Sunday, October 27, 2013

Pauline Baynes: The Art of Narnia

Among the key artists who shaped my own world as a youngster and influenced my own creative aesthetic is Pauline Baynes, an English illustrator who is for me forever indelibly associated with bringing C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia to vivid life. Baynes belongs aside other illustration masters of classic children's literature such as Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are, Higgelty Piggelty Pop! et al.), Garth Williams (Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web et al.), E.H. Shepard (The Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Pooh) and Peggy Fortnum (Paddington).

Baynes' iconic imagery - both spot illustrations and full-page compositions - feature pen and ink pieces that are characterized by both tight, rich textural treatments and a lively, gestural line quality. Her characterizations of animals are as varied and unique as they are for the humans in each story and situation.

I'm of the opinion that a life-long penchant for sequential art is hatched in part by an early childhood association of image + text which begins with the pairing of pictures and words on pages like this. In my case, it's on a continuum that starts with being read books as a kid, continues through young adulthood with works of illustrated literature such as this, and reaches its apex with the juxtaposition of image + text on the pages of comics. This is in stark contrast with the presumed trajectory of a mature reader who is supposed to abandon pictures altogether: the societal expectations of what constitutes a "serious" book can be effectively plotted simply by observing the size and frequency of any art that appears between its covers.

These images are from a 6th edition hardcover I have from the British publisher Bodley Head of the final book in the Narnia series "The Last Battle." Unfortunately the preceding five volumes on my shelves are are all from Collier Books, mass-marketers who instead inexplicably opted to use uncredited "pictures adapted from illustrations by Pauline Baynes," which is a damn shame. Read more about Baynes and her work in a nice article about her catalog here.

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