8. Fontana redux

Modern Masters in the twenty-first century, remixed by Jamie Shovlin.

Fontana's use of art as book covers went full circle in 2003-05 when the conceptual artist Jamie Shovlin turned the covers back into art. Shovlin had recently graduated from Oliver Bevan's alma mater the Royal College of Art, but unlike Bevan, Shovlin painted the covers of all the books (except Adorno) as drippy watercolours.

Jamie Shovlin, Untitled (Beckett) Jamie Shovlin, Untitled (Camus) Jamie Shovlin, Untitled (Darwin) Jamie Shovlin, Untitled (Evans-Pritchard) Jamie Shovlin, Untitled (Fanon)
Jamie Shovlin, Untitled (Guevara) Jamie Shovlin, Untitled (Marcuse) Jamie Shovlin, Untitled (McLuhan) Jamie Shovlin, Untitled (Reich) Jamie Shovlin, Untitled (Trotsky)
Jamie Shovlin, Fontana Modern Masters, 2003-05 (ten of forty-eight are shown).
Watercolour and ink on paper, 28 x 19 cm.
But Shovlin did not simply reproduce the covers, as the drips reveal, for the title of each book is missing and the paintings themselves are untitled. This, the artist later explained, 'empties the book of its content', a sleight-of-hand which decouples the content from the cover and thus restores the latter to its original status as art.

This game of covers and contents continued when the paintings were shown at Riflemaker, London, in April-May 2005, for a 'Note to the Reader' at the front of the exhibition catalogue took the cut-up concept of Bevan's covers and applied it
to the catalogue's contents:
The contents of this book have been arranged to offer the reader
a choice of how to view its pages. The text can be read in a conventional
manner, presenting an exchange between the artist and the writer, Martin
Holman. Alternatively, or additionally, the pages can be removed to assemble
a larger composite image. One side of each page reproduces a section of
a 'map' of the research undertaken in the Fontana Modern Masters project.
Together these individual leaves form the complete map. The book, however,
functions at the reader's discretion.

Riflemaker exhibition catalogue
Riflemaker exhibition catalogue, 2005. Click the catalogue to see inside.
However, Shovlin did not stop there, for the original books listed ten forthcoming titles which had not been published, and this led him to wonder how their covers would have looked. To find out he created a 'Fontana Colour Chart' and a scoring system that, like his paintings, was deliberately flawed. By applying this system to the published books Shovlin was able to 'deduce' the ten 'lost' covers which he also painted, thereby completing the series.

Jamie Shovlin, Dostoyevsky Jamie Shovlin, Fuller Jamie Shovlin, Jakobson Jamie Shovlin, Kipling Jamie Shovlin, Mann
Jamie Shovlin, Merleau-Ponty Jamie Shovlin, Needham Jamie Shovlin, Sherrington Jamie Shovlin, Steinberg Jamie Shovlin, Winnicott
Shovlin's set of ten lost covers, 2003-05. Watercolour and ink on paper, 28 x 19 cm.
Shovlin's interlocutor Martin Holman likened the method to filling in the spaces reserved for undiscovered elements in the periodic table, though by the artist's own admission the method was 'without any debt to objectivity', which may explain why Freud scored 632 while Popper got the wooden spoon with a paltry 125.

Jamie Shovlin, Fontana Colour Wheel
Jamie Shovlin, Fontana Colour Wheel, 2004-05.
Giclée print, 60 x 60 cm. Edition of 5.
Unlike his paintings of the published books, the ten lost covers all have titles, as do the paintings. The inference appears to be that if the absence of titles empties books of their content then non-existent books have no content and can thus retain their titles. However, appearances can be deceptive and this interpretation may be flawed.

Given the flaws in Shovlin's project and Fontana's original series (eleven covers in the first set of ten, nine in the second set, eight in the third) it is interesting to note that the set of ten lost covers omits four forthcoming titles which were also not published. So did Shovlin overlook these, or was it a further deliberate flaw?
'Benjamin' by Samuel Weber 'Ho' by David Halberstam 'Erikson' by Robert Lifton 'Matisse' by David Sylvester
The 'lost' lost covers
Perhaps the answer may be found in Shovlin's Various Arrangements, an exhibition of seventeen new Fontana Modern Masters paintings at Haunch of Venison, London, in April-May 2012.

Jamie Shovlin, Benjamin by Samuel Weber Jamie Shovlin, Fuller by Allan Temko Jamie Shovlin, Mann by Lionel Trilling Jamie Shovlin, Matisse by David Sylvester Jamie Shovlin, Berlin by John Gray
Jamie Shovlin, Various Arrangements, 2011-12 (five of seventeen are shown).
Acrylic and pencil on canvas, 210 x 130 cm.
For these large canvases Shovlin used a new 'Acrylic Variations Colour Wheel' and a similar scoring system to his drippy watercolours of 2003-05.

Jamie Shovlin, Acrylic Variations Colour Wheel
Jamie Shovlin, Fontana Modern Masters (Acrylic Variations Colour Wheel), 2011-12.
Giclée print, 136 x 136 cm. Edition of 5.
The paintings are new versions of Shovlin's ten lost covers plus Benjamin, Matisse and the titles that were published after Adorno, but Erikson is missing and there is still no Ho. The absence of Adorno is intriguing too, since a black and white image of it as a drippy, titled watercolour appears in the exhibition catalogue.

This suggests Shovlin painted an eleventh lost cover some time after his Riflemaker show, although Adorno was of course not 'lost' but 'last' (with a James Lowe cover in 1984) and the catalogue makes no reference to the painting. So does it exist?

Jamie Shovlin, Needham by George Steiner Jamie Shovlin, Lacan by Malcolm Bowie Jamie Shovlin, Steinberg by John Hollander Jamie Shovlin, Jakobson by Krystyna Pomorska Jamie Shovlin, Kipling by Lionel Trilling
Jamie Shovlin, Various Arrangements, 2011-12 (five of thirty-four are shown).
Watercolour and ink on paper, 35 x 24 cm.
Perhaps the most that may be said is it that Shovlin's Modern Masters raise more questions than they answer, which presumably is just what the artist intended.

JAMIE SHOVLIN Various Arrangements
Haunch of Venison exhibition catalogue, 2012.
Click the catalogue to see inside the show.