Illustration Now! Vol 4
edited by Julius Wiedermann
Taschen's Illustration Now! is a sumptuous compendium of new illustrative design work from around the world - and mightily impressive much of it is. The problem is that the book's format and editing frequently make it difficult to judge just how impressive.
The book features the work of 150 illustrators from an impressive spread of countries, although there's a focus on work from Europe and the Americas, in particular Latin America, with little from Asia and nothing from Africa. Some of it is middling, some is impressive, and some is simply dazzling.
As a visual feast, the book is a winner. But as a guide to the best new illustration, it has shortcomings, and most of them stem from the fact that the editors emphasise the aesthetically pleasing over the effective. Putting works of illustration in a book in the first place divorces them from context and makes it harder to judge their effectiveness. The problem with Illustration Now! is that it makes that job harder still.
A large number of the illustrations are captioned as 'personal work' - they weren't produced under the very commercial imperatives that mark them out as a piece of illustration rather than an art project.
Others were produced for art exhibitions, and again may look beautiful, but lots of things look beautiful and aren't illustration.
With other, published works, the minimal captioning can make it hard to understand what they originally accompanied - and, again, hard to ascertain whether they work well as illustrations or not.
The visual content of the book is also let down by the poor written content that precedes it. In particular, I heartily recommend skipping Bruno Porto's short introduction 'Alone in the Crowd', which is astonishingly devoid of insight or meaningful content, consisting largely of a deeply tenuous and clunky extended analogy between illustration and childbirth. It also manages to contain a glaring grammatical error in its first sentence - that is, the first sentence of the entire book.
The design of Illustration Now! is generally clean enough, although there are one or two basic errors, such as allowing a word to break over a page in the introduction.
More importantly, the book doesn't do itself any favours by adhering to a rigid design template that includes a pull-quote from every illustrator, even when they don't have much to say. So we get little nuggets such as 'I've been addicted to drawing as long as I can remember and always try to keep a sketchbook with me', as if this is somehow unusual behaviour from a professional visual artist.
Here, form has taken precedence over content - and that's Illustration Now! in microcosm. It would be a fault in a work of illustration - it's also a fault in a book about illustration, however nice-looking the pictures in it may be.