Anthony Mathews

Publisher of innovative art books

Thursday 16 January 2003 01:00
Anthony Roland Mathews, art-book publisher and designer: born London 19 August 1930; married 1954 Madge Wilson (one son, two daughters; marriage dissolved 1965), 1965 Jill Thomas (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1975), 1981 June Scott (one son, two daughters); died Oxford 4 January 2003.

A loquacious charmer of great personal generosity, Anthony Mathews was an innovative publisher of art books. If his company had been operating today, it might have been at the forefront of the Britart boom.

After studying illustration and graphics at Wimbledon School of Art, Mathews worked on British Rail's innovative corporate design in the early Sixties. From 1966 to 1970, he was production manager with the fine art publisher Editions Alecto and worked on limited-edition prints with artists including David Hockney (a series based on Cavafy poems), Claes Oldenburg (a project entitled London Knees), Jim Dine, Richard Hamilton, Jasper Johns, Ed Ruscha and Frank Stella. In the late Sixties, he was an early promoter of Gilbert & George's performance pieces

Mathews utilised his formidable technical ability in his first two books by the controversial pop artist Allen Jones, Allen Jones Figures (1969) and Allen Jones Projects (1971). Covering the artist's television projects as well as his more familiar paintings and sculptures, the works broke new ground by incorporating Jones's raunchy reference material and preliminary sketches. One of the books concluded with several pages of "advertisements" for Jones's favourite artists. Mathews also published a pioneering work by Udo Kultermann, Art-Events and Happenings (1971), and Polaroid Portraits (1972), photographs by Richard Hamilton by leading contemporary artists including Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol.

In 1970, Mathews formed a specialist publishing company with the magazine designer Peter Dunbar and the art dealer Barry Miller. The first book produced by Mathews Miller Dunbar was its most successful. The English Sunrise (1972) by Brian Rice and Tony Evans was a photographic exploration of the sunrise motif in middle England – in suburban stained glass, on garden railings, in trademarks and elsewhere. Mathews issued several more in the same format, all containing illustrations reproduced in a uniform postcard size – including Afghan Trucks by Jean-Charles Blanc (1976; exuberant personalised livery), Façade by Peter and Tony Mackertich (1976; art deco architecture), Lost Glory by Ian Logan (1977; US railroad logos) and Classy Chassy by Ian Logan and Henry Nield (1977; pin-ups on American war planes).

In 1975, MMD published the first work devoted to spray-can graffiti. Watching My Name Go By by Merlyn Kurlansky and Jon Naar documented this New York phenomenon in vast, lavish photo-spreads. The Other Women (1976), by the theatre designer Barry Kay, was an equally groundbreaking photo-essay on the extensive transgender communities of Sydney and Melbourne. Mathews also published two collections of photographs by his friend David Bailey and the beautifully produced Monet at Giverny (1975) by Claire Joyes.

Following the break-up of MMD (the partnership was financially disastrous), Mathews devoted his considerable energies to Idea Books, a specialist art-book importer. The Los Angeles artist Ed Ruscha's deadpan works Nine Swimming Pools and a Small Fire, Twenty-six Gasoline Stations and Every Building on Sunset Boulevard are now collector's items.

When Idea Books went into receivership, Mathews returned to book design, working primarily for Thames & Hudson in London, Alvise Passigli of the Scala publishing house in Florence and Idea Editions in Milan. He designed and produced a number of books on architects, including Adolf Loos, Carlo Molino and Gio Ponti, and new-wave Italian designers, such as Bruno Munari and Andrea Branzi.

Moving to Italy in 1977, a country he loved, Mathews lived with his third wife, the artist June Scott, in a cottage on the Passigli estate outside Fiesole, where he was an endearing, chatty host for an endless succession of English visitors. Mathews's mind was a storehouse of out-of-the-way knowledge, particularly on food and drink. "Do you know they cook a dish with lampreys and bitter chocolate in Bordeaux?" he would announce, simultaneously waving his untipped Gauloise in the air and pouring you a glass of Chianti. "Had it once. Not an experience I'd care to repeat."

He appeared to move constantly in a great cloud composed of talk, cigarette smoke and hilarity. One of his most characteristic gestures was wiping a tear of laughter from the corner of his eye.

Mathews settled permanently in Oxford in 1994. The amputation of a leg did not diminish his charm or energy. He died suddenly on the eve of taking a holiday in Italy, his first alone with June since the birth of their three children.

Christopher Hirst

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