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john austen

︎Artist, Illustration, Graphic Design, Art Nouveau   
︎ Ventral Is Golden

John Archibald Austen (1886 - 1948) was an english illustrator greatly influenced by the styles of Art Nouveau and Japanese woodcuts.


John Archibald Austen (1886 - 1948) was an english illustrator greatly influenced by the styles of Art Nouveau (particularly Aubrey Beardsley), who's intent was to produce the delicate lines, flowing forms and striking solid shapes, traditional to Japanese woodcuts. Some of Austen’s early works include illustrations for an edition of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1922) that utilised much of this aesthetic.
Austen used several techniques in his illustrations, including wood-engraving and scraper board. He was also involved in graphic design, producing adverts, several posters & numerous dust wrapper designs, often being able to adapt his otherwise heavily stylised works to suit the commercial or literary contents of his clients.
One of his most stunning illustrations is that of 'Scheherazade ', the fictional female polymath of 1001 Nights, where it is said that against her father's wishes (the vizier of the King), had volunteered to spend one night in his chamber in an attempt to stop the King from fulfilling his promise of beheading a new bride and virgin everyday until he was sure that no woman could even manipulate him again. Scheherazade would captivate the King by way of telling a great story, whose pivotal moment in the plot would come at sunrise, thus granting her an extra day of life in order to finish her tall tale. She would do this for 1001 nights until the King fell in love with her. The significance of this particular story is to consider it as a potential allegory of the mind's creative ability to dispel dominator values through a cultivation of perspective and generation of empathy; the main purpose of story-telling. This could also be one reason why the majority of Austen's works are visual accompaniments to stories.

“Austen moved in similar circles to that of occultists such as the Irish stained glass maker and illustrator Harry Clarke, Alan Odle and Austin Osman Spare, sharing interest in Arabic, Persian, Mesopotamian, Indian, Jewish and Egyptian folkloric mysticism, most commonly associated with Spare and his Zos Kia Cultus.”

'Daphnis and Chloe', a coming of age romance between two abandoned children written by Longus, as well as 'The Frogs', a satirical Greek comedy undermining Dionysus through his relation to Xanthias (a term for slaves) who acts as the true protagonist, written by Aristophanes, both contain works by Austen who's style had by now moved away from the original Art Nouveau and towards a more geometric Art Deco, seemingly with an utter ease and slight of hand, which attests to Austen's ability as a clear conveyor of visual narratives.

Further Reading ︎
The Frogs, by Aristophanes
1001 Nights : Bartleby.com
Zos Kia Cultus, Osman Austin Spare


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