Eye of the storm

Wyndham Lewis developed a distinctive style – an abstract blend of influential artistic styles from the early 1900s – that has recently found favour with designers who want something edgier than the current revival in 1960s psychedelia, says Dominic Lu

But later generations of illustrators started to take an interest in his earlier work. In the 1970s and 1980s illustrators such as Chris Brown and Brian Grimwood were greatly influenced by the Vorticist/Cubist era. ‘As a student, my style was Vorticist, fractured,’ says Brown. ‘In the 1980s, I self-consciously criss-crossed styles – Russian Constructivism, Cubism…’ explains Grimwood. ‘Making historical references was fashionable. Malcolm McLaren and [David] Bowie did it big time, experimenting with things like opera.’

Today, the early Modernist graphics used by the band Franz Ferdinand suggest that spiky, hard-edged Cubist-era graphics – last seen in the 1980s – are back. Part of the current, snowballing 1980s revival, they perhaps represent the start of a backlash against the current mania among many illustrators for sinuous, languid 1960s psychedelia.

According to Grimwood, it’s not Lewis’s aesthetic, but his method of production that’s influencing today’s illustrators. ‘In the 1990s, illustrators merely executed other people’s concepts using computers. Now, with art directors appreciating drawing again, we are using our brains more. Like Lewis, we are making and putting out our own work.’

Brown, a tutor in graphic arts at John Moores University, Liverpool, says, ‘Unless you open students’ eyes to neglected styles, they look to their peers for inspiration, not to the historical roots of illustration. There again, illustrators are like blotting paper. They soak up lots of influences, and Lewis – a very interesting artist – might turn out to be one of them.’

Wyndham Lewis runs from 1-6 March at the Olympia Fine Art & Antiques Fair, Olympia Exhibition Centre, Hammersmith Road, London W14. Tel: 0870 126 1725

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