Dorrit Dekk

The variety, colour and zest of Dorrit Dekk’s work reflect her own life and personality. Although she was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia as Dorrit Fuhrmann, she moved as a child to Vienna. Even there she was not entirely settled, as she suffered from tuberculosis and had to spend four years at a clinic in Switzerland, which she loved.

Her Swiss sojourn, she says, undermined her formal education, but on return to Vienna she was able to study theatre design from 1936-8 with Professor Otto Niedermoser at the prestigious Kunstgewerbeschule, the designer Max Reinhardt being an important influence. Although she was not a Czech speaker, fortunately she retained that country’s passport, which facilitated a move to England as the Nazis made life uncomfortable. A letter of introduction from Dekk’s Viennese professor enabled her to continue her studies from 1938-9 at the Reimann School in London.

After the death of her first husband, who had made an inventive and important contribution to the war effort at sea, Dekk was enabled to join the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Entry into the WRNS by a foreign national was most unusual. She hoped to work in radar, but with her linguistic skills was instead made a radio intelligence officer, intercepting E-boat signals.

She aspired to work in theatre design after demobilisation, but opportunities were lacking. Adopting the name Dorrit Dekk, she moved into graphic design, from 1946-8 producing poster designs and illustrations for the Central Office of Information. From 1950, for around thirty years, she ran a flourishing design practice. Her witty and colourful mural in the sporting display ‘People at Play’ section of the Festival of Britain Land Travelling Exhibition became popular. Over the years, her clients included Air France, P&O-Orient Line, British Rail, London Transport and the National Savings Bank.

Eventually Dekk realised that photography was eroding the outlets once open to creative designers, and her second husband suggested she retire to concentrate more on her own interests. From the early 1980s, a series of solo and mixed exhibitions followed. Despite the approach of her ninetieth birthday and an incapacitating stroke, Dekk continues to create with a youthful zeal. In a variety of media, her huge output ranges from abstract designs to quirky landscapes and townscapes. She has a longstanding affection for backstreets and their inhabitants, markets and ruins in Britain and abroad.