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From Superman via Psychedelia to Surrealism

On Monday 26 September 2011, Borin Van Loon gave a talk to the Ipswich Art Society about his life and work entitled ‘From Superman via Psychedelia to Surrealism’. 

Borin spent some time showing other people’s work to explain the various influences on his own; starting with the revelation when he was a teenager of an article in the Sunday Times Magazine about psychedelic poster art.  Particularly influenced by British exponents like Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, Borin did his own versions while still at school (1). 

Borin Van Loon
1. Early experiment inspired by Michael English and Nigel Waymouth
(working as ‘Hapshash & The Coloured Coat’).

This was the golden age of record sleeve art and the addition of collage to the psychedelic style of distorted lettering, art nouveau decoration and dazzling colours, as in Martin Sharp’s covers for Cream LPs, also resulted in a youthful Van Loon making collages by cutting up photos from magazines (2), such as the example he showed of two heads combined in horizontal strips to create one composite head.

Borin Van Loon
2. Early collage inspired by the work of Martin Sharp, Art Editor of ‘OZ’.

Then came the discovery of surrealism from a visit to the Tate, which introduced him to the irrational juxtaposing of unrelated images in the work of Dali and Magritte.  This, combined with another discovery – Victorian black and white engravings – brought a new dimension to Borin’s love of collage.  Another early love was the art of comics – from the Superman variety to underground magazines like Cozmic Comix.  All of these influences come together in the adventures of a cartoon hero of Borin’s own invention – Bart Dickon (3).

The Bart Dickon Omnibus     The Bart Dickon Omnibus
3. Page and Cover artwork for The Bart Dickon Omnibus published
by Severed Head Books, Borin’s own imprint.

Borin has never specialised in illustration to the exclusion of fine art or vice versa and is a great experimenter with media and techniques.  Alongside cut-and-paste collage there are precisely painted illustrations, like the examples he showed us for a pocket guide about the weather (4), and, at the other extreme, a series of portrait heads painted with a palette knife on hardboard primed with blackboard paint (5).  Another influence was the book jacket art of Brian Cook for Batsford’s countryside books and Borin showed us his ‘take’ on Cook’s poster-like style in the form of two covers for books by John Timpson (6).

Blizzard illustration from 'An Instant Guide To The Weather' Head Study, Borin Van Loon
4.  Blizzard illustration from 'An Instant Guide To The Weather', Brockhampton Press 1998. 5. Head Study, one of series of 13 intaglio paintings on board.

Cover illustration for ‘Paper Trail’ by John Timpson, Borin Van Loon
6.  Cover illustration for ‘Paper Trail’ by John Timpson, Hutchinson 1989.

Borin’s single largest body of work is the many black and white illustrations he has produced for Icon Books where his clear and striking way of using pen or brush and black ink complement the text, often in a humorous way, and help explain often complex scientific and philosophical concepts (7). This type of work is what those of us who thought we knew Borin’s art think of, but, as this talk showed, he is a much more diverse and inventive artist than that.  What does run through much of Borin’s great output is a wonderfully quirky sense of humour.

Sequence from ‘Introducing Hinduism’, Borin Van Loon
7. Sequence from ‘Introducing Hinduism’, Icon Books (UK), Totem Books (USA).

For the members of the Ipswich Art Society, accustomed to worthy and serious talks about fine art, Borin’s mix of illustration, painting, collage and assemblage, delivered with his usual easy, off-the-cuff manner, was a refreshing change.

--Review by Mark Beesley, October 2011.

Many more examples of Borin's work can be found on his website:

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