Máirtín DeFuireastail

January 27, 2013


An Buama Deiridh, Deasún Breatnach, FNT (1962). Cover design: Máirtín DeFuireastail


Seal Thall, Seal Abhus, Deasún Breatnach, Oifig An tSoltáthair (1973). Cover design: Máirtín DeFuireastail


An tÁr sa Mhainistir, S.E. Ó Cearbhaill, Oifig An tSoltáthair (1972). Cover design: Máirtín DeFuireastail


An tÁr sa Mhainistir (back cover), S.E. Ó Cearbhaill, Oifig An tSoltáthair (1972). Cover design: Máirtín DeFuireastail

Máirtín DeFuireastail’s cover design for An Buama Deiridh (The Last Bomb) is a wonderful piece of comic book pop art. On first look it may appear to be yet another tired Lichtenstein appropriation yet, amazingly, DeFuireastail created this in 1962, a full year before Lichtenstein painted Whaam! The cover crackles with Cold War nuclear paranoia – an imaginary metropolis under threat from some diabolical danger.

The comic book influence runs through the other examples of Máirtín DeFuireastail’s art. There is a lovely crispness to his line work. The streetscape in an orange band on the back cover of An tÁr sa Mhainistir is particularly pleasing. It reminds me of the illustrations on the cover of Saoirse Gan Só which I wrote about previously. I have a strong feeling that it is also the work of DeFuireastail but it is no credit on the book.

DeFuireastail produced illustrations and cover designs for books from at least 1956 until sometime in the mid-seventies, other than that I have no biographical details for this talented designer.

Typography Ireland

I will be speaking about typography in Irish book covers at the next Typography Ireland seminar this Friday 1st of February at 2.30pm. Paul Freeney will also be speaking about the work of his father, sign painter, Kevin Freeney. The seminar takes place in the GRADCAM seminar room, John’s Lane West, Dublin 8. The building is a former primary school and the GRADCAM seminar room is on the top floor.

Karl Uhlemann – FNT covers

December 14, 2011

Meas na Filíochta, Odhrán Ó Duáin OFM, FNT, (1968). Cover design: Karl Uhlemann

Sladmhargadh, Donach de Róiste, FNT, (1968). Cover design: Karl Uhlemann

Ó Rabharta Go Mallmhuir, Seán ‘ac Fhionnlaoich, FNT, (1975). Cover design: Karl Uhlemann

Fir Chlaímh, Seán Ó Mulláin, FNT, (1976). Cover design: Karl Uhlemann

Slán Leis an gComhluadar, Mícheál Ó hOdhráin, FNT, (1961). Cover design: Karl Uhlemann

Feoil an Gheimhridh, Colm Ó Baoill, FNT, (1980). Cover design: Karl Uhlemann

Is Glas na Cnoic, Seán ‘ac Fhionnlaoich, FNT, (1977). Cover design: Karl Uhlemann


Foilseacháin Náisiúnta Teoranta (FNT) (National Publications Limited) published Irish language books until 1988 and, despite the very formal moniker, it wasn’t a State run publisher but in fact a commercial enterprise (although it did receive some subsidies over the years). The company was incorporated in Westport in 1947 when it bought the printing works of the Mayo News. It continued to publish that paper but it’s main focus was the Irish language newspaper Inniu which had been founded by Ciarán Ó Nualláin and Proinsias Mac an Bheatha’s Glúin na Bua (a breakway from Conradh na Gaeilge) in 1943. Ciarán Ó Nualláin was Flann O’Brien’ brother and, more importantly from our point of view, also the brother of Mícheál Ó Nualláin whose design work we have featured previously.

FNT’s book publishing activity started as a sideline to the newspaper business but the number of titles grew steadily over the years. Karl Uhlemann was FNT’s main cover artist for a considerable portion of its existence. Above are examples of his work for them over a twenty year period from 1961 to 1980. It is interesting to see how his skills developed with time, particularly when comparing his treatment of the Traveller’s caravans in the covers from 1961, Slán Leis an gComhluadar, and 1975, Fir Chlaímh.

My favourites are Meas na Filíochta, with its Japanese feel, and the pop art sci-fi explosion of Sladmhargadh. You can see more of Mr Uhlemann’s work and what little I’ve been able to ascertain of his biography in these two earlier posts.

Karl Uhlemann II

August 8, 2010

Faoi Rún Go hÉirinn, Seán Ó Ciardhuáin, FNT, 1972. Design: Karl Uhlemann

Sléibhte Mhaigh Eo, Mícheál Ó hOdhráin, FNT, 1964. Design: Karl Uhlemann

Crumbling Castle, Patricia Lavelle, Clonmore & Reynolds, 1949. Design: Karl Uhlemann

Old Celtic Romances, P.W. Joyce, Talbot Press, 1963. Design: Karl Uhlemann

An Doras Grianlasta, Lorcán Ó Treasaigh, FNT, 1983. Design: Karl Uhlemann

Since I last posted on the work of Karl Uhlemann I’ve managed to dig up some more nice examples of his work but more importantly I’m now able to fill in some biographical detail. Theo Snoddy’s very informative Dictionary of Irish Artists: 20th Century tells us that Karl Uhlemann Jnr was born in 1912. His father Karl Snr was a landscape painter born near Leipzig. I still can’t say for definite if he was born in Ireland but we do know that his father was resident in Dublin from 1915 when he first exhibited at the R.H.A. Karl Snr obviously had an influence on his son’s choice of career and the creative streak in the family continued with Karl Jnr’s son Rai. I will feature some of Rai’s work in a future post.

These examples of Karl Uhlemann’s work are from dates between the late forties and the early eighties – almost 35 years. Crumbling Castle is the earliest example and although it is uncredited, the KU in the lower left hand side and the similarity to other covers by him leave us in no doubt.

My favourite of these covers is Faoi Rún Go hÉirinn. The moonlit illustration, which raps around to the back cover, is beautifully rendered and doesn’t suffer a bit from the rough print job. An Doras Grianlasta is the least successful. The typography feels like an after thought and there has been no attempt to tie it in with the illustration. It is a good example of how design quality suffered as a result of technological ‘advances’ in the late seventies and into the eighties.

Before the Dawn, J.K. Lyons, Gill & Son (1946). Cover design: uncredited

Saoirse Gan Só, Seán De Fréine, FNT (1960). Cover design: uncredited

The General Post Office (GPO) has become an icon of the Irish state since its central role in the Easter Rising. Two different aspects of this icon are emphasised on the above covers and, although both really appeal to me aesthetically, neither cover is a good representation of the books’ contents.

In the first, Before the Dawn, the burning GPO is an heroic national symbol. According to the blurb, the story is ‘an Irish love romance’ set during the build-up to the Easter Rising of 1916. The central character is won over ‘from indifference to enthusiasm for the cause of Irish Freedom’. Despite the dynamic cover the novel is a lightweight affair.

Gone is any heroicism from the symbol of the  GPO on the front of Saoirse Gan Só. Here the building, now topped with the Tricolour, represents the authority of the State. Unfortunately, the overall feel of the cover is quite upbeat in both colour and illustration style. You may be at a loss as to the content of the book if you don’t understand the title (No Respite) or miss the downcast heads of the departing emigrants in the bottom panel. I love the top left vignette of Desmond Fitzgerald’s Dublin Airport – in just a few lines the character of the building is captured along with the tail of an Aer Lingus Douglas DC-3 plane.

Karl Uhlemann

December 10, 2009

The Miracle Maker, Charles C. O’Connell, Talbot Press, 1960

Rícheol agus Rómánsaíocht, Gearóid Mac an Bhua, FNT, 1963

A History of Ireland, J.J. Feeney, Educational Company of Ireland, n.d.

Cosmhuintir, Liam Ó Murchú, FNT, 1975

When I first came across Karl Uhlemann’s name I assumed that he was yet another talented Dutch designer who found himself working in Ireland in the 1950s. In fact he was born to a German father and Irish mother sometime around 1910. Although I can’t confirm that he was Irish born we do know that he was educated at Synge Street CBS and went to work at Colm Ó Lochlainn’s Sign of the Three Candles press upon leaving school. He is probably best known for drawing the initial sketches for the Colum Cille typeface (1936) which Ó Lochlainn developed with Stanley Morrison at Monotype.

Above are four examples of Uhlemann’s book cover work – 2 three colour designs from the early sixties and 2 later two colour designs. His illustration style is hard to pin down as it varies widely over these four covers yet he achieves a very pleasing design with each one. I particularly like the lettering on the title of The Miracle Maker.

The few biographical details I could find come from Dermot McGuinne’s excellent book Irish Type Design: A History of Printing Types in the Irish Character. Karl Uhlemann passed away in 1992.

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