Monday, 3 May 2010

Faber at the V&A

At the V&A until the end of May there’s a select display entitled Art and Design at Faber and Faber (or abe and aber, as the first wall caption has it), spanning 80 years and curated by Ron Costley. There are book jackets and covers (some of them period pieces, others – such as Adrian Stokes’s Stones of Rimini – looking as if they had been commissioned yesterday); and page designs too (of books by visual artists – Klee, Le Corbusier – as well as the literary great and good). But probably of most interest are the original artwork, the sketches, the things we don’t usually get to see.

Here is is Lawrence Durrell writing (in capital letters, using a red typewriter ribbon) in November 1956 in response to the cover design he’s been shown for Justine, attempting both to stay on good terms and to express his strong opinions: ‘Thank you so much for the trouble you have so obviously taken ... My idea was something much cruder on a cancer-livid Gollancz yellow. This is more artistic than I meant ... The scribbles on the spine don’t make any sense to me ... Please don’t swear at me ...’

Almost every author has written such a letter/email to their publisher. Cover designs are holy wars, with the author and publisher (and art director, designer, sales department, etc) each believing they are right and the others are wrong. Who wins? Here is Berthold Wolpe replying to Durrell’s letter, ‘which unfortunately did not reach me until Tuesday’: ‘The printer had started printing the jacket and I am sorry to say it was impossible to make any alterations.’ The last person to see the cover before it goes to the printer, that’s who wins.

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