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Quirks of Art

A new book chronicles the decorative oddities of postwar Britain


First published in 1951, The Unsophisticated Arts is the work of British artist and amateur anthropologist Barbara Jones, who’d spent years touring the country to document the folksy, often surreal decorations adorning fairground rides, houseboats, seaside attractions and other marginal areas of life. The resulting book—reissued this month by U.K. independent Little Toller, with previously unpublished art—represents an early celebration of outsider art and a chronicle of traditions that even then were headed toward extinction. And if the book’s images aren’t compelling enough for you, the accompanying text surely will be. “You are coffined in a raw sienna-colored claustrophobia where you cannot stand up,” Jones writes, describing the inside of a canal boat, “and the always improbable action of swinging a cat becomes forever hopeless.” (Jan. 28)

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