.

Aviation display at Simpson of Piccadilly,

László Moholy-Nagy, 1936

Dahl Collings

Collage cover illustration for The Home, 1935

Above: Dahl Collings, Spring Fashions catalogue, 1936

Left: Dahl & Geoffrey Collings, 1939

Soon after the Lund Humphries exhibition they returned to Australia. Dahl was keen to bring her new-found confidence and versatility as an illustrator, designer and photographer to the Australian industry. She and Geoffrey exhibited a large number of photographs, as well as examples of the design work from their time in London, at a gallery in Sydney.

Geoffrey Collings

Dahl Collings


The pioneering documentary filmmaker John Grierson (1898 - 1972), one of the many useful contacts they encountered in London, encouraged them to make documentary films of their own. After one or two experimental attempts of their own, their passion for documentary film increased, but the onset of WW2 their ambitions were curtailed. During the war Geoffrey Collings attempted to establish a National Film Board, similar to the one Grierson set up in Canada, and finally made a propaganda film in 1944. The Australian National Film Board was finally established in 1945. The breakthrough for Dahl and Geoffrey came in when Harry Watt (1906 - 1987) the British documentary film director (Night Mail) came to Australia to make The Overlanders, an Ealing Studios feature film, shot in a semi-documentary style. Geoffrey Collings was taken on as an assistant director, Dahl designed costumes and sets.

The Overlanders

film poster


In 1950, taking up new challenges, Dahl and Geoffrey moved to New York with their family, but only stayed for three years

Dahl Collings Textile design, gouache

New York c.1953

Back in Sydney they established Collings Production film company writing, directing and producing documentary films throughout the 1950s and 1960s - the most notable of these Dreaming, a film about indigenous Aboriginal art.

In her later years Dahl Collings devoted herself to painting full-time. These are two of her earlier abstract works from the 1950s

A footnote: In his later years Alistair Morrison began writing best- selling books on the idiosyncrasies of Australian modes of speech - under the pseudonym Professor Afterebeck Lauder. One of the better known stories of Australian accent:

The English author Monica Dickens (great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens) was at a a book signing in Australia. . A woman in the queue came up to Dickens and said 'emma chisit'.

The author dedicated the book to Emma Chisit!


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