What is modern Britain? Britain now is face masks; social distancing; deal or no deal. It is a year to remember. It will live on in our memories of failed sourdough attempts and clapping for the NHS on Thursday nights; and it will live in our art. Those who undertake the task of the artist accept a duty to be a chronicler of our times. Barnett Freedman’s Designs for Modern Britain, at Pallant House Gallery, is art of the everyday, for every one.
What do we know of Freedman? Freedman’s art found you in the most unlikely of places – pubs, post offices, and book covers – before finding its place on the yellow and blue walls of the galleries. Indeed, a growing interest into the work made in this period has led eyes to wander from more well-known mid-century British designers, and onto Freedman’s proliferation of designs – ones that have not been given due attention.
Though his Guinness posters most likely met blurry eyes, his book jacket designs demonstrate his lithographical skill. There is extraordinary care in every work. In 1931, his illustration for Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer marked his first major commission; soon, designs for the book jackets of Oliver Twist, War and Peace and Anna Karenina were commissioned, the latter a particular triumph, often heralded as the apex of 20th-century book design. His visual language is exaggerated shadows, faces full of expression, with whispery, webby, cross-hatchings; they are full of life and fervour.
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