Sunday, May 20, 2012

Psalms: Arthur Wragg

It's always dangerous to appear too definitive but it's probably safe to say that the two serious geniuses of the turn-of-the-19th-century in black and white illustration were Aubrey Beardsley and William Heath Robinson, and perhaps Harry Clarke... you see, already the definitiveness slips away! Anyhow, perhaps the one person who took on black and white in a genuinely original and genuinely genius kind of way in the inter-war period was Arthur Wragg (1903-1976). This is his first book (Selwyn & Blount, London, 1933) and it was like a clarion cry of a new 'black and white'. Clearly it stands in the tradition of the 1890s and of the emerging Socialist propagandist art but it is also clearly his own. A Christian Socialist, Wragg produced these images in ink, not as it sometimes thought, as woodcuts, and they don't so much leap from the page as carve their way deep into it. They are dread-ful, awe-ful, passionate and visionary and, although it might truthfully be said that they present a somewhat naive view of the interaction of religion and politics they are, I think, all the more affecting for that. I wish I could scan every last one of them and post them here but I can't: the book wouldn't stand the scanning but I urge you, if you have an ounce of interest in 20th century illustration to go out and buy the inexpensive books created by this undeservedly neglected master.

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