Author(s): Peter Simpson
Fantastica is the first book to survey the life and work of Leo Bensemann (1912-1986), one of the most remarkable New Zealanders of his generation. Accomplished in many fields - drawing, painting, printmaking, music, calligraphy, typography, book design and illustration, editing, printing, publishing - Leo Bensemann stood at the heart of our literary and cultural life from the '30s to the '50s, as designer and illustrator at Caxton Press, member of The Group, and friend of Charles Brasch, Rita Angus, Douglas Lilburn, Lawrence Baigent, Denis Glover, and Doris Lusk. In the period when Christchurch was the leading centre for literature, theatre, music and the visual arts, Leo Bensemann, through his activities and relationships, was in the thick of it. Fantastica provides new insight into that cultural scene and also reveals the depth of Bensemann's work. His art and design - witty, mysterious, highly literate and allusive, fantastical in style and subject - contrasted dramatically with the prevailing fashion for realism and regional landscape, establishing him as a challenging outsider within New Zealand art. A distillation of 30 years research and illustrated throughout, Fantastica lets us inside Bensemann's world and provides a new window into the art and culture of twentieth-century New Zealand.
Director of the Holloway Press, Peter Simpson is a writer, editor and curator. His books include Colin McCahon: The Titirangi Years, Peter Peryer, Photographer and Answering Hark: McCahon/Caselberg. He has written entries for the Oxford History of NZ, the Dictionary of NZ Biography, The Oxford Companion to NZ Literature and judged the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana NZ Book Awards.