Unintimidating

Peter Campbell

There is a new website for the artwork of the late Peter Campbell (petercampbell.org.uk), the designer and painter who contributed covers and articles for the London Review of Books. There is a handsome coffee table book of Campbell’s artwork published by Profile Books (2012), but it generally reproduces the LRB covers intact, with the wording and masthead, rather than the original works. As Campbell’s artwork was usually undertaken to accommodate the wording, and there is a certain interest in the way the overall design is worked around Campbell’s artwork, this makes some sense, but it also great to be able to browse the original works.

As well as contributing (mostly) watercolours for the LRB covers, Peter Campbell was also responsible for the airy, friendly layout of the magazine, as well as the choice of its distinctive typeface (Quadraat). He wrote articles on art for the magazine, as well as designing books and exhibition catalogues. He also designed the layout of the New Left Review. His watercolours were a good match for the LRB. There is harmony in the fact that while the LRB contains some exquisite writing, it does not have the same permanence as a book, and Campbell’s paintings, though beautiful, had an unintimidating, loose, sometimes cartoon-like quality about them, no matter the cleverness of his craft. Also somewhat appropriately, they usually had a sideways-glance quality about them. Rather than being tightly composed, they were like snapshots, whether the subject was a person, a landscape or a still life. And unlike many magazine illustrations, they were not coloured by computer. Campbell’s art was an argument for the warmth and distinctiveness of traditional illustration.

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