Luke Best makes use of many an illustrative tool, seeking out and uniquely observing stories that add a particularly engaging layer to an already colourful sum of parts. He’s provided us with his creative bibliography and it’s an esoteric lot that influences his own practice. It’s also a real testament to his skills that these broad sorts of references find their way into such an aesthetic and communicative style of illustration.
LeRoy Grannis: Surf photography of the 1960s and 1970s edited by Jim Heimann
Due to a stressful job and a stomach ulcer, a doctor recommended that middle-aged LeRoy Grannis “get a hobby” which he did with aplomb. The photos of the surfers are great, but it’s in the moments when the camera faces inland towards the watching crowds, aspiring “gremmies” and beautiful, tanned passers-by, which I get lost in. The photos seem to document that moment of time when a way of life, a fringe culture for a few, starts to explode into the mainstream. I often look at this book, wishing I lived in California, wishing I could surf and wishing it was the 1960s, knowing full well that in reality I would get sunburnt and drown. Thanks to this book I can stay dry and safe. Pure escapism.
Beyond Reason: Art and Psychosis – Works form the Prinzhorn Collection Hayward Gallery
I saw this exhibition – to which this catalogue accompanied – at the Hayward Gallery in 1996 and it was incredible. The collection contains over 500 works created across Europe between 1890 and 1920 by psychiatric patients, mainly suffering from schizophrenia, and brought together by Hans Prinzhorn. The works, which include drawing, collages, objects, and manuscripts, all excel in their aesthetic, historical and documentary quality and raise questions about the link between art and psychosis. The book pre-empted a growing interest of mine in what I can only describe as “Outsider Art” – a term I feel slightly uncomfortable with as it sometimes feels misused, perhaps romanticised, as an “authentic” type of art. This can in turn sideline the suffering of the patients. Beyond Reason gives this form of art – which went on to inspire the Surrealists, Art Brut and many more – the context it needs.
Leviathan, or the whale Phillip Hoare
I’m not a great reader, but I read this non-stop over a couple of days. It helps that I already have an interest in whales, but Hoare’s enthusiasm for the subject is contagious. From growing up in Southampton to his love of Moby Dick and later in life, his whale watching excursions, Hoare’s work of non-fiction welds together the personal, historical, and biographical. The book is crammed full of factual information, symbolism and myth surrounding the grace and might of the whale whilst questioning the horrors we have bestowed on it. A mournful and powerful book, with the type of concoction I would like my own work to possess.
South with Endurance: The Photographs of Frank Hurley F. Jack Hurley
This book contains the documentary photographs by Frank Hurley of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition to the South Pole from1914 to 1917. This epic tale of survival is truly incredible and Hurley’s 400 plus photos go from Shackleton and his crew setting sail from England to their final rescue three years later from Elephant Island, Georgia. Awe-inspiring frozen landscapes, life on board the ship, time stuck on the floating ice, working dogs and local wildlife, are all gloriously captured. But it’s the pictures of the crew, with faces that belong to a time long past that I am truly captivated by. Seeing the photos in order is also interesting. At the end there is nothing much left to photograph other than a sense of waiting. The earlier exuberance of capturing this new world gives way to a bleaker documentation of the regular day-to-day waiting truly shows the ordeal these men went through.
Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America Twin Palms publishing
This was a really hard book to include and an even harder book to buy. The man I bought it from at the market said he didn’t want to sell it but his wife didn’t want it in the house and I can understand why. It includes photos from one of the sickest times in American history. Too often we refuse information based on pleasantness, and whilst the images of snapped necked bodies hanging above an unashamed crowd are brutal, they are unavoidable evidence of what happened. The essays included in the book are powerful with each writer seeming equally perplexed, horrified at the pictures to which their words must try to match.
This is a book that disturbs me every time I pick it up and perhaps that is exactly its point. There are some disturbing parts of history, that we may wish to forget but is important that we don’t and that’s why in the end I decided to include this book.