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Designing the Barbican themed Penguin Classics covers

Friday 23 June 2017

Throughout Into the Unknown, in partnership with Penguin Classics, we’ll be presenting a series of book club events each focussing on an iconic title from Science Fiction. To celebrate these cult novels, we asked illustrator Jamie Keenan to design a series of book covers inspired by our Brutalist architecture and surroundings.

Here, he reveals his early sketches for the four book covers…

JK: The covers all employ a touch of the Tom Purvis look – so large areas of each image are reduced to flat blocks of colour – but, unlike his work, the lack of any human presence in each image, gives them the eerie, dystopian feel that you’d want for this series. Each cover then uses a small, photographic detail to exaggerate this emptiness.


Buy your copy of our Barbican inspired Penguin Classics front covers from the Barbican Shop. Browse the full set of books here.

Penguin Classics Book Club: A Clockwork Orange takes place on Thursday 29 June

Into the Unknown: A Journey Through Science Fiction takes place 3 June–1 September

'The cover of A Clockwork Orange merges the settings of the Martini lounge at the Barbican with the Korova Milkbar bar in the story. The four chairs obviously stand in for the four members of Alex's gang, with the spilt milk hinting at the violence and the geometric forms of the concentric circles and squares and heightened perspective, referring to the mind altering rehabilitation Alex is forced to undergo.'
'The cover of Frankenstein is located in the 'engine room' at the Barbican - the place where, through a series of twisted pipes and cables, the whole creation is powered.'
'The Brutalist architecture of the Barbican Centre lent itself perfectly to the mood of the book and the crop of the image, which completely avoids anything near ground level, gives the image a feel of complete isolation with no link to anything on a human scale. The banners use a font that echoes this lack of warmth and this became the one I used for the entire series. The presence of the helicopter - to heighten the feel of being overlooked - formed the idea that each cover should have a small photographic element that clashed with the flat colour used on the rest of the cover.'
'I put off designing the cover for The Island of Doctor Moreau until last, because I knew the foliage of the Conservatory at the Barbican would be a nightmare to reproduce. As with all of the covers, there's an overriding colour scheme and a small photographic detail central to the story. The idea behind the mix of concrete and greenery was to get across the idea of the breakdown of the civilised world.'