• Steven Heller

The Daily Heller: Two Heads Are Better Than One

Rex Whistler (1905–1944) was a British painter, designer and illustrator. Though he died in World War II, during his brief life he was known for his landscapes, scenic design and portraits of London society in the 1920s and '30s—but his commercial work was also significant.


Early on, he created a mural for the café at the Tate Gallery, completed in 1927 when he was but 22. He designed sets for opera, the theater and ballet (most famously, Fidelio at Covent Garden, Victoria Regina on Broadway and the Royal Ballet's Rake's Progress), illustrations and jackets for over a hundred books, numerous advertisements, and illustrated telegrams for the Post Office. He created posters and illustrations for Shell Petroleum and the Radio Times. And his designs for Wedgwood china were highly prized.


Perhaps his most admired graphic arts book went by the titles !AHA! and !OHO! (the edition below was published posthumously in 1946). His grotesquely witty reversible faces included texts by his brother Laurence, who "caught their spirit in the verses which comment on these two-faced individuals." This conceit of topsy turvy caricature is not unique to Whistler but he brought pictorial optical illusionism to a new level that influenced many latter-day illustrators.


For more on Whistler's graphic and illustration work, click here.




















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