Clearly I have the willpower of a small amoeba. I write about something on here, but then I don’t just walk away, oh no. I only have to go and buy it. Like, say, Motif, which I wrote about only last week.
The good news is that we didn’t get the whole set of thirteen for £650, just two for rather less than that. One of which is the one above. But it’s the right one, because it has the shopfront illustrations in it. And they are, frankly, brilliant.
That’s my favourite, not just because it is utterly bright and enticing, but also because I used to go there, sometimes, in my London days. And look at the little dog peering out of the door. But the other illustrations are just as wonderful too. Here is Cooks Fruiterers in Brighton.
Pretty much all I can tell you about them is that they’re by John Griffiths. Here’s his title page for the set.
Now the style of these Decorative Drawings isn’t entirely surprising. They could sit quite happily alongside the work of David Gentleman and Roger Nicholson from about the same time, as well as John Minton too; each part of the same neo-Romantic version of Britain in the 1950s.
And in their love of the myriad heaps of objects to be found within British shops – here cooks’ striped aprons and white jackets for waiters – these drawings have obviously been born out of Eric Ravilious’s High Street.
At the same time, though, Griffiths is very much doing his own thing. This isn’t a representative High Street, rather a celebration of architecture and idiosyncracy.
In his championing of Victorian and Regency architecture, Griffiths is very much ahead of his time, along with pioneers like John Betjeman.
But in his eye for the eccentric and quirky, he’s out on his own. There are some great snippets of text accompanying the drawings. The chemist above occasions the following comment:
Pooley the Chemist in Wimbledon Village took over what was a doctor’s house in 1825. The manager almost apologised for the poor display in the windows and said they had lost their best jars in the war. But what they have left are fine enough.
But it’s this which wins hands down, an animal costume shop off St Martin’s Lane.
He assured me it would be easy to change a lorryload of students into a cartload of monkeys. A midget dressed in a bright red jacked with black and white check tights suddenly walked by whilst I was drawing the façade and I did wonder for a moment.
And there goes the midget, off on the right hand side of the picture.
Motif can tell me almost nothing about John Griffiths other than that he was born in 1926 and designed a mural and theatre for the Garden Section of the British Pavilion at the Brussels International Exhibition 1958. Irritatingly, the internet can’t tell me much more. He designed a poster, Rhubarb and Roses, for London Transport in 1965.
As well as quite a few covers for Penguin Books in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
But that’s it. Does anyone else know any more than that? I hope so.
Finally, an extra treat from Motif 3. Reyner Banham is writing about new office blocks in London, including this one for Thorn Electric at Seven Dials. I’ve been past it so many times, but had no idea it was by Basil Spence.
But that, you won’t be surprised to learn, wasn’t what caught my eye. Because here are some posters too, as they were meant to be seen.
Proof, as if any more were needed, that not all posters were ever design classics. Although I think we could do with a few more along the lines of Beer – Best Long Drink in the World!