Nobby Clark

Graphic designer, Illustrator and artist Nobby Clark has lived and worked in New Zealand for over fifty years. His considerable output covers advertising, illustration, copywriting and increasingly in more recent years, painting and exhibitions. Over this period significant developments have taken place within New Zealand society and the design industry.
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Collection of Nobby

During the 1950's and early 1960's Clark produced advertisements for a range of building products, including Malthoid and Formica. The promotion of these products accompanied the post war building boom and the expansion of suburbia as returned servicemen married and raised families.

In the development of these advertisements, produced mostly for trade catalogues, Clark often developed the concept, wrote the copy, produced the illustrations and designed the layout. Commercial artists (as graphic designers were called at this time) even in large agencies, were expected to be able to turn a hand to a range of tasks, in contrast to more specialist roles prevalent in agencies today.

Born in Hull, Yorkshire in 1921, Clark began his career as a copywriter and assistant, before moving to work in London immediately prior to World War Two. Since childhood, Clark had loved to draw *1, and during his time in London, he attended drawing classes in the evenings and was gradually assigned illustration jobs and other design work in the agency.

Called up in 1940, Nobby Clark worked in the signal corps and became a radio operator serving in campaigns in North Africa, Italy and France. Moving through Europe with the Allied forces, he managed to find opportunities for visiting galleries and churches and even studied drawing at the Grand Chaumiere for 18 months while he was stationed in Paris.

On his return to civilian life in 1945 Nobby married his childhood sweetheart Margaret, and finding life in postwar England less than challenging, took up a position with the Times of India. Work on the Times was varied and interesting. Nobby was involved in a managerial capacity, costing and allocating work, as well as in creative production. The Clark's 5 year stay in India (1947 to 1951) bridged the transition period from colony to republic. The political turmoil, together with the birth of their first child Tim, prompted Nobby and Margaret to leave India and on the recommendation of a colleague, they migrated to New Zealand in 1952.
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Collection of Nobby

"I arrived in Auckland from London in July 1952 when it seemed just like a boom town – all those steak and eggs and fizzy beers!! It was so cosy and intimate and soon I knew all the local artists who taught exciting new skills such as concreting, drain digging and homebrewing."

On arrival in Auckland, Clark worked for Ryder Advertising, then moved to a larger agency; Haythorn-Thwaite Advertising. During this period he worked on advertising for TEAL*3. The posters and brochures he designed for TEAL are considered classics of NZ travel advertising of this period. Clark commented that TEAL was regarded as the "cream of the accounts" or the "arty account" because they provided a good budget, allowing quality colour printing and considerable creative freedom.

Clark worked in a number of agencies through the late 1950's and 1960's, generally staying in one company for two to three years. This included stints at Carlton, Carruthers, Du Chateau and King, Haines, Goldbergs and Dormer-Beck. He also did freelance work with other agencies and increasingly with newspapers like the Auckland Star and the New Zealand Herald to help support his growing family. During his time at Carlton, Carruthers, Du Chateau and King, Clark worked again on the TEAL account, alongside Linwood Lipanovic and Arthur Thompson. They were known during this period as the ‘Three Musketeers. In developing images for the TEAL campaign Clark visited Fiji, sketching the people and places he saw around him.
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Commenting on the atmosphere of Auckland agencies in this period Clark notes:
" I found working in New Zealand immeasurably nicer than working in England.. there was tremendous full employment and you could change jobs like that; you could pick and choose where you wanted to work. Most people only considered themselves in it for the money, and everybody was enormously helpful and I made many enduring friendships."

"When we were coming out on the boat [from the UK] I remember talking to a lady and she said "One thing you’ll like about New Zealand is that, whatever your interest, you'll meet everybody else, because its such a small place and you’ll meet the whole lot." - and in time, you know I did there's nothing remarkable about it, but one got to know people like Curnow, Firth, Sargeson, all these people. You would never meet people of that stature in England. In London I worked for a time with Lever Brothers and I hated it; so big, so impersonal."

"Gradually in the 1960's things began to change and advertising agencies became very self conscious and wanted to polish their image. I remember one of the directors coming in and saying From now on all visualisers will be called art directors and all copywriters will be called writers."
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Drawing from life has always been an important part of Clark's practice. The characters, buildings and situations he recorded often evolved into the subject matter of his design work. As a result of this drawing process Clark has built up a remarkable record of the people and the changing face of the city of Auckland where he has lived for this last half century.

In the early 1970's he began to work at the Auckland Star in a more full time capacity, creating illustrations for articles. In the 1980's this led to a regular column called Encounters in the NZ Herald.
"Whenever I was out drawing in Auckland, invariably someone would come up to talk to me. Very often what they told me, what they said, was very amusing. So I recorded it and did an illustration to go with it."
The Encounters articles, and the two books of Clark's illustrations of Auckland, published in the early 1980's *4 reflect his love of the city and its people. They also provide a remarkable record of the physical and social environment during a period of rapid change.

Nobby Clark's celebration of the local at a time when the international was often highly valorised in New Zealand is a significant feature of his work and reflects a growing sense of New Zealand identity. This is evident in the advertisements he did for DB Brown beer while working at Dormer-Beck. Clark comments "At that time New Zealand advertising for beer struck me as being terribly amusing because there were rather bad drawings of people, usually gathered around a grand piano or in evening clothes, drinking beer. When you consider what drinking in New Zealand was like then with six o'clock closing, it was really hilarious. So I doodled around and produced an idea where I simply did drawings of people in what I considered normal situations, drinking beer, with about three lines of copy which I wrote. They accepted it and the campaign ran for five or six years."

This approach introduced new, vernacular imagery to beer advertising, which soon became the dominant approach in beer advertising in this country.
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Collection of Nobby

Advances of technology during this period also influenced Clark's output. The development of television created new opportunities for freelance illustrators. Clark was responsible for one of the first three television commercials made in New Zealand for Betty Crocker cake mix.

He commented:
"As far as I knew there was only one animator around at that time and I decided that I would do the drawings and we would cheat by doing a close up and then drawing back. I did about sixty drawings and took them to the TV producer, then we rearranged how we would shoot them. It was really quite successful. I found the doing of the TV quite intriguing."

"I really enjoyed it. But when I first came to New Zealand the appeals of advertising were much more honest and easier to work with: Betty Crocker is a good cake – it makes a lovely big cake – like this and it only costs so much. Then it began to change and it began to be: People of distinction use Betty Crocker! The best people! It became absurd and now it’s reached the point where I find TV advertising obnoxious. You know, all these appeals to peoples’ worst instincts”. Clark also worked on other animated advertisements, producing story boards for Kolynos toothpaste and Chesdale cheese."
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Nobby Clarke has lived in New Zealand longer than he has lived anywhere else in the world. He has said he considers himself a New Zealander, rather than English. His considerable body of creative work is a strong testimony to his fondness of New Zealand, and his artists' perception of the particularities of Auckland. In an unpublished text for a third book about Auckland he writes:
"There is a painter's trick that arty people call contre-jour "against the daylight" which artists who are fond of dramatic contrasts create by silhouetting things against the sunlight.

Auckland with its many steep streets and clear air is a wonderful place for observing contre jour effects. The sun seems to balance for a little while on the crest of the steep streets and, for a few magical minutes everything is in eloquent silhouette.

The first time I became really aware of this was on Victoria Street West when the sun was inching down to the Waitakere ranges and the Empire Hotel and its departing patrons were contre-joured.

This was back in the days of six o'clock closing when the Empire was a working man's watering hole and the frieze of figures that straddled across the sun was a fashion parade of popular, everyday clothing. There were baggy shorts, wide brimmed trilbies, ladies flower pot hats, stiletto heeled shoes and gladstone bags.

As the years rolled by the Empire, like many of the other older Victorian pubs that dotted the western streets above Queen Street, began to climb upmarket. The frieze of contre-joured patrons changed to one that included mini skirts, flared trousers, elevated shoes, and, recently, mobile phones. Today the frieze includes the easily identified silhouettes of Auckland celebrities, PR persons, advertising whizz kids, talkback hosts and the sort of people who read snide comments about one another in the gossip columns."
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The creative work and significance of ecommercial artists in New Zealand has been overlooked by traditional art historians. The work of Nobby Clark, presented in the first completed designers profile’ of the New Zealand Graphic Design Archive, reveals much about New Zealand society, the development of the graphic design profession, and the humour, skill and insight of the designer and artist himself.

  1. "He was always drawing as long as I've known him seventy years. I think he's quite good, but he ought to be. He's had more practice than most." Margaret Clark discussing Nobby's drawing in an interview with Amy and Virginnia McKinnon, Howick, NZ September 2000.

  2. Auckland their Auckland written and illustrated by K.S. Clark. Introduction p3, Landsdowne Press, Auckland 1983.

  3. TEAL stands for Tasman Empire Airlines Limited. TEAL was New Zealand's first international airline and was a pioneer in developing tourist routes in the South Pacific.

  4. Auckland Their Auckland written and illustrated by K.S. Clark, Landsdowne Press, Auckland 1983.
    Nobby Clark's Auckland, written and illustrated by K.S. Clark , Endeavour Press, Auckland 1985.

  5. Text that accompanies a drawing of the Empire Hotel from unpublished book of Auckland drawings by Nobby Clark 1987.
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Collection of Nobby