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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Long may he continue.