Archive for category Publisher: Herbert Press

The Grammar Of Ornament || Owen Jones

This reprint of an 1856 work puts back into availability what has long been regarded as the definitive sourcebook on ornamental motifs.

One’s thoughts turn immediately to the sort of things that were produced by A W Pugin and this is not far off the mark, for the book influenced designers as far separated as William Morris and Frank Lloyd Wright.

Written at a time when pattern books of all kinds were popular, the original purpose was to bring together styles of ornament from Ancient Egypt and Greece to the Renaissance and Elizabethan. The Gothic revival caused designers and craftsmen to look perhaps more backwards than forwards and there was a hunger for any information that would guide their eyes and hands. Although interest is now perhaps largely historical, it nevertheless remains a wonderful sourcebook of inspiration for the contemporary worker, even if they will probably not feel that they need the same level of instruction.

If there is to be a reservation, it is that that small page size and paperback format make for a thick spine which is difficult to open without damaging the book. This is a pity, because it is the sort of thing that needs to be left open on the work table and this is not really possible.

Herbert Press 2008

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Essential Art: The History of Western Art

This book infringes Henry’s first rule of art books, namely, Will you please make them big enough that we can see the **** illustrations?!

However, rules are made to be broken or, at the very least, if you’re going to break them you’d better have a pretty good reason and, in spite of an initial reservation, this has much to recommend it.

First up, you’re not going to get quite such a comprehensive and copiously illustrated history of art for £12.99 anywhere else. It’s gobsmackingly good value for money and that alone has to silence any cavil; you simply can’t fail to get your money’s worth from it one way or another.

Use this as a desk reference and you’ll quickly get annoyed with it. It’s a fat little thing and you’re either going to have to break the spine or hurt your hands getting at the inside edges of the pages. This is not a book to set open on your knee and read from cover to cover, but I’d contend this is not its purpose. Although it’s billed as a paperback, in fact it has a semi-rigid cover that takes quite happily to being bent around a bit and isn’t going to get dog-eared in your pocket. This is where it starts to shine. Take it out with you on a gallery trip or on holiday and, suddenly, you’ve got a complete reference work that, in any other form, would tip you heavily into excess baggage. If you’re really into the history of art, then you’ll probably have an extensive library and, even then, this will complement it perfectly. If you’re more of a dilettante, then it might be just enough on its own. It has its limitations, of course, but they’re never ones you can’t live with.

The book’s 500 pages are divided historically from early and pre-history to post 1945 and pretty much follow the major schools and developments. Most general histories put all of modern art into one section, but that’s to be expected if they do the same with the Renaissance, frankly, and it does have the advantage of not getting into any currently-running controversies. Playing it safe is a quality to admire in a general book! Each section is colour-coded at the page edges and starts with a timeline, moving on to specific schools and artists, allowing the reader to focus in quickly. If you’re standing in a museum or a gallery, you don’t have to fumble around for long to get to the relevant pages.

The word “essential” is nowadays used to mean something you can’t be without, but its original sense was of getting to the heart of the matter. This little book fulfils both.

Herbert Press 2007

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100 Characters From Classical Mythology As Seen In Western Art || Malcolm Day

When this first landed on the mat, I wondered why the publisher had sent to me. Looking at it, I can answer that (it is an art book), but it begs another question: just who is it aimed at?

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the book. It’s a nice handy guide to classical figures with some useful reproductions of later paintings and sculptures thrown in and I can see it doing quite nicely in any museum shop. It feels good in the hand (a quality all too often overlooked, but one which influences the impulse purchaser more than is always recognised) and it rather neatly staples together two areas that people tend to go to museums and galleries to see. And a great deal of Old Master works do have classical themes.

The book is arranged as list of 100 classical characters, each of whom gets one or two pages of explanation of who they are and their place in mythology together with a painting and a quick family tree. It’s very neatly done, but I’m still not quite sure why it was done. There are other guides to classical mythology and there are more comprehensive and larger-format guides to the world’s great works of art. The blurb suggests that it’s “an ideal reference tool for art historians looking the further their understanding of the mythological background of much of Western art”, but the problem is that, in a relatively small format and at only 160 pages, it’s surely aimed much more at the casual reader than the specialist.

Like I said, it’ll probably do very well in museum and gallery shops and it’s as good a point to start as anywhere else and its quirky approach might appeal, too. Just not to me.

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Basic Design: The Dynamics Of Visual Form || Maurice de Sausmarez

This is a reprint of a quite technical classic which first appeared in 1964 and in this second revised edition in 2001.

By no means something for the casual practitioner, this is an in-depth study of how form can be both represented and manipulated in both two and three dimensions. The book is copiously illustrated with both drawings and diagrams and also semi-sculptural objects which show how forces, movement and dynamics are observed visually and can be captured and transformed into artistic representation. Although actual artworks are included, they do not form the majority of the illustrations and this is not a book which is, on the whole, led by its pictorial content.

The intended reader is, without a shadow of doubt, the serious art and design student and this is much more of an academic textbook than a practical manual. There is also no doubt that the intended reader will have it well-thumbed, probably before they even get it home from the shop. It’s one of those books that tells you everything you need to know about its subject and then flips round and tells you even more. As such, it’s a snip at £14.99 and it’s one of those books that only a few publishers are able to produce in these more commercially-aware times so, once again, this website takes its hat off to Black’s (Herbert Press is their imprint) for doing it.

First published 1964, first revised edition 1983, second revised edition 2001, reprinted 2006

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Eric Gill: The Sculpture || Judith Collins

Eric Gill is one of the best-known English sculptors and designers of the twentieth century and certainly one of the few typographers the general public might be able to name.

Gill’s work was characterised by a simplicity achieved in part by his practice of carving direct from the block, reviving a technique largely ignored since the middle ages, and also by sensuous quality of line which gives life to the human form represented in stone. It’s no accident that Gill’s private life was, shall we say, colourful; this ability isn’t something that can be applied in a vacuum.

This is the first complete survey of Gill’s figurative sculpture and is presented as an illustrated catalogue raisonné that should satisfy the most demanding reader or student and there is no reason why it should not stand for as long as the publisher feels able to keep it in print. It’s nice to see that the Herbert Press, started and run for many years by the late David Herbert, has fallen into good hands and continues its tradition of interesting and excellently produced books.

Herbert Press 2006

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