Modernism in all its forms remained an object of suspicion in the minds of all right-thinking educated Englishmen as the results of three decades of artistic experiment and innovation in Europe crossed the Channel and slowly filtered into the public consciousness. Thoughts of Bolshevism and Primitivism were more than enough to terrify the locals and inspire decades of resistance. In terms of architecture, at best, in the post-war era there was a cautious acceptance of those elements that could translate into cost savings and greater profit margins for the construction industry. The stylistic combination of geometric forms and undecorated surfaces was deeply offensive to the pre-war intelligentsia whose taste was dominated by the English vernacular vision that S R Badmin faithfully recorded in this Puffin Picture book, Village and Town.
This book was first published in October 1942, although according to Chris Beetles (in S R Badmin and the English Landscape, 1985) the artwork was commissioned and produced in 1939. Badmin is best known for his slightly pedantic watercolours of English rural scenes that were reproduced on greeting cards by Royle Publications. Conventional and reassuring picturesque compositions under fair-weather clouds set the tone, although the best of them were distinguished by a sharp eye for the telling detail. Noting the regular appearance in these images of the local blood-sport enthusiasts would suggest that Badmin could safely be filed under the huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ rubric. Not so - after active campaigning on behalf of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, he continued to support radical political causes throughout his career. In 1935 there was a working visit to the USA courtesy of Fortune magazine, an account of which can be read at Visual Telling of Stories.
In keeping with the progressive values behind Noel Carrington’s Picture Puffin project Village and Town concludes with an open-minded look at recent examples of Modernist architecture in Britain. A modified version of Lubetkin’s famous Penguin Pool and a drawing of the Highpoint tower block are accompanied by text that emphasises the versatility of reinforced concrete and the quality of beauty to be found in the repetition of simple shapes and patterns. The auto-lithography process enabled Badmin to describe his subject in more formal and three-dimensional terms than in his watercolours and the results, especially on the back cover (see top) where a Charles Holden Underground station takes centre stage, were pleasingly robust. Whether Badmin, in addition to his passion for the delights of the countryside had a hidden sympathy for Modernism is something we may never know but I like to think that he had.