FOR A WHILE last summer, an art book - Frank Frazetta: Book Two (Peacock/Bantam, $7.95) - was hovering just below the paperback bestseller list. Featuring purely representational works - scenes out of fantasy. fiction, with heavy-muscled heroes or statuesque heroines - it differed considerably in orientation from the average hardcover art book, which usually deals with material of more restricted interest and costs five to ten times as much, sometimes even more. But its unusual volume of Sales was an indication of how solidly art books are becoming established in the paperback market.
Most popular art paperbancks are directed at a readership which is not primarily art-oriented. SOme titles in the Peacock series, developed for Bantam by Ian Ballantine and priced generally in the $5.95 to $6.95 range, indicate the subject matter, what critics might call the "anecdotal" content of the painting, is a primary consideration:The Marine Paintings of Carl G. Evers; The Western Art of Harold Von Schmidt; The Alaskan Paintings of fred Machetanz; The OUtdoor Paintings of RObert K. abette; The Aviation Art of Frank Wootton; Great Railroad Paintings. The contents of these collections are technically expert and well reproduced, but they appeal primarily to people interested in ships, cowboys, locomotives, etc., not to art connoiseurs.
A somewhat more aesthetically oriented choice of contents can be found in another kind of popular parerback art book which has been prospering in recent years - the poster-size book whose contents are clearly designed to offer the purchaser the option of cutting out the pages and tacking or taping them to a wall. The big name in this field has neen Phaidon, whose "Giant Art Paperbacks" (traditionally priced ar $7.95 but higher in recent titles) feature approximatley 100 large-size (11 1/2 x 16) reproductions - some drawings but mostly painting s printed in color. Typical titles are Rubens and The Impressionists, both selected and given brief commentaries by Keith Roberts with the text carefully segregated from the pictures to allow the use of the latter as wall-decorations.
REcent additions to the list have been rather more venturesome - for example, Naive Art, selected and introuduced by Boris Kelemen and priced ar $8.95, a striking and superbly produced collection which should be seen by anyone intesested in contemporary primitive styles. The omission from the litle page of the fact that all the naive artists represented happen to be Yugoslavians relatively unknown in this country may be an indication of the attempt to orient the book toward a mass readership; the connoisseur leaps eagerly toward the unkown and the new in art, while the mass puchaser tends to stick to the safely familiar, the certicied classif. But it does not matter; there is a freshness of vision in these pages that transcends frontiers and deserves widespread appreciation.
In the same series, Arms and the Artist, selected and introudced by Denis THomas (phaidon, $8.95) surveys the ways in which artists have reacted to the horrors of was from the Renaissance to the present, including some photographs and posters. The Pioneers, selected and introduced by Joseph Czestochowki (Phaidon, $8.95) gives most of its space to fairly standard Wild West art but has some interesting novelties near its chronological beginning and end, including a representational (well, sort of representational) painting by Jackson Pollock, Going West.
The same poster-size format is adopted by several other publishers for recent books whose sunbject-matter, appropriately, is posters. 100 Years of Posters at the Folies Bergere and Music Halls of Paris, edited by Alain Weill (Images Graphiques, $8.95) begins back in the period when the Folies Bergere resembled a circus more than a modern night club (yes, with elephants and trapezes - at least on the posters) and follows trends up to the more fleshoriented present. Cocteau and, of course, Toulouse-Lautrec are among the artists included. The Milton Glaser Poster Book (Harmony, $5.95) is an appropriate tribute to an artist who has succeeded extraordinarily well in linking the values of art to those of commerce.
Also dedicated to posters but a bit smaller in format are two interesting and technically impressive paperbacks: Art Nouveau Posters & Gtraphics, by ROger Sainton (Rizzoli, $7.95) and London Transport Posters, by Michael F. Levey; introduction by ROy Strong (Phaidon/London Transport, $6.95). The Rizzoli book explores in detail a particular style - one which was strongly oriented toward posters and book illustration - while the Phaidon collection traces the evolution of styles in posters commissioned by one agency from the period before World War I to the present. The purely utilitarian functions of the subway posteris blend in a surprisingly harmonious way with the more aesthetic values, in a collection which caries in purely artistic quality and is largely a paean to the attractions of London and the British countryside. The transport posters, spanning more than 60 years (though, for some reason, with relatively little material from the '30s) are also interchanging style in more "serious" art (cubism, abstraction, collage, an excellent parody of Picasso) as well as pictorial charm and occasional demotic humor.
Less successful as art but undeniably strong in impact are two collections oriented toward science fiction: Science Fiction and Horror Movie Posters in Full Color, edited by Alan Adler (Dover, $6) and Science FictionArt, compiled and introduced by Brian Aldiss (Bounty, $9!.95). The schlock quotient is high in both collections, but considerably higher in the Adler, which reflects faithfully the lurid sensationalism that has been Hollywood's tradional approach to science fiction. The Aldiss collection, a must for hard-core SF fans, makes a stab at tracing the gener's history back to the 19th century and studies the diverse treatment of various themes (space ships, future cities, women, alien life-forms) in an entertaining, informative style.
The best of the year's SF art books is The Art of Science Fiction, by Frank Kelly Freas, introduction by Isaac Asimov (Donning, 253 West Bute St., Norflok, Va.23510, $7.95). Together with 35 color plates and wuite a few drawings by one of the undisputed leaders in science-fiction illustration, the book contains a bit of autobiography, a discussion of the special problems, themes and techniques of SF art and some not-very-agonizing self-examination and explanation: "the old masters would have laughed themselves sick with the idea of art for art's sake" - and so they would.
In a later column, we will examine some recent art paperbacks of interest to those who concern themselves with schools, questions of technique and the oeuvre or individual artists.