These Are the Essential Art Books to Explore Right Now

Get comfortable and settle down with a couple of these brilliant new books. From closeup portraiture of 1980s London to an exploration of the African surf scene, these are eclectic additions to your bookshelf.

Snacky Tunes: Music is the Main Ingredient, Chefs and Their Music (Phaidon)

The design of this trippy recipe book is a work of art in and of itself, and the manner in which chefs discuss how music has inspired each individual dish, if not their entire kitchen process, is a testament to the reciprocal nature of creativity. Conceived by Darin and Greg Bresnitz (who have produced a podcast of the same name for over a decade), it tells personal stories from around the world, with fully realised recipes and playlists featured alongside. Each carefully crafted page is an explosion of typographic experimentation thanks to the vision of Studio Omnivore, and features mouthwatering dishes inspired by everyone from Nick Cave to Yo La Tengo. (Holly Black)

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In Your Face by Paul Trevor (Hoxton Mini Press)

In Your Face feels like a very fitting title for this new book of photographs by Paul Trevor, in which he used unflinching, extreme closeups to capture the people of east London in the 80s, and in doing so reveals the growing gulf between rich and poor. This portrayal of social inequalities is equally uncompromising, showing the hubristic smugness of the bow-tie-sporting money men in sharp contrast to the weatherbeaten expressions of those in a very different market, with the street traders in nearby Brick Lane. All shot in black and white, the series was taken between 1977 and 1992, with a particular flurry of work during the 80s, when Trevor felt compelled to question Thatcherite politics and the then-government’s prioritising of market forces over community. As publisher Hoxton Mini press points out, the work is as relevant today as ever. (Emily Gosling)




Vincent Ferrane, Every-Day (Libraryman)

Ava, Jackie, Leo, Mathieu, Matthias, Maty and Raya are the protagonists of Vincent Ferrane’s new photobook, young people captured at home by the photographer as they get ready to go out—an everyday ritual that has in recent months become strangely momentous and meaningful. This isn’t lost on Ferrane, who plays with the trope of looking and seeing, while his subjects appear almost unaware of his presence. Ferrane plays with documentary, fashion and portrait photography freely but what he is most interested in is form, whether it’s a pile of clothes on a bed or the soft curves of a back walking away from his camera. The individuals in this book identify as transgender and non-binary but that’s not really what this book is about—it’s more a reflection of Ferrane’s enquiring male gaze and how he relates to the people he shoots as individuals, finding beauty in each of them. (Charlotte Jansen)


  • St Francis of the Planet Ploiesti - Photocomic - Sample Layout from AFROSURF
  • Cebo Mafuna - Sample Layout from AFROSURF
  • Joseph, Casamance, Senegal - photo by Lupi Spuma - Sample Cover of AFROSURF

Afrosurf (self-published)

Created by African surf brand Mami Wata, limited-edition art book Afrosurf is billed as the first to comprehensively document and celebrate surfing and its culture in Africa. Moving away from the tousled blonde hair and blue eyes of those that dominate the surf culture narrative, the book instead uses photographic spreads, cartoons and surfer profiles to delineate the unique and lesser-told experiences of surfers from Morocco, Ghana, Senegal, Mozambique, Nigeria,  Cabo Verde, Madagascar and more. Following its successful Kickstarter campaign, the book is now being sold to raise money for African surf therapy projects. “Africa has a unique history of wave riding, our own diverse and original expressions of indigenous surf culture,” says the team behind the book. “The Motherland is also the final frontier of global surf exploration. Surfing, and protecting these natural, economic, and social resources (waves) will play an important role in the development of the continent.” (Emily Gosling)

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4 BROWN GIRLS WHO WRITE (Rough Trade Books)

This literary collective has been making waves on the poetry scene since joining forces in 2018. Their tongue-in-cheek name wryly anticipates any mention of their South Asian background, instead spelling it out in big block capital letters. Roshni Goyate, Sharan Hunjan, Sheena Patel and Sunnah Khan are the four writers in question, and now bring their radical, polyphonic performance style to a new series of pamphlets released by Rough Trade Books as a set. Themes tackled include the splintering of selfhood in light of intergenerational silence and trauma, and reflections on language and motherhood as a second-generation Punjabi immigrant. This latest release is a testament to the creative power of the collective, while also allowing each individual voice to come to the fore. (Louise Benson)

The Book, Alemeh M. Yengiabad (self-published)

How do you see a masterpiece if you’re visually impaired? Just announced as the winner of the 2020 Rijksstudio Award is Alemeh M. Yengiabad’s design The Book. The tome renders masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum collection in braille. It’s high time that a project like this came into existence, and with the exposure and prize money of 7,500 euro for the Award, hopefully more publishers in the art world will follow suit and produce books that make art accessible to everyone. (Charlotte Jansen)  

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Emma Cousin, Keep It In Your Knicker Draw (Goldsmiths CCA)

A riot of bodies and boobs come together in the drawings and paintings of Emma Cousin, whose work is currently on display as part of the Solos presentations at Goldsmiths CCA in London. Figures spill beyond the canvas and up the walls of the exhibition, sketched directly onto the architecture of the building. The accompanying colouring book (designed by Kristin Metho) captures some of this freedom, playfully transferring Cousins’ sketches into a newly interactive format for children and adults alike, and inviting them to think beyond the boundaries of the page. In an interview with Elephant in 2018, she explained, “There’s an implicit danger, a relationship between the figures which could go either way—to provide a support system, or to pull each other to pieces.” (Louise Benson)




Caroline Walker: Janet (Anomie Publishing/ Ingleby Gallery)

Painter Caroline Walker has long depicted the domains of women, from glamorous Californian enclaves to anonymous hospitality staff. In her latest series, she focuses solely on the daily life of her mother Janet. These beautiful domestic portraits capture her going about everyday tasks, including cooking and cleaning, and are bathed in the warm glow of her family home. All of these works are presented in a new book that bears her name, and are also filled with behind-the-scenes snapshots and sketches. At a time when many of us are putting our family relationships and living arrangements under scrutiny, this book is filled with the comfort and intimacy one so often craves. (Holly Black)