book review: Marian Bantjes’ ‘I Wonder’


I wrote on this blog some while back that I feared we were losing the art of decoration, in passing referring to Marian Bantjes as bucking that trend. With the publication of I Wonder she has singlehandedly rescued ornament & craft from untimely demise at the hands of modernist graphic design.

For those unfamiliar, Marian Bantjes is a Canadian illustrator/typographer/designer (there is no appropriate single word) living near Vancouver who after a decade in book typography and production reinvented her career to a extraordinary degree. She is a kind of missing link between contemporary design and the rich decorative craft traditions of the religious world(s). Her work is entirely secular but there is a strong sense of devotion in it, and she has a gift for creating something something truly extraordinary—spiritual even—from the most unpromising materials or observations.

I had the good fortune to hear her speak recently and she is as refreshingly unpretentious and sane as her work is exuberant and extraordinary. I Wonder is no ‘here is my recent work isn’t it great’ indulgent monograph. The stunning visuals and beautiful production illuminate her equally thoughtful and crafted personal texts, which range from thoughts about her late mother, to self-assembly furniture and a (hilarious) critique of the letters of the alphabet.

I love this book because it is the antidote to what so many of us do in design: striving to be clear, efficient and immediate (but disposable). Importantly it reminds me that there is more to communication than speed and functionality and a great reminder of the pleasures of slow. I am genuinely enjoying the less immediate pleasures here, the hard-to-read sections I have yet to absorb but to which I will return…

If anyone seriously thinks the book is dead, think again. Marian Bantjes’ ‘I Wonder’ is a vivid celebration of everything that a book can be. This has more book-ness than anything I have ever seen. I will waste no more of your time describing it. Just go get it—it’s under under 20 quid for chrissakes, yet looks worth way more than that. Should you find yourself uninspired, I suggest an urgent review of your medication.




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