William S. Burroughs
D. H. Lawrence
In 1970, Fontana Books published the first of 7 paperback books in a series on what they termed Modern Masters - culturally important writers, philosophers and thinkers, whose work had shaped and changed modern life. It was a bold and original move, and the series launched on January 12th with books on Camus, Chomsky, Fanon, Guevara, Levi-Strauss, Lukacs, and Marcuse.
This was soon followed in 1971 with the next set of books on McLuhan, Orwell, Wittgenstein, Joyce, Freud, Reich and Yeats. And in 1972-73 with volumes on Gandhi, Lenin, Mailer, Russell, Jung, Lawrence, Beckett, Einstein, Laing, and Popper.
Fontana Modern Masters was a highly collectible series of books - not just for their opinionated content on the likes of Marx or Proust, Mailer or McLuhan, but because of Oliver Bevan’s fabulous cover designs.
This eye-catching concept for the covers came from Fontana’s art director, John Constable, who had been experimenting with a Cut-Up technique, inspired by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin and based on The Mud Bath, a key work of British geometric abstraction by the painter David Bomberg. It was only after Constable saw Oliver Bevan’s geometric, Op Art at the Grabowski Gallery in London, did Constable decide to commission Bevan to design the covers.
The first full set of books consisted of 9 titles. Each cover had a section of a Bevan painting, which consisted of rectilinear arrangements of tesselating block, the scale of which was only fully revealed when all 10 covers were placed together. Bevan designed the first ‘3 sets of 10’ from 1970-74. He was then replaced by James Lowe (1975-79) who brought his own triangular designs for books on Marx, Eliot, Pound, Sartre, Artaud and Gramsci. In 1980, Patrick Mortimer took over, with his designs based on circles.
The original Fontana Modern Masters regularly pop-up in secondhand bookshops, and are still much sought after. Over the years, I have collected about 20 different volumes, but have yet to create one complete painting. Here are a few samples, culled from my own collection and from the web.