Back in the 1970s, many a young, enquiring mind powered through piles of the Fontana Modern Masters books, a collection of intellectual pocket guides on most of the big thinkers and writers worth thinking or writing about. Released in series, the books were known for the sharp typography and vivid graphic patterns on their covers. Each series had a pattern, and each book in the series used the pattern but in different eye-popping colours.
Jamie Shovlin’s new exhibition at the Haunch of Venison is at once an homage to these covers but also a strange and beguiling experiment in graphic and reputational codefication. Titled 'Various Arrangements', the 17 large-scale paintings in the exhibition are of Modern Masters editions that never were, titles slated for appearance that got lost along the way.
Creating a complex prestige point system for the titles that did appear – and turning that into a colour wheel that forms part of the exhibition – Shovlin predicted the patterns and colours for the covers of the unreleased books. In fact he predicted a number of colour/pattern combinations and he painted each of them on a single canvas, creating images with layers of multiple patterns and possibilities. It is art that wears its inspiration on its sleeve, as it were.