Skip to content

ROY KUHLMAN COVERS SAMUEL BECKETT

July 26, 2009

The internet can allow those wanting to electronically paint themselves as experts and consultants on the most esoteric topics (after all…everything is just a Google search away), but occasionally, just occasionally, you’ve got to hold your hands up and concede that you were oblivious to something brilliant.One of the best movie sequences of the year this far (Yeah, last year if you’re an American… documentaries do seem to hang in distribution limbo for the longest. I know I’ve spent at least a third of my lifespan waiting for studies of a number of subjects to appear) comes twenty minutes or so into Neil Ortenberg and Daniel O’Connor’s Barney Rossett portrait ‘Obscene’ where Roy Kuhlman’s Beckett cover art is brought to life via Alex Meillier’s motion graphics and soundtracked by Jim Carroll’s ‘Falling Down Laughing.’

Please note,  Kuhlman-heads, you’re not going mad – the above images are mid-movement screen grabs from Meillier’s animations.

I won’t plead to total ignorance – I knew that Roy Kuhlman’s freeform expressionism defined Grove Press’s aesthetic in the same way that Reid Miles defined Blue Note, Berhthold Wolpe defined Faber and George Lois set a standard on ‘Esquire’. Grove’s cover art go-to seemed to be given free reign between 1951 and his departure in 1971 (passing away in 2007), and while his definitive ‘Last Exit To Brooklyn’ cover remains in circulation, added to the non-Grove Bloomsbury edition on these shores circa 2000 and the Random House edition of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Krapp’s Last Tape’ retained Kuhlman’s stylish Grove-era recycle of random fonts, but the ‘Watt’, ‘Unnamable’, ‘Murphy’, ‘Molloy’, ‘Cascando’, ‘Malone Dies’, ‘Happy Days’ and ‘Proust’ covers under the Grove/Evergreen banners are classics.

The brief to illustrate Samuel Beckett’s work must be a challenge for any designer – notably, as his work descends into minimalism in the late 60s and 70s, the imagery seems to become less striking, but each piece captures the mood between the covers without becoming generic. I was weaned on some great Penguin Modern Classics editions of Beckett novels and plays, plus some weaker old Faber editions with unnatractive art. Faber’s recent recruitment of the talented a2/sw/hk crew to create a uniform cover style for Beckett’s full literary pantheon is a good move, and as a whole, the look is stunning, but standing alone, each tome is merely effective in appearance. At his best, Kuhlman afforded each cover it’s own unique identity.

Whereas this post would usually cannibalise Flickr and other easy visual e-fixes for images of Roy Kuhlman’s Beckett covers, they’re strangely scarce online, which is baffling. You can see plenty of his other Grove works, but it’s curiously unspecific. Whereas Reid, Berthold and George have comprehensive galleries in various corners of the web, many Roy retrospectives merely scratch the surface. It seems that the 2004 ‘Roy Kuhlman: The Grove Covers’ exhibition dedicated a section to his Beckett works, but any links to a hi-res collection of cover art or scans would be very welcome indeed…

Check here for the definitive online piece of Kuhlman’s Grove work. Oh, and do yourself a favour by watching ‘Obscene’…

Below is a few amassed Grove and Grove/Evergreen covers for Beckett works. Many are Kuhlman designs, though a couple may be the handiwork of other Grove design minds.

About these ads
3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 23, 2012 10:19 pm

    Hello, I am Roy Kuhlman’s daughter, Arden Riordan. I am working on gathering his covers together, and I am interested in the cover shown here for Endgame by Beckett. I cannot verify that this cover was designed by RK. Do you have a copy? I do not, and have not been able to find the information on the net. There is a different cover for endgame that I know he designed. Arden

    • December 18, 2012 5:10 pm

      Hi,

      I can’t help you but was wondering if you can help me. I have the 16 volume Collected Works of Samuel Beckett, with dust jackets which I purchased in the early 1970s. These are all from the first printing. I would like to add the covers to the Goodreads site but cannot locate these covers on line. They are all the same photo of Beckett but in different colours. The inside of the dust jackets states, “Design: Kuhlman Associates”. Do you know where I can locate electronic copies of these jackets?

      • May 3, 2013 1:41 pm

        I have seen only a few of the collected Beckett covers on the Internet. I personally have only a few of those. I am creating a website with a database of the Roy Kuhlman book covers, at http://www.roykuhlman.com.

        I believe the Beckett cover for Endgame is from the European edition, which I recall was published by Faber (?). –Arden

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 206 other followers

%d bloggers like this: