David Klein Biography

David Klein was an immensely prolific travel posterist who worked primarily for TWA and produced dozens of posters for the now-defunct global carrier. He designed several different series for TWA, ranging from early work that was realistic to later work that was cartoon-like in style.

David Klein was born in El Paso, Texas in February of 1918. He moved to California where he attended the Art Center School [later renamed the Art Center College of Design] in Los Angeles.

During the 1930s, he was an active member of the California Watercolor Society. This group of artists often chose to paint watercolors depicting scenes of everyday life in the cities and suburbs of California. They painted directly with little or no preliminary pencil drawings, and used paper as a ‘color’ in a new and creative way.

During that period, David Klein displayed his work regionally, most notably at the 1940 Golden Gate International Exposition.

David served in the army during the Second World War, where he illustrated numerous army manuals. In 1947, the U.S. Air Force received some 800 works of art from the U.S. Army and in 1953, in conjunction with the Society of Illustrators, (of which David Klein was a long-time member), the Air Force Art Program was formed. This collection features several of Mr. Klein’s works, some of which have been exhibited at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.

After the war, David Klein moved to New York and settled in Brooklyn Heights, where he would live for the next 60 years. In 1947, David Klein worked as an art director at Clifford Strohl Associates, a theatrical advertising agency. Before long, David became the illustrator of choice for many of Broadway’s best-known shows of the period. David’s poster/window cards from this period include: Death of a Salesman, Brigadoon, Most Happy Fella, The Music Man, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This body of work remains one of the enduring hallmarks of this golden age of Broadway.

David Klein is best known, however, for his influential work in the field of travel advertising. During the 1950s and 1960s, David Klein designed and illustrated dozens of posters for Howard Hughes’ Trans World Airlines (TWA).

David’s use of bright colors depicting famous landmarks in an abstract style defined the state of poster art of the period. In 1957 a TWA poster of New York City became part of the permanent collection of the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York. These works are much imitated and to this day define the excitement and enthusiasm of the early years of post-war air travel. They defined the Jet Set style and have become iconic.

David won numerous awards for Excellence from the Society of Illustrators for his TWA work, including his Philadelphia, Boston, Switzerland, and Africa poster art. David won many other awards during the 1960s for his TWA work (his Los Angeles, Rome and Paris Posters in particular) from travel, advertising, and illustration and design organizations.

In 1967, David’s cutting edge work for First National City Bank of New York (later Citibank) won a Printing Industries of American National Graphics Award as well as an award from the Society of Illustrators. Klein used overlays of transparent colored acetate to create a series of animal prints made from geometric shapes. The bank used these images in numerous displays, signs and campaigns during that period. So successful were they that the bank produced sets of these animal prints which were sold, suitable for framing, at its many New York branches.

David Klein worked on several other travel poster campaigns throughout his career. These clients include Amtrak, Cunard, and Holland American Cruises. In 2000, the Internet travel company, Orbitz, contacted David and hired him to produce a series of posters that called to mind the early and iconic Jet Age posters done some 50 years earlier by Mr. Klein for TWA.

Other advertising clients during David Klein’s career included: US Rubber (Keds, Naugahyde), the American Journal of Nursing, Singer Sewing Company, and Bibb (designing bed sheets). He illustrated numerous books for Macmillan Publishing, Time/Life Books and did numerous covers for Today’s Living Magazine published by the Herald Tribune.

David Klein also created poster and advertising artwork for several films, most notably Barry Lyndon, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The Gauntlet.

Although Mr. Klein worked commercially almost until the end of his life, in his 70s, he returned to his artistic roots, focusing his creative energies on watercolor paintings. His work of this later period is the result of his travels in the U.S. and in Europe and features rural, natural scenes as well as architectural studies of buildings in Europe, particularly Venice. This work, too, has won several awards, most notably from the Kent Art Association in Connecticut.

Examples of David Klein’s early and later watercolors are in the permanent collection of the Department of Interior’s Museum.

With each year that passes, David Klein’s legacy is increasingly cemented in the world of illustration art. Klein’s work gains in popularity and his Broadway and Travel posters particularly have become sought-after collectibles Worldwide. Most recently, Entertainment Weekly featured one of David Klein’s posters (from the 1964 World’s Fair) in their August 1, 2008 issue in an article discussing the look and feel of the hit AMC Cable show Mad Men.