Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The feel of the city

Original editions of this 1969 book can cost hundreds of pounds on the rare book market but as Martin Parr says in his introduction: So now the cat is out of the bag and the book is now known and appreciated by a London audience.

I regard the contents as a visual stream of consciousness photobook. The presentation is much more graphic than photographic, most of the images have a very reduced tonal quality, some are cutouts, pages have tear shapes either of photos or black panels, images butt together and huge grainy blow-ups reveal Butturin's view of London at the end of the swinging sixties. I wonder how far he was influenced by Klein's famous photobook 'Life is good & good for you in New York' because the presentation is very similar.

There are no captions to the photos and with so many close-ups of people's faces the only real indication that everything was shot in London are a few photos of the Underground, the head of a Horse Guard, a bowler hatted gent but if this book was shown to most people and they were asked to identify the city, without revealing the book's title, I bet London would be at the top of the list. Without doubt it has the feel of London.

Monday, 13 November 2017

The master of knotted string

There are plenty of books full of Heath Robinson's wonderfully complicated machines designed to do very little but this book is unique because it only features his advertising work. What makes it  special is because so much of the art produced for commercial concerns had a rather limited life. Now through Geoffrey Beare's careful research we can all enjoy seeing how Robinson created a walking dragline for Ruston-Bucyrus Limited in 1938 or how to take a flashlight of the Christmas dinner party for Wellington Films 1925.

In Beare's illustrated introduction I was intrigued to read that Robinson's work was very popular in America, his books and cartoons were published in Life (the humour title that ceased in 1936) and other magazines in the first decades of the last century (unfortunately from about 1928 artist Rube Goldberg, an American version of Robinson, became much more popular in print). It would seem obvious that companies would use Robinson's art, his drawings were very popular and who could not resist looking at an ad with a complicated bit of machinery set in a background full of quirky detail. In the back pages there's an alphabetical listing of over a hundred companies whose work is featured, many of them well known names today, for example: Bassetts; Bovis; Coleman's mustard; Hovis; Nabisco; Oxo; Johnnie Walker.

Robinson's work gets a good showing throughout the pages, black and white for newspaper ads or black on light coloured panels where the original was a booklet. Some of the colour examples are a treat to look at, page sixty-seven has a painting of a biscuit making machine printed on card and put in tins of Crawford's biscuits or five pages of the Brain Waves calendar art for Nottingham printer Thomas Foreman. Nearly all pictures have the Robinson trademarks of the knotted string or rope and paunchy men cycling to provide power for some whimsical machinery.

The book is beautifully designed with 286 illustrations (61 in colour) in a straightforward but elegant layout, all the ad art is catalogued by company and there is a comprehensive index. This is a celebration of a very British artist and his amazing inventions.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Bruno shapes up

Three fascinating books written by  Munari between 1960 and 1976 and now reprinted in one handy title. He explores the three basic shapes as they occur in the man-made world over the centuries but especially in the way that artists and designers have used them creatively for practical solutions like buildings, Mies Van De Rohe's square house or for fun like the impossible triangle conceived  by Lionel Penrose.

This three-in-one title is essentially visual and arranged alphabetically with deep captions for some of the illustrations. There is an interesting hands-on aspect to some of the entries, they could easily be constructed, for example, page sixty-one has a pyramid formed by cutting a square piece of card or page 190 shows a tetrahedral made from interlocking hexagrams and made from corrugated cardboard. These simple constructions will give any reader a deeper understanding of shape and form.

I thought it was a pity that some of the illustrations weren't in color, especially the paintings like Verena Loewensberg's Composition (1956) Richard Lohse Horizontal divisions (1949) or Mary Vieira's 1953 sculpture of mobile circular surfaces. The book, though, is full of thought provoking entries and it'll make you want to find out more via Wikipedia and Google.