Artists – Penguin Classics – Varoom spring issue 2011.

Lolita illustrated by Michael Gillette; Despair illustrated by Slawa Harasymowicz

‘Penguin’s new erdition of Vladmir Nobokov novels deliver covers that celebrate the author’s unique combination of the classical and the subversive’- N.Blincoe Varoom spring 2011

The idea behind the style for these book illustrations comes from trying to celebrate the very nature of Nabokov. This was a man born into Aristocracy only to suffer the Russian revolution and ‘left stranded on the wrong side of history’.
‘His novels are drenched in nostalgia for a time when life was carefree and hereditary servants did the heavy lifting.But his novels are also marked by a refusal to be limited. Nabokov is not against freedom so much as he hates the big idea of freedom: that great, grand Modernist idea of starting afresh at Ground Zero.’
Design Agency Pentagram took on the brief from Penguin and Angus Hyland devised a way to incorporate both the classical and the subversive. He devised a ‘new look’ or classical template similar to Penguin covers from the 1950s then asked 14 Illustrators to work within this structure.
Hyland says “It’s a dialogue. The illustrations subvert the (covers) quite rigid form. But the more they push it, th emore they open up the possibilities of the concept.”
‘The doodle-like illustrations draw attention to small and seemingly disparate elements…..the attention paid to these disparate elements refect  Nabokov’s philosophy of freedom in the small things’

 I like it most where the illustators have used the structure of the template most ingeniously. So in Despair the white box is used as abrrier between the near and far, whereas in Luke Best’s illustration for Pnin the square becomes a window or perhaps a map. I’m obviously a big fan of quick expressive illustration so I enjoy these covers immensely. Especially with the balance between structure and expression being so vital to the concept.


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