Brilliant book illustration can communicate a sensually heightened world where colours are brighter and people are more beautiful, wilder, funnier, badder and sillier than in reality.
Children are the lucky beneficiaries of most great book illustration, while neglected adults often get nothing more than a book jacket featuring tacky photography, unadorned typography, or a piece of borrowed art to delight their visual sense. Very occasionally, publishers commission bespoke illustrations for the cover of a grown-up book and, even more occasionally, those illustrations impress us with their verve and originality.
Since there are many more illustrators than there are commissions to go around, artists might think of mounting their own exhibitions of made-up book cover designs.
For her third solo London show, illustrator Delphine Lebourgeois, who works regularly for publishers including Penguin and Bloomsbury, has created 20 non-commissioned A2-sized book covers. Her images drip with detail and saturated colour, displaying influences from Aubrey Beardsley and Toulouse-Lautrec to Art Deco and silhouette art. They stand out as both archaic and sophisticated in an illustration world dominated by vector art and faux-naif style.
The show has freed her up to create images that relate not to the story contained within the books’ pages so much as to the book titles alone. Thus we see a miniature lady climbing a perilous, tree-like man’s leg in Les Liaisons Dangereuses – a literal representation of the danger of sexual adventuring for a woman in a man’s world.