Friday, November 28, 2014

The "Lifestyle Illustration" Books

Besides the occasional biography of an important illustrator, illustration fans each year can find new books containing collections of illustration art. Some deal with an individual artist (usually one specializing in science fiction and fantasy book covers, it seems), others feature multiple artists dealing in a common genre -- again, often science fiction and fantasy.

Over the past few years Taschen has published many art books, including a series titled "Illustration Now." I don't own any copies because I don't like most of their content, being more a fan of 1895-1965 vintage illustration.

Speaking of which, there are now two books edited by Rian Hughes full of works by British and American illustrators:

Lifestyle Illustration of the 60s appeared in 2011 and Lifestyle Illustration of the 50s came out in 2013.

I find the titles puzzling. What the books contain are mostly full-color romance story illustrations that appeared in British magazines for women. Page after page is filled with beautiful women paired with handsome men in various situations related in one way or another to romance. This is pretty limiting, yet the illustrators were somehow able to introduce enough variety that I didn't notice any two pictures being identical. Along with this, a few fashion and even furniture/decor illustrations can be found; I suppose this tiny intrusion was taken to justify the "Lifestyle" part of the titles. I think a more descriptive title might have been "Romance Story Illustrations of the XXs," but maybe there were good reasons for not using something like that.

American illustrators' work is included because publication rights were sold following publication in American magazines. In that way, British readers got to see the likes of Coby Whitmore, Jon Whitcomb, Joe DeMers, Edwin Georgi and Lynn Buckham (who actually worked in England for a while).

David Roach, in his introduction to the 1950s collection, notes that early in that decade British illustrators' work lagged behind what the Americans were doing in terms of style and pizazz. He contends that the Brits had pretty well caught up with the Yanks by 1960. I agree that the cream of American illustrators noticeably outclassed the British for much of the 50s, and disagree that they had caught up by the end. The gap had considerably narrowed in my judgment, but hadn't quite closed.

The 1960s book is interesting in that, despite the romance story focus, the shift in illustration fashion to modernist designs where representationalism was degraded is clearly documented. By 1970 the silly succession to classical illustration was now (and remains) dominant.

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