Uncovered: Illustrating the Sixties and Seventies SNIP

London’s Lever Gallery to host Sixties-inspired “Uncovered” exhibition

Art by Michael Johnson
Art by Michael Johnson

London’s Lever Gallery – a commercial art gallery devoted to post-war lifestyle illustration – is to showcase a selection of rare, original cover Pulp Art illustrations from the 1960s and early 70s next month.

Artists selected for Uncovered: Illustrating the Sixties and Seventies, running 1st February – 24th March 2018, include Ian Robertson and Yorkshire-born Michael Johnson who was, with his Fine Art background, very influenced by the Italian illustrators who congregated around Soho and Chelsea – Renato Fratini, Gianluigi Coppola, Giorgio De Gaspari and Pino Dell’Orco, who also feature.

Pulp art rose up in the brand new world of the post-war 1950s, and crested in the 60s as colour printing processes became ever more affordable. It lost out to the new kid on the block – photography – in the 70s, which ushered in a harder edged realism.

19Its appeal was its lack of subtlety, tempting readers into a best-selling world where men were men, women voluptuous, good was good and bad was really evil. It sold the promise of sex because sex always sells.

Michael Johnson Pink Woman, c. 1962, Woman magazine
Michael Johnson Pink Woman, c. 1962, Woman magazine

The visual language of Pulp was an obvious tight fit for a new generation of writers able to mould their output to suit the genre. Hard-boiled Mickey Spillane, the verbal Earl Stanley Gardner, escapists like Hammond Innes and Alistair Mclean and romantics like Helen McInnes sold in huge numbers alongside many more less memorable, and probably less talented, authors mining the same rich vein.

But what makes Pulp so fascinating, and its appeal so durable, was that it didn’t stop there. By the 1960s, publishers figured out that it could be applied to completely different types of books and with a charming lack of tact Pulp was enlisted to shift works by authors you’d never expect to find shining a light round the murky depths of mass publication. The glamorous promise of Pulp eased the works of Simone de Beauvoir, Sinclair Lewis and CP Snow, along with many other highbrows, onto the bookshelves of a whole new readership that had probably never heard of them.

The show features more than 40 original works by some of the most in-demand illustrators of the period: Gianluigi Coppola, Giorgio De Gaspari, Pino Dell’Orco, Renato Fratini, Michael Johnson, and Ian Robertson. Works that illustrated not only books but also the magazines that traced the same arc of popularity as their paperback cousins.

Renato Fratini, Last Night of Summer, c.1965.
Renato Fratini, Last Night of Summer, c.1965.

“Pulp is the art of the hired gun, a shot from the hip produced to order on a short deadline,” a gallery spokesperson, says. “The artistic confidence and the technical skills involved were dazzling and are almost incomprehensible in this digital age. So no surprises that Pulp is once again finding its place in the sun, especially in the US, birthplace of Pulp, where demand is driving sales of $1,000 a single collectible paperback.

“The fiction that drove Pulp is largely forgotten, waiting undoubtedly for its own rediscovery.”

The Lever Gallery Uncovered exhibition reveals that it’s Pulp Art, with its offer of a wondrous escape into a gloriously inauthentic past, that is now the story.

The Lever Gallery is devoted to post-war lifestyle illustration. In the aftermath of World War Two increased affluence, social mobility, the advent of mass media and free state education – including a proliferation of art schools – generated a perfect storm of opportunity for a brilliantly talented crop of commercial artists to thrive.

British culture, in particular, was propelled into the modern era by a group of young visual revolutionaries who transformed the face of music, art, fashion, film, television, advertising, newspapers and magazines, to define the look of a generation.

Uncovered: Illustrating the Sixties and Seventies Exhibition PosterArtists represented by the gallery include the masters of the form in the 1960s – Michael Johnson, Renato Fratini, Walter Wyles – as well as leading next generation illustrators – Mick Brownfield and Paul Slater.

Converted from an old bank, the gallery plans to stage regular “Lifestyle Illustration” exhibitions (a phrase coined by comic artist and font designer Rian Hughes) – all open to the public.

Their shop offers a range of prints, including work by Brian Sanders inspired by 2001: A Space Odyssey.

• Uncovered: Illustrating the Sixties and Seventies 1st February – 24th March 2018, The Lever Gallery, 153 -157 Goswell Road, London EC1V 7HD | Tel: 0203 217 2678 | Opening Hours Tuesday – Saturday 10.00 – 5.00pm | Web: levergallery.com

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John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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