Jon Daniel obituary

Black consciousness campaigner, advertising director, columnist and curator

My friend Jon Daniel, who has died of pneumonia aged 51, was an award-winning creative director whose range of work – from ad campaigns, to efforts to raise black consciousness, to magazine columns, to exhibition curation – was as various as the man himself. Whether he was spearheading an attempt to get the Royal Mail to take up his designs for a set of stamps highlighting the black contribution to Britain, or gleefully detailing his latest celebrity sighting at Herne Hill station, he did it with a winning and infectious enthusiasm.

Jon was born in London, the child of West Indian immigrants. His mother, Sheila, came from Grenada and worked as a district nurse; his father, Horace, came from Barbados and worked for London Transport before moving into the civil service. The family – he had two brothers, Damian and Tony – lived in East Sheen, and while Jon’s afro was an object of intense fascination at school, he didn’t recall any overt racism – “just a sense of difference”.

He steeped himself in the West Indian culture of his extended family and the African-American move from the civil rights era into 70s funk. His older brother, Tony, introduced him to bands such as the Ohio Players, Brass Construction, Cameo and Slave; he devoured the biographies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. He channelled what he called his “over-active mind and imagination” into a graphic design course, working for 25 years as an art director for many of London’s leading ad agencies.

In 1993 he married Jane Cullen, a fellow art director; his assiduous and prolonged wooing of her remains legendary among the couple’s many friends. Jon was a devoted husband and father to their two sons, Noah and Gil.

Latterly, Jon followed one of the key precepts of his idol (and friend) George Clinton – “If you ain’t gonna get it on, take your dead ass home” – in being an advocate for the past achievements and current aspirations of the black diaspora and their second- and third-generation descendants. He worked on campaigns and branding for Black History Month and Operation Black Vote; he collaborated with Ms Dynamite, Soul II Soul and the Black Cultural Archives; and he championed previous creative trailblazers in 4 Corners, his regular column for Design Week.

His show Post-Colonial: Stamps from the African Diaspora, was hosted at the London store of Stanley Gibbons, the global stamp emporium, in 2011. Then there was Afro Supa Hero, Jon’s exhibition based on his personal collection of black action figures and comic books. It had started with the acquisition of a Malcolm X doll in the mid-90s; by 2013, when the collection went on show at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, it encompassed everything from Harriet Tubman and Meteor Man action figures to Black Goliath comics, Harlem Globetrotters board games and Jon’s AfroSupaStar-branded mugs.

Whether watching the crowds delighting in the Afro Supa Hero exhibits on the show’s opening night, or attending one of his regular, jam-packed birthday parties at the White Lion in Streatham, or wolfing down rice and peas alongside dubsteppers and design luminaries, Jon’s own superpower was immediately apparent. It lay in his ability to bring people together, no matter their background or station, and infuse them with his unquenchable generosity of spirit.

He is survived by Jane, Noah and Gil, and by his mother and brothers.


Stuart Husband

The GuardianTramp

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