Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Tales of the Greeks and Trojans

The year was 1963 and in the small bookstore come stationer that was one of my favorite childhood haunts, there was a new book that immediately grabbed my attention. In those far away days when color printing was still something of a luxury, books that boasted a large format and cover to cover color printing were still something of an event. But this book was an even in itself, for the cover with Greek warriors in a duel to the death, their boldly painted forms silhouetted against a white background was an introduction to the work of one of the most extraordinary  illustrator teams I have ever come across.

Anne and Janet Grahame Johnstone were twin sisters who literally shared every commission they undertook, and by share I mean share as in working on the same artwork, each of the girls bringing their particular skills and interest to the project they were working on, Janet's particular passion was drawing animals, whilst Anne's love of costume was where she devoted much of her energies. Passing each artwork from one to the other they would produce artworks that were literally a combined operation.

Born in 1928 and raised in an environment where their artistic prowess was encouraged both at home and at school the sister soon gained recognition as illustrators whose innate sense of form, design and drama (much of it presumably inherited from their mother Doris Zinkeisen who was a noted portraitist and costume designer) was apparent from an early age.

Tales of the Greeks and Trojans, therefore was not their first or most prominent commission, in fact by the time they embarked on this masterpiece, they were well and truly in command of a very successful illustration practice, having provided artwork for Dodie Smith's 101 Dalmations and undertaken commissions as diverse as an updated (1950) version of the 19th nursery horror classic Struwwelpeter and pioneering work for BBC Children's TV on such series as Andy Pandy and Bill and Ben.

However, Tales of the Greeks and Trojans was for me, by far their best work. In it's pages you can see many of their influences, with hints of earlier northern European fantasy illustrators such as Kay Nielson, a touch of the stylings of Evind Earle (the man that defined the look for Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty), the pigs in the Circe illustration faintly reminiscent of the work of Maurice Wilson, but ultimately the artwork is very much the work of Anne and Janet Grahame Johnstone with their superbly orchestrated designs, bold outlines, fabulous costumes and an innate sense that allows them free reign to make each artwork sing with a vigor and life all it's own. Look at the symbolic use of red in the art depicting the return and subsequent murder of Agamemnon, the way that the well observed variations in skin tones add extra vibrancy to the characters hair and costumes. The way that the forms radiate of the pages creating beautifully realized negative space, in much the same way that the figures depicted on the mycenaean pottery the sisters had so carefully researched do. The use of texture producing yet another layer of storytelling to each amazing spread.

Enough of the preamble here's the artwork.

Monday, 13 February 2012

The Art of Denis McLoughlin

Every morning I wake up thinking I really need to make a new blog posting. Continuity of some sort needs to be maintained. However by the time I am sitting in my control center, trusty iMac gently purring, I find I have so much work to be resolved that I put off the fateful day for another twenty four hours.

... and so it goes.

So instead of serving up half baked excuses let me show you some of the work that has been chewing up valuable blogging hours. About this time last year, I commenced work on one of Book Palace Books hottest new projects, a long overdue look at the life and art of illustrator extraordinaire Denis McLoughlin with accompanying text by Denis himself and friend and biographer of the late artist, David Ashford.

There was however one problem.

Even though we had access to dozens of old photos and some lovely examples of his original artwork, the work that I felt was essential to include was conspicuous by it's absence. We had piles of Okay and Buffalo Bill Annuals, we even had complete runs of his TV Boardman comics, but as regards this truly timeless, fascinating and ever inventive hard boiled fiction covers, we had next to nothing.

There were of course collectors, but we needed high quality scans of all the covers we sought and the logistics of having to carry a scanner and computer to spend a day getting under the feet of a McLoughlin devotee, which would have secured us a reasonable number of scans but by no means all the ones I craved gave us pause for thought. Photographing the books would have been quicker, but the results are light years away from a scan. It simply wasn't an option.

The book was somewhat put on the back burner as attention turned to working on a new project for a quarterly publication devoted to illustration - yep Illustrators! In the intervening months we managed to make contact with Mark Terry of Facsimile Dustjackets in San Francisco and with Mark on board, the McLoughlin book achieved a new impetus. Mark who has a background in commercial printing and really has the knowledge to match his enthusiasm has contacts with collectors all over the world and already new about all the prime collections amongst the circle of McLoughlin fans. So the book became an international effort as Mark hooked up with collectors who could provide scans of the books we sought, which they would email him. He would then work on them carefully restoring all the cracks tears and missing fragments to create books that looked as fresh as the day they they left the publisher's warehouse.

We now had our book.

Here's some scans (minus captions) to give you a flavor.