The Illustrators of Alice

alice1.jpg

Latest book purchase is this large format volume from 1972, one of a number of interesting art books produced by Academy Editions in the early seventies. I also have their monographs on Odilon Redon, “insane” painter Richard Dadd, and their collection of Félicien Rops‘ pornographic and “Satanist” drawings which remains one of the few Rops books published in English.

alice2.jpg

Through the Looking-Glass by Mervyn Peake (Allen Wingate, London, 1954).

This collection is worth seeking out if you’re interested in minor Victorian and Edwardian illustrators. The book goes through each chapter of the Alice stories showing examples of illustrated editions by a wide range of illustrators and artists, from Lewis Carroll’s original drawings, Tenniel’s inimitable renderings, then on through the twentieth century, featuring artists such as Peter Blake, Ralph Steadman and even a picture by Max Ernst. The cover drawing is one of my favourites, from Charles Robinson, brother of the more famous William Heath. I also like the pictures by the great Mervyn Peake, one of the few illustrators who seemed able to overcome Tenniel’s dominance and show us something new.

The Alice books are one of the great “standards” (in the jazz sense) of illustration although I can’t say I’ve ever felt the temptation to approach them myself. Loathsome monstrosities from hideously-angled dimensions beyond space and time, yes; small Victorian girls and white rabbits, no.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Austin Osman Spare

spare.jpg

Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of one of my favourite artists, Austin Osman Spare.

Like many people in the 1970s, I was introduced to the work of Austin Spare by Man, Myth and Magic, a seven volume “illustrated encyclopedia of the supernatural” published weekly in 120 112 parts by Purnell. My mother was a Dennis Wheatley reader so we had a couple of occult paperbacks in the house, among them one of William Seabrook‘s accounts of voodoo in Haiti and a copy of Richard Cavendish’s wonderful magical primer, The Black Arts, (later retitled The Magical Arts). Cavendish had been chosen as editor of Man, Myth and Magic and included occultist and writer Kenneth Grant on his editorial staff, a decision that gave the book’s producers access to Grant’s collection of Spare pictures. In a rather bold move, they launched Man, Myth and Magic in 1970 with a detail of a Spare drawing on the cover, a work often referred to as The Elemental although the authoritative Spare collection, Zos Speaks has it titled as The Vampires are Coming. It’s a shame that AOS didn’t live for a few more years to see this; after labouring in poverty and obscurity for most of his life he would have found his work flooding Britain, with this first issue on sale all over the country and the cover picture being pasted on billboards and sold as posters. It’s possible there were even television adverts for the book (although I don’t recall any), since there usually were for expensive part works like this.

Continue reading “Austin Osman Spare”