Brave New World, Aldous Huxley’s dystopian classic, was the intriguingly unsettling inspiration for this year’s Book Illustration Competition from the London-based House of Illustration and Folio Society. The challenge was to create three illustrations and a binding design, and the just-announced winner—who arguably took the title into a braver, newer world—was 33-year-old Finn Dean, a graduate of Bath School of Art and Design.
"I really didn’t think I was going to win," the artist tells Co.Design. His work was selected from that of more than 500 entrants from 34 countries and will be published this September in a new Folio Society edition of the Huxley book.
Dean’s creepily faceless figures evoke the brainwashed atmosphere of Huxley’s novel, where babies grow in a "hatchery" and the World Controllers ban art and literature. Dean’s psychedelic skies and neon lighting surely would have appealed to the famous psychonaut author. Chronicling his experiments with mescaline in The Doors of Perception, Huxley described the red hot poker plants in his garden as "so passionately alive that they seemed to be standing on the very brink of utterance." He also became one with the leg of a bamboo chair and praised artist Johannes Vermeer as "gifted with the vision that perceives the Dharma-body."
The competition-winning images that would make the author proud were created by Dean in Illustrator and Photoshop; he also incorporated some hand-drawing and paintwork. He tells Co.Design that his renderings of "large, cathedral-like interiors" were meant to "show the status of science in Brave New World, and how it has usurped and absorbed the role of religion."
Dean cites Art Deco and modernism as influences, as well as films like Metropolis and Blade Runner. For fear of subconscious copycatting (the doors of perception can swing in so many directions), he avoided looking at previous designs for the novel while he was working. This paid off—most of the earlier covers are drawn in stark grays, blacks, and whites, and Dean’s inclusion of vibrant accents is a fresh break from that tradition. The black-and-white cover of the 1932 first edition features a plane flying over a split globe in flames. A later version gives a falling man cogs where his head should be. Another shows mannequin-like marching bodies in a blur.
Once Dean got the call notifying him of his victory, he had to machine-up himself, in a whirring blur of drawing and design to make the book a reality: "It was good to hear the news," he tells Co.Design. "But then it quickly dawned on me that I then had to produce a further five illustrations, and I felt this huge responsibility to make sure the work would do the book justice."