An exhibition in London reveals the colourful, seductive artwork that emerged just before photography replaced drawings in magazines
For a brief couple of years in the early 1960s, illustration went through a mini-explosion. It was the moment before photos replaced drawings in magazines, on posters and on book covers, when full colour became cheap to print and where the appetite for consumption which had been suppressed during years of rationing was suddenly allow to satisfy itself.
London was still a grey, bomb-damaged city but the arrival of a group of illustrators from Italy, via Rome’s Cinecitta film studios gave the capital’s scene a fierce shot in the arm. Illustrators including Renato Fratini, Pino Dell’Orco, Giorgio Gaspari and Gianluigi Coppola arrived speaking almost no English yet within weeks were supplying a steady stream of cosmopolitan, seductive images for British print. They joined a scene including Michael Johnson, Harry Zelinski and Walter Wyles to create a new image for British pulp culture – everything from women’s magazines to James Bond posters. Mingling with pop artists such as Eduardo Paolozzi, their best work teeters on the edge between fine art and illustration, assimilating the pop art culture which was just beginning to emerge.
It only lasted a few short years but the legacy, documented here in Smoking Guns, a show at the Lever Gallery in London, is astonishing. Full of life, desire and invention these works easily stand up against the best art practice and production of the era and are utterly, seductively accessible.