Monday, October 1, 2012

A Thrilling Dust Jacket By Paul Davis

by Stephen J. Gertz

First edition, 1963.

In 1963, after publishing seven James Bond novels, Ian Fleming wrote something entirely different after being offered a writer's dream assignment. At the behest of his friend, Charles Denis Hamilton, editor of the Sunday Times of London, Fleming undertook a five-week, all-expenses paid trip to visit and report on the world's most exciting cities.

The result was Thrilling Cities (London: Jonathan Cape, 1963), its material ultimately providing Fleming with background for the five Bond novels and seven short stories that followed.

The book featured a stunning dust jacket design by Paul Davis.

Three Penny Opera. 1976.
Raul Julia.

Anyone alive, awake  and living in New York City during the 1970s knows the work of Paul Davis, whose posters for Joseph Papp's Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park were instantly iconic and remain indelible images.

"The revolution was already in full swing when in the late 1950s a young artist named Paul Davis entered the fray. Some renegade illustrators and art directors had already begun to revolt against the saccharine realism and sentimental concepts prevalent in most American magazines and advertising...

Henry V. 1976.
Paul Rudd.

"Although Paul Davis was not among this first wave, he was swept up by it and soon contributed to the illustration and design of the epoch. By the early 1960s, he had developed a distinct visual persona which, owing to a unique confluence of primitive and folk arts, brought a fresh new American look to illustration. In a relatively short time he was among the most prolific of the new illustrators, and his style had a staggering impact on the field...

"From the sixties to the present, he has contributed some paradigmatic approaches to the eclectic mix of American graphic art" (1989 AIGA Award, biography by Steven Heller).

Hamlet. 1975.
Sam Waterston.

Davis, born in 1938 in Oklahoma, told Heller of his early years during the 50s. “It was a turning point in American illustration, It was a rejection of Norman Rockwell, who was at his best a great Flemish painter and at his worst a bad cartoonist, as well as of the entrenched Westport style of romantic illustration.”

Gaining confidence, he took his portfolio to Push Pin, Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast's design shop, at the time the hottest in the business. After initial rejection they asked to rep his work. Influenced by many, including Thomas Hart Benton, Davis was attracted to American folk art. "There was no school here," he said, "there was no academia."

Measure For Measure. 1976.
Meryl Streep and John Cazale.

His style ultimately developed into fusion of American indigenous art and the surrealism of René Magritte. In 1963 he left Push Pin to work as an independent. The dust jacket for Thrilling Cities followed in that year. As the 60s evolved, so did Davis, who now began to incorporate elements of social realism into his work. By the end of the 60s, however, he made a conscious decision to "rid my work of all the elements that referred to other styles."

The Taming of the Shrew. 1978.
Meryl Streep and Raul Julia.

Yet those influences could not be extinguished and they are seen in what became his lasting contribution to American graphic art: his posters for Joseph Papp. They "challenged the conventions of contemporary theater advertising (particularly posters) in three ways: First, they were not encumbered by the usual bank of ”ego“ copy...Second, without mimicking style, Davis' posters referred to the late 19th-century European tradition of poster art which was ignored by the contemporary posterists...The third, and final, challenge to conventional theater posters was his basic methodology. Davis read the play, went to the rehearsals or readings, and talked to the actors and directors. 'They seemed to think,' he says, 'that I was doing this revolutionary thing by actually reading the scripts'" (ibid., Heller).

First edition, 1968.
The influence of American folk art  is clear.

The stylistic journey of Paul Davis from Thrilling Cities in 1963 to True Grit in 1968 through his theater posters during the mid-1970s encapsulates American graphic design during the latter half of the 20th century, and captures an artist avoiding the faddism of '60s pop and psychedelia to follow his own path toward an instantly recognizable and lasting body of work.

First edition, 1976.

In a declarative meow to make cat lovers purr, Davis brought his chops to bear on the feline side of life with his dust jacket for Jean-Claude Suares and Seymour Chwast's The Illustrated Cat (1976).

LEEUW, Hendrik De. Sinful Cities of the Western World.
NY: Pyramid #27, 1951. First edition in paperback.
Cover by Fred. W. Meyer.
First edition: NY: Citadel, 1946.

Ian Fleming's Thrilling Cities is not to be confused with Hendrik De Leeuw's Sinful Cities of the Western World which deals with an altogether different sort of thrilling urban adventure.

Fleming dedicated Thrilling Cities to Charles Denis Hamilton, the Times editor who was responsible for Fleming's assignment. Hamilton's copy, the dedication copy inscribed by Fleming, in fine condition as seen in today's header image, recently came to market. It sold for £12,500 ($20,200).

Image of Thrilling Cities courtesy of Peter Harrington, with our thanks.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email