The Spy Who – The Art – Part 5

Over the past few years I have been looking at versions of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, particularly ones that had artwork created for the story.

Previous posts looking at various editions and collectibles related to le Carré’s most famous novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold can be found here.

In 2018 the publisher of specialty editions of famous books, the Folio Society, released an illustrated edition of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. They had previously released specialty editions of the Karla trilogy, although those didn’t include artwork.

The art for this version The Spy was created by Matt Taylor, the same artist that created the striking cover art for recent reissues of le Carré’s backlist.

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Image by Matt Taylor
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The Honourable Schoolboy Art by Matt Taylor
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Smiley’s People Art by Matt Taylor
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The Pigeon Tunnel Art by Matt Taylor

They all tie into the story and capture one of the signature images from the books. I’m particularly fond of the Karla trilogy images, especially the lighter reflecting in Smiley’s glasses and The Pigeon Tunnel cover which has the silhouette of a younger le Carré within the one of older man. The Pigeon Tunnel cover especially captures the feeling of the book, a man looking back on his past, while also capturing the easy conversational tone of all the essays.

Taylor, a UK artist, works as a freelancer on a variety of projects for high profile clients but may be best known for his work for Mondo. Mondo is a company that commissions alternative movie posters for classic and recent films. Taylor’s signature tends to be bold images with bright colors that pop off of the page.

In an interview about his work on the le Carré covers with Barbara Choi of The Wall Street Journal, Taylor talked about reading each of the books he was tasked to illustrate, something not every artist finds the time or inclination to do, and how he “like[s] to try to find just one little detail that serves as a microcosm of the story itself and use that as my starting point.”

Speaking with Port Magazine about his cover for the Penguin reissue of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold Taylor said,

“With The Spy I was able to read the book at a slightly gentler pace and really focus on it. I think it also stands apart from the first few books in that it’s a mostly light coloured cover, whereas the first batch were quite dark. My favourite bit of the drawing is the awkward positioning of the feet and the suggestion of blood on the snow – it’s the little things that stand out to me.”

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The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Art by Matt Taylor

For me however, the most interesting tidbit was that le Carré himself was reviewing the artwork and giving his approval on the final design choice. This isn’t necessarily a surprising fact given in his youth le Carré attempted to make his way as an artist himself. He created the art for the cover of the book They Fought For Children and his sketches were used in spymaster Maxwell Knights’ nature books. It is the first I’ve heard of him taking an active role in cover selection.

In a Q and A with the blog Raging Biblioholism Taylor described the approval process this way –

“Once I’d read the book, I would sketch 2-3 ideas and send them to my art director who would then forward them on to Mr. le Carré. He would choose his favourite and then it would come back, occasionally with a note or two, but usually not.”

Over time Taylor has released some samples of those various sketches and we can begin to get an idea of not only Taylor’s artist process but also what area of the novel the designer and author wanted the cover to focus on.

He’s also shared some alternative sketches of some of the other novels. Below we see some different options for The Night Manager cover.

All of this is to say that hiring him for an illustrated edition of The Spy Who Came into the Cold must have been a no brainer for Folio Art Director Sheri Gee.

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A scene from The Spy Who, Art by Matt Taylor
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A scene from The Spy Who, Art by Matt Taylor
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A scene from The Spy Who, Art by Matt Taylor

With this edition, Taylor joins the ranks of Howard Turpin, David Stone Martin, Paul Davis and others that have given their take on this classic. Comparing the images to past artists, it’s obvious that certain scenes pop out as important to illustrate. Like Turpin in the 1960’s and 70’s, some of Taylor’s best known work is artwork for current films. It’s fascinating to see these two artists in particular interpret le Carré’s most famous work.

Taylor continued his run of covers this fall with the US edition of le Carré’s latest, Agent Running in the Field.

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Agent Running in the Field Art by Matt Taylor

For more on Matt Taylor, his background, artistic process, and samples of his work, I highly recommend this wide ranging interview he gave to Chris Jalufka of Print magazine.

All of the artwork in this post is by Matt Taylor, excepting the comparisons with Turpin. All these images can be found on his website. I highly encourage folks to visit and see the full range of his work.

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