Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dream time

Now that the barriers between design and the visual arts are easing, this is the perfect time to take another look at what used to be called commercial art. Fortunately one of the most beautiful and comprehensive reviews of one area of such design has just been published and it's all about NZ. Selling the dream: the art of early New Zealand tourism comes from the publisher Craig Potton and has been conceptualised, assembled and designed and by Peter Alsop, Gary Stewart and Dave Bamford. That it's the result of dedicated collecting and researching over a very long time is evident on every gorgeous page. 

One thing you notice is how many of the images that feature in the book are by unknown artists. While there are the well-known visual art-crossover names like Leonard Mitchell, Marcus King Russell Clark and John Holmwood, most of the credits are for anonymous artists at work in places like the Tourist Department and the Railways Department. This makes it a real Wellington book as the government departments running NZ tourism were based in that city for so long. There's a lot of amazing new material to discover and some stunning images. One favourite is Leonard Mitchell’s classic man alone on a mountain top which we remember bowling American art historian Charles Eldredge for a six when he was curating the touring exhibition of New Zealand art Pacific Parallels.

Will there ever be a better book than this one on New Zealand’s unsung commercial designers? It’s hard to imagine looking at what a terrific job has been done here. 

Image: Left: Selling the dream. Right, an illustration titled The great Franz Joseph Glacier by Leonard Mitchell for Scenic playground of the Pacific published by the Tourist Department around 1935