Op Art Penguins

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Following the fusty conservatism of Pelican cover design in the 1950s, the Facetti and Pelham eras of art direction of the 1960s and 70s saw the brand push to the front of contemporary ideas of art and design.

One of these ideas was Op Art, the international movement that explored optical effects through abstract paintings and sculptures. Op Art was a good fit for a brand of popular paperbacks, the artworks are purely optical so can be applied to almost any subject-matter, and they are playful in their amusing effects on the eye – if you scroll up and down, you’ll see the designs shimmer. Facing out from bookshop displays they must have had an advantage over their neighbours.

The two striking covers above are by Italian artists Marina Apollonio and Enzo Ragazzini. Apollonio’s cover on the left is from 1966 when Op Art was at its height – think of the space age fashions of Pierre Cardin and Mary Quant. They were probably used through connections of the art director German Facetti, himself Italian.

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‘Invitation to Sociology’ shows Research for a Modifiable Structure, by the artist Kiky Vices Vinci. ‘Politics and Social Science’ was designed by Keith Potts.

Note how very similar paintings are used to illustrate very different subjects – Op Art designs were adaptable because they display optical phenomena, but contain no semantic meaning. At the same time they were attractive and marked Pelican as a contemporary brand.


Penguin_Morrison and McIntyre_Teachers and Teaching copy       Penguin_Moray_Listening and Attention

The Penguin Science of Behaviour series, text books for psychology readers, was given a programmatic cover design in the late 1960s with a single design which changed colour according to the subject-matter. It’s an economical solution to series cover design, contemporary but boring. The design is credited to Snark International, the Paris picture agency that Facetti had a hand in setting up and used extensively at Penguin.

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