It is with great sadness that we mark the death of John Hamilton, 55, the much loved and respected Art Director for Penguin General and Michael Joseph, and both friend and inspiration to so many here at Penguin Random House UK.
John joined Penguin in 1997 as Art Director for Penguin General Adult Publishing, immediately taking the art department by storm with what would later become known as his trademark wit and creativity, and his unerring eye for remarkable, thought-provoking design. In over twenty years with Penguin he continued – and pushed to new limits – our long tradition of placing great design at the heart of the company.
Working with so many of our bestselling authors – from Zadie Smith, William Boyd and Nick Hornby to Jamie Oliver, Dawn French and Antony Beevor – John created timeless, iconic covers which have become synonymous with the texts themselves. On a personal level, too, John’s charm and empathy, coupled with his profound ability to read between the lines of a book, helped him establish close relationships with authors and help realise their vision through his design.
He particularly loved cookery books (he collected over a thousand of them), and perhaps his most important partnership was with Jamie Oliver. He art directed every one of Jamie’s books and they forged over twenty years a highly creative professional collaboration as well as a deep friendship.
He also made a lasting impact on the wider creative industry; helping to discover and then nurture many talented young designers, often straight out of art school, as well as spotting the very best illustrators, photographers and artists early on in their careers. He brought some of the biggest names in art and design into Penguin: from Banksy to Peter Blake, from Shepard Fairey to William Eggleston, John always believed that everyone would want to work for Penguin – and he was right.
John’s creative vision was stimulated by a broad range of interests and a catholic taste. He loved the very English illustrative heritage of Ravillious and Bawden on the one hand, as well as the international edginess of his favourite tattoo artists, who - increasingly in recent years - practiced their art on John’s body. In 1998 he led the launch of the Penguin Essentials collection – a collection of modern classics aimed at a new generation of readers. John purposefully commissioned a diverse and eclectic selection of work from around the world – from graffiti artists and tattooists to fashion and music industry designers – to rethink and reinvigorate the visual identity of these classics. He famously instructed his designers to ignore publishing conventions and just “do what you do”; resulting in a collection of books with striking, unconventional cover designs which still powerfully resonate with readers over two decades later.
John’s legacy won’t just live on in his book covers, but also in the culture he fostered in his team and further across the business He was an inspiration and mentor to many of our young designers, and a great colleague and friend to those who had worked with him over the years. He loved the books business. Not just the design end of things. He liked to know that the books he thought highly of also sold well and became bestsellers. He was passionate about Penguin: its past, present and future and believed fully in its mission to bring the very best books to the widest number of readers. He was central to that and it’s hard to imagine the place without him.