This is Ben Shahn’s 1964 hardback book to memorialize John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Originally a poem by Wendell Berry published in The Nation magazine 4 days after Kennedy’s assassination. Shahn’s beautiful hand lettering has a sense of poignancy for such a tragedy.
The 50th anniversary of the death of C. S. Lewis and the reading of his The Screwtape Letters on Radio 4 this week makes for perfect synchronicity with the illustrator I want to celebrate, and not just me. The Royal Society of Arts (RSA) will honour Tony Meeuwissen with Royal Designer for Industry at their annual awards next week.
Above a selection from the Fontana C.S. Lewis paperback series that Tony Meeuwissen designed for me in 1974.
Back in the 1970s, when I was art director of Fontana paperbacks, I commissioned Tony to design many paperback covers. This included a series for C.S. Lewis, which Tony executed with his usual brilliant attention to detail and conceptual brilliance.
Born in 1938, Tony Meeuwissen has been quietly beavering away since the mid-1950s. Over the decades, he has been responsible for some of the most staggeringly beautiful work ever produced: work that has constantly won awards, accolades and praise along the way. He is a modest, obsessive worker, spending three to four years on single-book projects.
Alan Fletcher once said that there are few real mavericks in our business. Well, Tony Meeuwissen is just that: a true maverick. His work is always inventive, intensely detailed and full of wit and beauty. On becoming a freelance illustrator in the late ‘60s, Meeuwissen worked for a range of clients, including Radio Times, The Sunday Times magazine, Penguin Books, Fontana and Music Sales. He also created the cover artwork for the classic Rolling Stones album Their Satanic Majesties Request.
Centre lable for Transtalantic records 1972
Tony is not only an exceptional illustrator but he also has the mind of a designer. His work is infused with inventive ideas and wit, always breathtakingly realised through his gift of supreme craftsmanship.
One of the most beautiful D&AD covers designed by Tony in 1973
This excellence has earned him two D&AD silver awards and two of the much-coveted D&AD gold awards; he is the only illustrator to have achieved that. He has also received a V&A book illustration award. His work is in their permanent collection.
Remarkable Animals 1997
Above from The Key to the Kingdom 1993
Meeuwissen has also produced his own books: the children’s titles The Witch’s Hat, Remarkable Animals, Flip-O-Storic and The Key to the Kingdom, which is a book and set of beautifully realised ‘transformation’ playing cards that took him three years to complete.
Above 2 examples from the many paperback covers Tony designed during David Pelham's era as Art Director of Penguin Books
David Pelham, Penguin Books’ art director from the late 1960s to the late ‘70s, recalls: “On first meeting him it quickly became apparent that, armed as he was with a singular and quite remarkable illustrative technique, he was a keen reader with a sharp insight, able to absorb the essence of a book and to consequently define it with a strong and relevant image. Few have the ability to convey a notion from the mind’s eye to the drawing board with such clarity, originality and wit as Tony.”
Royal Mail Christmas Stamps 1984
Royal Mail Weather stamps 2001
Royal Mail Greetings stamps 1991
He has also produced a number of stamps for Royal Mail, one of which was voted the world’s most beautiful stamp. Now age 75, he shows no sign of retiring and is in the middle of another lengthy book project.
Tony Meeuwissen has spent his life demonstrating an extraordinary level of craftsmanship. All produced by hand, without the aid of digital technology.
He is an inspiration to anyone wanting to understand the hand-and-eye craft that is being lost in this digital age. And, what’s more, he never went to art school and learned his craft the old way of working in many long gone ‘commercial art’ studios in the mid 1950's, climbing his way up in a bygone era.
The main bulk of his output has been in the promotion of literacy through not only the many covers he has produced but also his own book projects for children, which have engaged and enchanted many young readers to look deeply into his work, where they are richly rewarded. His work educates, illuminates and delights through its breath-taking beauty and unsurpassed skill.
Now that’s what I call a contribution to society, and it is truly fitting that he should be honoured as a Royal Designer for Industry.
known for the ground-breaking Straw Bale House, which is both her home and her architectural
Above the Staw Bale House completed in 2001
not part of the ego-fuelled architectural edifices that are increasingly
populating our skyline. Her buildings are on a more intimate scale, where
people feel part of them and experience a tactile relationship with the space:
be it a school, social housing, a community centre or a dance studio. All are
given Wigglesworth’s recipe of alternative materials, sustainable technology
and green integrity.
Above: Siobhan Davies Dance Studios
recently recorded a revealing interview with Sarah at her office in North
London. You can listen to it here.
He presided over Penguin book covers as their Art Director (following on from wild child Alan Aldridge) from 1968 to 1979. Not only did he commission some wonderful artists and designers but he was an exceptional talent in his own right as a designer…
The Above Kites won Pelham a D&AD Silver Award
And also as an illustrator, producing a run of immaculately airbrushed illustrations for a verity of Penguin’s science fiction covers. Here are a few of my favourites…
He left penguin in the late ‘70s after the erosion of the Penguin design aesthetic brought about by Peter Mayer, who shook the company up and in the process made it profitable but threw out its soul. Pelham worked for a short-lived spell at Pentagram Design, after which he concentrated on his own publishing projects, specialising in innovative pop-up books.
The Human Body by David Pelham and Jonathan Miller was a great pop-up book success.
Since childhood, I have always been fascinated by the voice and what
this complex mechanism is capable of. I’ve always loved Impressionists because
of their incredible vocal dexterity and ability to deconstruct every aspect of
Peter Sellers was a master of this, and in the 1950s you would find me
glued to the radio listening to The Goon Show with Sellers’ wonderful repertoire of characters.
Every kid in the ‘50s would imitate Bluebottle or Captain Bloodknock. Listen to Peter Sellers: Guide to accents of the British Isles.
If you can do such a thing, I have collected voices like stamps, going
way back to the 1950s: Charles Laughton, Robert Donat, Raymond Massey, Orson
Welles, James Mason, Dirk Bogarde, Paul Scofield, Cyril Cusack, Henry Fonda,
Laurence Olivier and Gregory Peck, to name just a few, and that’s only the men.
The voice, like any other part of our body, needs exercising. Neglect it and it
becomes dull, thin and boring. When I first meet anyone, it’s their voice that
I instinctively tune into, and I am often surprised at how few people consider
the effectiveness of their voices. But the fact is, with a little understanding
and a bit of TLC, they could be greatly improved.
Just like hand writing is mostly for others to read. But in this digital age,
it is fast becoming a thing of the past, with few bothering to write
beautifully. The voice, on the other hand, is something we use all the time to
communicate with others. It is a barometer of our mood. Just saying one word (like
‘Hello’) can reveal a lot about what is going on and whether we are up, down or
flat: just in how that one word is spoken.
Even poets, whose words are meant to be delivered aloud, are often the
worst people to do it. A classic example is Dylan Thomas reading his ‘Under
Milk Wood’. It is diabolical when compared to Richard Burton’s wonderful
And our current Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, should be
discouraged from reading her own work.
With the exception of very few poets, it
is best left to the voices of trained actors who can transform poets’ words
into something of great beauty.
But rather than go on about it, here are two examples of what I mean
about the beauty of the human voice. The first is the wonderful late Paul
Scofield reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet
The second is the last scene from ‘American Beauty’, with Kevin Spacey’s
mellifluous voice over:
Meanwhile I’m still collecting voices: Samuel West, Charlotte Green, Chris
Aldridge, Anton Lesser, Nigel Anthony, Bernard Hill…