I Wonder by Marian Bantjes


Book of the year, without a doubt. I only bought this yesterday and it’s been another hectic week so I’ve barely had a chance to look at it, never mind read the thing. What we have is 208 pages of unique creations by one of my favourite graphic designers, Marian Bantjes, in a truly beautiful production from one of my favourite publishers, Thames & Hudson. The text comprises Bantjes’ musings on art, design, decoration, pattern, and her personal development, together with some well-chosen quotes from other writers. I could waste a lot of pixels larding the book with superlatives but you really have to see a copy for yourself, words and pictures do it little justice.


More than anything I’ve seen recently this book is a tactile experience, and yet another volume (that designation which Borges always used to emphasise) which makes a nonsense of the idea of screens as an adequate replacement for all books. The boards are blocked with a gold and silver pattern, the page edges are also blocked in gold and there’s a liberal use of gold ink throughout. There’s so much gold ink on the exterior that leafing through the pages leaves your clothes and fingertips lighted dusted with a glittering residue. As an additional grace note, each volume comes with a length of purple bookmark ribbon.


Unlike many monographs from graphic designers this isn’t a “greatest hits” collection (although I’d still buy it if it was), all the layouts were created for the book alone. It’s not all gold ink and florid decoration, there are 21st century designs as well as hand-drawn pieces. And pasta. She doesn’t need a computer or even a pencil, she can work wonders with pieces of dried flour and water. Of the quotes, two stood out following a cursory perusal. The first is a humorous occurrence of the famous “Less is more” from Mies van der Rohe, placed in small type on an otherwise blank page. The second is from Oscar Wilde’s The Critic as Artist (1890):

Still, the art that is frankly decorative is the art to live with. It is, of all our visible arts, the one art that creates in us both mood and temperament. Mere colour, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways. The harmony that resides in the delicate proportions of lines and masses becomes mirrored in the mind. The repetitions of pattern give us rest. The marvels of design stir the imagination.

You can have your imagination marvellously stirred for nineteen pounds and ninety-five pence.


Update: The Bantjes Covers, in which the designer explains how her cover design came together.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
T&H: At the Sign of the Dolphin

L’Amour Fou: Surrealism and Design


Cadeau Audace by Man Ray (1921).

L’amour fou by Robert Hughes
Fur teacups, wheelbarrow chairs, lip-shaped sofas … the fashion, furniture and jewellery created by the Surrealists were useless, unique, decadent and, above all, very sexy.

The Guardian, Saturday March 24th, 2007

THE VICTORIA AND Albert’s big show for this year, Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design, is—well, maybe we don’t much like the word “definitive”. But it’s certainly the first of its kind.

Everyone knows something about surrealism, the most popular art movement of the 20th century. The word has spread so far that people now say “surreal” when all they mean is “odd”, “totally weird” or “unexpected”. No doubt this would give heartburn to André Breton, the pope of the movement nearly a century ago, who took the title from his friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had called his play The Breasts of Tiresias, “a surrealist drama”. But too late now. The term is many years out of its box and, through imprecision, has achieved something akin to eternal life. Surrealist painting and film, that is. In fact, some surrealist images have imprinted themselves so deeply and brightly on our ideas of visual imagery that we can’t imagine modern art (or, in fact, the idea of modernity itself) without them.

Think Salvador Dalí and his soft watches in The Persistence of Memory. Think Dalí again, in cahoots with Luis Buñuel, and the cut-throat razor slicing through the girl’s eye, as a sliver of cloud crosses the moon (actually, the eye belongs to a dead cow, but you never think this when you see their now venerable but forever fresh movie An Andalusian Dog, 1929). Think of photographer Man Ray’s fabulous Cadeau Audace (‘Risky Present’, 1921), the flatiron to whose sole a row of tacks was soldered, guaranteeing the destruction of any dress it would be used on. Think of Rene Magritte’s The Rape, that hauntingly concise pubic face, with nipples for eyes and the hairy triangle where the mouth should be. Think of the shock, the horniness, the rebellion, the unwavering focus on creative freedom, the obsessive efforts to discover the new in the old by disclosure of the hidden…

Continues here

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Surrealist Revolution
Surrealist Women
Las Pozas and Edward James
Surrealist cartomancy