The Australian Ugliness at 50, and a tale of two book covers
Last night saw the launch of the 50th anniversary edition of The Australian Ugliness, a book by Australia’s seminal modern architect, Robin Boyd. Boyd’s brilliantly witty and pointed rant against middling apathy coined one of those sticky phrases which don’t wash off, like “the lucky country” – but unlike that, “Australian ugliness” is rather harder to celebrate with a straight face.
Lady Southey, Lt Gov of Victoria, took some time out to do the honours and a full house, including many architects, gathered at the genius Walsh Street home that Boyd built for his family. There were several speakers, see below for all the names,* but what I really wanted to talk about is the cover.
I know, it’s nothing much, just a cover. (As publisher Michael Heyward said, we’re just the publishers; it’s really exciting for us to be part of this historic event.) But it’s one of mine, and I got to meet the designer of the original cover from fifty years ago, Alison Forbes.
She had brought that first edition to show us, which none of us at Text had seen before, strangely (now I come to think of it). We were all struck slightly dumb when we saw it. My new cover, five decades on, against all odds, looks like a direct descendant of Alison’s cover. She had used a balck and white drawing of Boyd’s, with a red reverse panel for the author name. I had photographed a TV antenna and made a line drop out, and used red type for the title. The original on the left:
That’s the little tale, moral-free.
Apart from sheer transtemporal synchronicity, the most likely rationale (never something to be trusted wholeheartedly in design**) for the DNA continuity is that ugliness in the Australian habitat is just as prevalent as it was in Boyd’s time, and in much the same way. Urban accretions on the street and “featurism” in the home.
Don’t come home yet, Robin.
Above: Me on the left; Alison on the right. Lovely to meet you, Alison!
Below: Lady Southey addressing the crowd.
*Speakers – the head of the Robin Boyd Foundation, Tony Lee, who introduced and thanked everyone; Philip Goad, the “leading Boyd historian” (there must be a gaggle of them); the publisher Michael Heyward, and representing the family, Amy Boyd.
**Cover designs sometimes result from the space between cup and lip, keyboard and keyline, client and creative. Ask me another day … (An old designer saying: may all your editors be envois.)