Gerd Grimm was born 1911 in Karlsruhe, Germany. In 1929 he began his studies at The State Academy of Fine Arts Karlsruhe under the tutelage of German painters Wilhelm Schnarrenberger and Karl Hubbuch, and later attended The Academy of Fine Arts Nuremberg. In 1933 he moved to Berlin continuing his art studies at Berlin University of the Arts. Graphic designer, Oskar Hermann Werner Hadank, was his professor was among others. It was also here that Grimm met his met his partner and future wife, Hilde van Gülick.
Grimm finished his studies around the same time Nazis were gaining power. He started a promising career in illustration, receiving commissions for covers of prominent fashion magazines such as Silberspiegel, Die Dame and Elegante Welt. He also provided artwork for cigarette brands Muratti Ariston, Reemtsmas Ova, and sparkling wine, Kupferberg. However, by 1935, with the introduction of The Nuremberg Laws, Grimm was labelled a “Half-Jew.” Aware of his dwindling career opportunities in Germany, he decided to move to Le Havre, Paris.
His relocation to France did not last as long as he intended and returned to Berlin the following year. However, due to increased pressure on Jewish citizens, Grimm and Hilde emigrated again, this time to England. And for a second time they returned home. He did manage to get work, but only with the help of Hilde and amicable publishers. During this period, he and his drawings became disconnected, culminating in not signing much of his work. This disconnection cultivated a deep anxiety against public appearances. Also during the Second World War his Berlin apartment was destroyed along with many of his early works which served to further deepen the creative mire he was in.
Post-war, between 1945 and 1951, Grimm was far more productive. He had a drive akin to a young raw artist, thriving in an environment without restrictions. He began working for fashion magazines again. In particular Die Frau (The Woman), which in it’s relatively short run from 1946 to 1950, Grimm produced 61 of the 90 covers. During this time, Grimm was doing much better financially and decided to take a trip to New York. There he found work easily and was in demand from American magazines including Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and Esquire. Though they thought about staying, ultimately his wife felt homesick, and so the couple returned to Germany.
Now an international illustrator, Grimm’s work and reputation preceded him. Allowing him the freedom to take on a wide range of illustration and design projects for swimwear, clothing, perfume, cigarette and whisky companies. Also drawing book covers, notably for Thomas Mann, Arthur Schnitzler, and Thornton Wilder.
At the end of the 1950s, Grimm entered a deal with cigarette company Reval. Creating multiple posters fitting with the pop art movement, expressive colour choices such as blue faces and green hair. Grimm had updated his style to match current trends but was careful not loose everything that made his artwork so distinctive.
He did not really correct his lines. He would keep all his strokes regardless, eschewing perfection. Another one of his notable techniques was to leave large portions of the image incomplete, hinting at, and purposely omitting details leaving the viewer to fill in the blanks.
Thanks to his success, mostly due to his Reval commissions, Grimm took Hilde and their son around the world. Travelling to New York again, as well as California, Alaska, Antigua, South America, South Africa, and the Far East. He produced hundreds of illustrations during his travels. Unpolished, expressive, often intense illustrations of everything from subway passengers and street musicians to Bolivian slums and deserted villages. Much of this work has never been published.
To the best of my knowledge, there has only ever been two exhibitions dedicated to Gerd Grimm. Both in Germany, and both celebrating the centenary year of his birth. “Gerd Grimm’s 100th Birthday: Fashion, Girls, Megacities” at the Kunsthalle Messmer (Messmer Foundation) and “The new elegance: The fashion designer Gerd Grimm” at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (Museum of Arts and Crafts in Hamburg). In 2014, his work was featured in the UK exhibition “Drawing on Style: Four Decades of Elegance” at Gallery 8, alongside other great fashion illustrators including René Bouché, René Gruau and Carl Erickson.
The best place to find out more about Gerd Grimm is on the Grimm Foundation website.