Dramatic Art Deco Illustrations of the Phobias of Modern Life

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Feb. 4 2014 1:20 PM

Dramatic Art Deco Illustrations of the Phobias of Modern Life

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

This group of illustrations are five of 25 that made up John Vassos’ 1931 book Phobia. The work, published as a limited-edition art book, was a labor of love. In it, Vassos developed his elongated Art Deco visual style, while advancing a critique of modern urban life. 

Vassos, who emigrated from Greece in 1918, was a prolific designer who worked in many media, mostly earning his living through commercial commissions. He designed shop windows, stage sets, and murals for cinema lobbies. He illustrated ads for department stores, Packard automobiles, and French Line cruise ships.

Advertisement

Later, he became an industrial designer, creating packaging for consumer goods, and housing for consumer electronics. He planned the RCA pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair, including the famous Lucite television meant to convince skeptical viewers that TV images came from the air, rather than from a miniature projector inside the set. Vassos eventually worked for RCA for more than forty years.

In the forward to the 1976 Dover edited collection of excerpts from Vassos’ art books, used copies of which are the best way to see more of Vassos’ artwork, P.K. Thomajan writes that Hollywood directors were devotees of these limited-edition books, looking to them for visual inspiration. Whether or not that’s true (Thomajan doesn’t cite a particular director), the images in Phobia, Contempo (1929), Ultimo (1930), and Humanities (1935) feel quite cinematic. Ultimo, the text of which was written by Vassos’ wife Ruth, even tells a complete science-fictional story.

While Phobia doesn’t have a narrative, it does lean on visual representation to convey extreme emotion. Vassos wrote in the introduction to the book: “A phobia is essentially graphic. The victim creates in his mind a realistic picture of what he fears, a mental image of a physical thing.” The streamlined style of his imagery conveys the dizzying height of buildings and the rush of oncoming automobiles.

Acrophobia
"Acrophobia, the Fear of High Places."

John Vassos, Phobia, 1931.

Aichmophobia
"Aichmophobia, the Fear of Sharp and Pointed Objects."

John Vassos, Phobia, 1931.

Batophobia
"Batophobia, the Fear of Falling Objects [and Passing by High Buildings]."

John Vassos, Phobia, 1931.

Dromophobia
"Dromophobia, the Fear of Crossing the Street."

John Vassos, Phobia, 1931.

Pantophobia
"Pantophobia, the Fear of Everything."

John Vassos, Phobia, 1931.

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Uh-Oh. The World’s Oceans Have Broken Their All-Time Heat Record.

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

How to Keep Apple From Sharing Your iPhone Data With the Police

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

A Simple Way to Keep Apple From Sharing Your iPhone Data With the Police

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
  Life
Outward
Sept. 18 2014 4:15 PM Reactions to a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Reveal Transmisogyny
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.