Written by By Jason Pope, CNN
Bob Gill, a graphic designer and editor who conceptualized a message on every cereal box for General Mills, and introduced bold new colors to the world, has died at the age of 90.
With colorful illustrations such as a Proustian yellow-orange cloud and a jigsaw puzzle of butterflies in a blue circle, Gill created a style that was groundbreaking in its simplicity and drew praise for its multi-layered sophistication.
“He wasn’t flashy, he wasn’t a celeb; he was a guy who designed what he wanted to design,” said Williams Montague, a graphic designer and one of Gill’s last pupils.
“He was the consummate modernist.”
Gill died in New York on February 28, after a six-year battle with cancer, according to his son, Bob Gill Jr.
The eldest of two brothers, Gill grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and served in the Air Force during World War II. He attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where he worked as a copywriter before moving on to General Mills, where he became a graphic designer and copywriter.
Gill teamed up with British designer Ettore Sottsass, of Ettore Sottsass Le Corbusier Studio, and the pair created a series of series of concept illustrations for General Mills. Known as the Big Dipper, The Sundial, The National Lampoon and The Road, The Message was the first of the “what’s on the box” series.
The artists drew a simple message on their designs:
“Please eat (fill in the blank) in the next 20 seconds, and then STOP!”
The “what’s on the box” series and The Big Dipper developed into Gill’s iconic style.
General Mills hired Gill in 1960 to create design campaigns for the upcoming ice cream season and he developed The Big Dipper shortly thereafter. He left General Mills in 1971 and went on to do design work for pharmaceutical companies, creating timeless pieces that reflected his evolving approach to design.
Gill came up with colorful illustration styles that cross referenced Native American mythology with the storytelling of 19th-century writers like W.H. Auden.
“Bob’s work is at once political, ironic, and emotive,” William Whitehead, a friend and colleague at RISD and an art historian, told the Associated Press. “It is his best work and, at 90, he is now too old to do that anymore.”
“He got to do exactly what he wanted because General Mills let him,” Gill’s son told the AP. “But I don’t think he will be remembered for what he did there; I think he’ll be remembered for what he did for Warhol and the Tim Burton films and everything else.”