Non-Fiction: James McQueen's sell-out book-themed collection

Uniting book-lovers, art collectors and ardent readers, the sell-out debut Non-Fiction collection from James McQueen was a huge hit with our collectors. The infamously private painter recreates the nostalgia of vintage books through his mixed media artworks, with the subversive titles and graffiti elements giving his Pop Art inspired paintings a contemporary aesthetic. 

This collection is now sold out; to be the first to find out about new works, join the mailing list here.

Who is James McQueen?

As elusive as a rare first edition book, James operates under a fictitious name so his art can take centre stage. An avid collector, he can often be found amongst the dusty shelves and secret backrooms of old bookshops in New York and London. Aside from his creative background in woodwork and photography, not much has been divulged about the British artist, whose work is owned by celebrities including the TV presenter Phillip Schofield. James explains: "I’ve chosen to stay behind the mask because my art has enough to say for itself. I want people to see past me and just see my art."  

About the collection

James' artworks echo the vintage style of classic Penguins Books covers. Blowing up an object that you can hold in the palm of your hand into something that you can hang on your wall has been a lifelong fascination for the artist, who credits his grandfather for his passion for books. Viewed up close, his large-scale limited edition prints have an effect not dissimilar to the giant playing cards in Lewis Carroll’s 1895 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The supercharged Pop Art colours have been replicated in exquisite detail by our specialist atelier team, who have captured the worn texture of James’ original paintings through the fine art silkscreen process.

Featured art (L-R): 'If You Ever Leave Me I'm Coming with You,' and 'Meet Me At The End Of The Bottle', £1,750 each. 

Magic of vintage books

Like thumbing through a well-loved book, James' art evokes nostalgia. "I think I’ve always been fascinated by books – especially old books," he says. "I want to create that wear and tear, that authenticity. By removing the paint with a sander, I am recreating the feeling of old books from a vintage bookshop. The exposure of these layers represents the history and journey of the artwork, just as a used book will have its own story."

He adds: "I’m interested in the way that books age; if you’ve got a stack of books on a shelf, the daylight will create incredible effects, making each cover fade into a spectrum of different colours. A book that has been passed down has had a life. Where has it been? Where has it travelled? Everyone who owns it has put their little stamp on it, like a tea mark, pencil scribbles, or folded page corners."

Impactful quotes

The hand-stencilled fonts – a wry mixture of cursive and sans serif – hark back to when book covers were pieced together by hand, and each is chosen to reflect the feeling of the selected quote. These range from humorous to cautionary; James flits from the tongue-in-cheek ‘Happiness Is Expensive’ to the darker 'Be Careful What You Wish For', which appears in Aesop's Fables and W.W. Jacobs' 1902 horror story, 'The Monkey's Paw'. James says: "Some quotes are fun and light to make you smile; others are grey and dark. They show life’s rich tapestry. My collectors choose these pieces because the quote resonates with them. It’s something they can look at every day, as if it is a book on their shelf."

Featured art: 'Happiness is Expensive', £1,495. Mixed media, archival pigment and silkscreen on satin paper. 

Stylistic influences

James' almost photorealist book covers combine a range of genres, from Pop Art to graffiti. Techniques and styles have been meticulously shelved: his ethereal edges have been likened to those of the American abstract painter Mark Rothko, while he also emulates the honesty and boldness of Tracey Emin, Banksy, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Francis Bacon. James says: "I enjoy artists that are a little 'out there'. With everything I do in life, I want to challenge the norm. I want reactions. What’s art about if it doesn’t evoke an emotion or reaction of some kind?"

Books in art

Books are a recurring theme in art, from the19th-century Japanese artist Ryūryūkyo Shinsai's beautifully detailed woodcuts, to the action-packed literary scenes of the American illustrator Norman Rockwell. The latter's ‘Boy Reading Adventure Story’ (1923) illustration is now in the private collection of the Star Wars creator George Lucas. Other artists to have painted books include Vincent van Gogh, André Martins De Barros and Henri Matisse. 

Some of the world's most famous artists have also dipped their nib in the book cover genre; as a young artist in the 1950s, Andy Warhol designed book covers for publishers such as Simon & Schuster and Doubleday, with these eventually being printed using similar techniques to those that would make him famous in New York in the 1960s. Contemporary artists to have replicated or taken inspiration from classic book covers include Simon Morley, Richard Baker and Duncan Hannah. 

Today, book cover art is an exciting way for artists to showcase their talents. The American illustrator Mary GrandPré is known for her cover illustrations for the US editions of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, while Black book cover artists like Marcie Lawrence, Lesley Worrell and Erin Robinson are helping young girls of colour to feel seen. 

James admires the concepts and imagination of the street art Banksy, and often incorporates graffiti elements in his work. 

Improve your mood with books

Elevating your reading space could be just what the doctor ordered! As well as reducing tension and increasing brain connectivity, scientific studies have shown that reading can lower stress levels by up to 68% within just six minutes. 

Predicted interior design and publishing trends both suggest the same: in 2022, we want to be the best version of ourselves, and in the best version of our homes. While concentrating on self-improvement and achieving a work-life balance, we're discovering places that make us feel conected, whether that's in the great outdoors or in the comfort of our own home. 

Highlighted on Instagram through hashtags like #shelfie, #bookstagram and #currentlyreading, reading nooks are fast becoming a must-have for those wishing to unwind or escape. Fill your walls with beautiful art (we love these tranquil landscapes from Lawrence Coulson) and your bookshelves with stunning books (don't miss Richard Rowan's new release), and give yourself a well-deserved break. 

Featured art: 'You Don't Know The Half Of It', £1,495. 

"My collectors choose these pieces because the quote resonates with them. It’s something they can look at every day, as if it is a book on their shelf."

James McQueen

Featured Artist

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