The phrase 'a picture tells a thousand words' is as well-known as it is true, and with imagery and the written word so inextricably linked, it seems only natural for artists to pay homage to literature in their work. From Harland Miller’s classic Penguin book covers to Richard Prince’s illustrations of hardbacks, there are a plethora of artists who directly quote celebrated literature in their works. Yet, writing inspires many more artists than you may initially think. We consider the surprising artists that you never knew were inspired by literature, from David Yarrow’s dynamic photography to Graceland London’s macabre compositions.
With a more tangential link to books, many viewers would not identify Yarrow’s nod to the literary greats in his photography until considering the names of his artworks. From The Girl With The Lion Tattoo, referencing the Swedish Thriller by Stieg Larson, to Yarrow’s 2020 photograph The Birds, a title inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s horror hit, Yarrow’s literary influences are as wide ranging as his reach.
American pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein, was renowned for his striking works executed in his signature Ben Day style. Created with small dots that mimic the printing process used to produce magazines, Lichtenstein’s work not only looks like a cartoon strip but many of his compositions are also directly lifted from real magazines.
Sebastian Chaumeton’s latest body of work is inspired by the The Twelve Labours of Heracles, a tale thought to be first documented by Peisander in his epic poem, Heracleia, in circa 600 BC. Historically, ancient poems have often been the subject of artworks, with ekphrastic texts including Ovid’s Metamorphoses being key inspirations for some of the best-known artworks from art history. Chaumeton’s series depicts all twelve trials the demi-god undertakes, with the artist replacing the traditional villains to make them modern-day monsters.
Known for her bold use of colour, Graceland London’s artwork tackles societal issues including the dangers of materialism and consumerism. Grappling with themes of ideology, the artist cites the Bible as a particular point of inspiration for her artwork. Fascinated by the symbolism within the religious text, as well as the concept of heaven and hell, Graceland London draws on themes of morality from the Bible, painting compositions that represent elements of the seven deadly sins in vivid and contemporary palette.
Hand-painting real paperback books, The Connor Brothers combine witty text with glamorous pin-ups models to create works that feel as nostalgically familiar as they are funny. Creating prints and paintings that resemble book covers as well as transforming their own, the artistic duo are inspired by all things literary. Hear No Evil, for example, pays homage to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, with a stylish woman taking central focus of the work, surrounded by the trappings of a lavish party.