Thursday, 19 July 2012

Austerlitz by W.G.Sebald

This is my take on the cover of Sebald's fascinating, intriguing, unsettling novel.

 When, as an illustrator, you reimagine the cover of a book, or indeed anything else that pre-exists such as an album/cd cover or advertising poster, you immediately put yourself in the position of appearing to try and improve on the original, why redesign it otherwise? Self criticism and that of others must surely follow. Another area where this is often true is when a song by one artist is covered by another and, in this case, I'm sure we can all come up with personal examples where self criticism from the cover artist should have kicked in long before they ever entered the recording studio. But there are many examples when a new version of a song succeeds and sometimes surpasses the original. Usually this is when something new is brought to it or it is so different to the original that the comparison is meaningless.

I read the Penguin paperback of Austerlitz a couple of years ago and the cover, which will be familiar to many, shows a small boy dressed in a strange fancy-dress style cavalier outfit in an open, rural landscape. The photograph, from it's tones and patina appears to have been taken between some point towards the end of the nineteenth century and before the second world war and at first I took it to be by the great German documentary photographer August Sander, though more damaged and distressed than other works of his that I've seen. Rick Poyner writes very interestingly about this image and those within the text and their relationship to that text in an article in The Design Observer.  Anyone who has read Austerlitz (or at least those who enjoyed it - if enjoyed is the right word?) will have noticed the unusual use of imagery in the story as it seems so intimately related to this piece of fiction rather than simply illustrating it.

And that is the point: the design of the penguin paperback I have in front of me cannot be improved upon. The image is not illustrating the novel, it is integral to it.

In my version this original image would have to appear prominently within the pages as my illustration could not replace it, merely displace it. Mine is simply a different and personal reaction to the book. Where the original photograph seems to portray the central character (not to give too much away in case you haven't yet read it) mine is about a sense of place and time, architecture and atmosphere - viewed perhaps through snippets of memory or maybe dreams rendering that landscape unreal, imagined, half remembered.

Not an improvement, an adjunct.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Long Time No Sea

Ok, ok, it's been a while, I know. Things have been going on... I've been busy.... I've been quiet.. whatever, I resolve to blog a little more regularly... as you do, I'm sure. And yes, I haven't been to the sea for a while, except for a day out in Brighton to see a friends contemporary dance performance.

So first off, I'd like to introduce you to a few recent pieces of mine. I've been inspired and encouraged by mid-twentieth century ephemera of late and that's rubbed off on my work, as I'm sure you can tell. the kind of things I mean are posters, brochures, book covers, match box labels and various other printed matter from that broad period. Whether they're from Russian children's books from the '30s and '40s to 1960s novel covers by way of cheerful characters from 50s adverts, I'm particularly drawn to some of the more cheaply produced material that is a little more out of register and a little more crudely drawn sometimes. There's nothing nicer than the misaligned dot structure of some exotically frugal foreign matchbox or the way ink of a single hue sits on and in the surface of a traditional paper.

But, of course, what really matters is the image. For me, an advertisement, logo, label or image for some long forgotten product imbues it with a sense of mystery in the same appealing way that the pages of someone else's sketchbook or a found drawing who's origins have been lost do.

So with no further explanation...

P.S. By the way, does everyone start each fresh blog post with an apology for not blogging for a while?     Just noticed it on a couple of friends blogs - must remember to avoid that one.