Monday, February 26, 2007

Dustjackets and Type

For a number of reasons recently I have been thinking about typography on book jackets. Any book collector will be able to tell you that the reason it is difficult to find jacketed books before a certain date is that up to a point they were regarded as entirely disposable, something to keep the book safe and clean on the shelf or in the post, to be torn off like wrapping paper before settling down to read, not really a part of the book itself. Of course, all that has changed now.

Instead of grabbing scans and photos from across the internet to play with I have simply hooked a few examples off my own shelves to natter on about how wonderful some of these jackets which rely heavily or entirely on text are.

I was going to simply pull down some Gollancz yellow jackets and some Faber and Faber but, of course, once I actually started scanning the shelves I found others I wanter to highlight. In this context in particular I was struck by these three American editions of Robert Hugh Benson's historical novels published by P J Kennedy & Sons out of New York in 1912-15. I love these covers. There's nothing wondeful about them in design terms I suppose but they are, first of all very scarce in any condition, let alone in the browned but intact condition I found these in, and second of all are perfect examples of the cover as wrapping paper. The title and author is there like a headline above a newspaper article, which is made up of what we would now call the 'blurb' for the book. I love the way that simply by appropriating this newspaper style, the publisher/designer has reinforced the fact that these are disposable items, and in the process created something of real interest.

The early 1950s Gollancz cover for Finistere in this group is clearly on the line between the 'newspaper' wrapper of the genre of the Benson books above and the beginnings of the really interesting stuff which came out of Gollancz when they burst into yellow (see below). But I had to stop off at Faber and Faber. The study of Walter de la Mare by Forrest Reid is so early it's not even Faber and Faber, it's Faber and Gwyer. But I love the photographic element which seems to say at one and the same time - treat this like newspaper - and - actually you might want to keep this. The type is beautifully understated in red and black. The other two Forrest Reid titles are classic Faber and Faber, the typography is crisp, large, usually in two colours and using both upper and lower case founts for separate words. The wonder of these bold typographic covers which Faber became so famous for is that they say so clearly, there is nothing in our books except words but it is the words that are important. They remind me of nothing more than tombstone engravings.

Even the little pink postcard which came with the Walter de la Mare book has a lovely feel to it as a piece of vintage typography.

Gollancz is another publisher whose covers are, collectively at least, something of a masterpiece in the intersection between design, marketing and typography. Yellow is just such a ridiculous colour. Today yellow is the colour of things that are cheap. Yellow and black is what the pound-stores use to advertise their discounts. And yet, no one else would dare use it and when it comes with this playful approach to typography and colour there is room for a series which, when looked at together are something of a time capsule of typographical ideas as well absolutely unmissably on the shelves. Gollancz has always had an eye to its design and sometimes still produces some really clean and appropriate designs - the paperback Science Fiction Masterworks series being a case in point but nothing really exceeds the original yellow back nonsense. So popular in fact that in a recent series of paperback 'collectors' editions of vintage science fiction, the original yellow was duplicated. Watching the development of the Gollancz cover over time is also an object lesson in the change from the functional to decorative purpose of the dustjacket. Compare the Gollancz cover of Finistere (above) to the earliest of the yellows shown here (Sturgeon, Starshine) and despite the lack of newspaper-style text I'm sure that one rolls into the other quite nicely.

The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole

Frederick Rolfe, Baron Corvo

Cassell, London, 1934

And finally, although it stands alone in this small selection, and Cassell is not particularly known for its design or typographical kudos, whilst I was hooking things off the shelf I came on this by Frederick Rolfe, Baron Corvo and felt I had to include it as an example of beautifully spaced type with an extravagant use of a printers ornament (probably too elaborate to be just a printers ornament) which, seemed somehow appropriate.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

A Stable, A Memory, A Play, Some Pictures

At the end of the road where I lived as a boy was a riding stables. It was badly maintained: the grass in the paddocks was always sparse, the compacted dirt broken by gnarly lumps of weed: dandelions, ragworts and so on. There was a tall hay-loft with long upright pillars of crumbly wood supporting a corrugated iron roof, it was filled too high with straw bales that had holes and passageways in them where we few local children played and felt as though we were hidden from the world. The stables themselves were in a long, narrow building of crumbling brick with some seven or eight individual stables on either side, backed onto each other. There were, in all the years I lived there, never more than six or seven horses, a stable half-full.

It is a place inextricably linked in my mind with growing, painfully through puberty. Here I saw and handled another boy's cock for the first time. Here were dens in the straw so hot and torrid that puberty smelt like bailing twine. Here I first heard filthy gossip about the horsy girl who came everyday: ‘she wanked off her horse you know’. Here I saw a tiny scrap of a boy hurled in his t-shirt and tight shorts into a patch of stinging nettles by an older girl, for what crime I don’t know, but his pain was both horrifying and delicious to me then. Here I…

Back then there was no one living on the site and from dusk till dawn it was deserted. Some nights I would climb over the lower sections of one of the empty stable doors and huddle, breathless in the dark, listening to the soft noises of the horses shifting in the straw on the other side of the walls and to the thumping of my own heart which raced at the sense of secret and mystery and the thrill of being caught. I would then undress, leaving my clothes in a small pile in the corner of the empty stable and climb, with difficulty and with knees scuffed to bleeding, on top of the wall which ran down the centre of the building, dividing the stables in half. The wall was only one brick wide but once on top, it was possible to walk carefully along it using the slanting roof beams on either side as hand-holds. In the play, Equus, the boy, the psychiatrist and Equus himself are the moving presences on stage but there is another, unmoving and ever-present; the stage, which is both stable and temple. At roughly the same time as these events I started attending church.

This is not the strange ritualised psychopathology of Alan Strang in Equus, nor is it, I believe, any more abnormal than any of the thousand secret acts of exploration that thousands of people undertake as children and would likely never speak of again - you are free to disagree. And the wonder of it was the horses. To a twelve year old a horse is a massive and violently ‘different’ kind of creature. Walking the top of the wall took me into a realm of half-darkness where the steam of the straw and the haze of the horses, their waxy hair, their piss, their shit and their sweat, rose and hung like a miasma - and in the middle of it, I stood far above (or so it seemed) their vast and solid bulk: skinny, nimble, frail and naked, breathing in the risk and the animals. I have not thought about these night time moments for years until, several experiences recently came together at once: a play, a memory, an artists work and some forgotten pieces of poetry.

“The Mari Lwyd was a mid-winter tradition popular especially in the villages of Glamorgan and Monmouthshire. A horse’s skull, decked with ribbons and carried on a pole by a man hidden beneath a sheet, was taken from house to house by a group of revellers. The skull’s jaw could be manipulated to make snapping movements as the Mari Lwyd demanded payment at each house.”
The Art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins
By John Barnie

It is possible to be haunted by other people’s ghosts. I got the ghost of my never-known grandfather from my mother: a dark and sinister presence whose malign influence reaches from the past without the need of supernatural mechanisms to rake dead fingernails down a number of lives. Alan Strang found a mutilated Christ and a looming horse-head and worshipped where they joined. The Mari Lwyd, a much more tangible thing, something which can be delineated in line and paint, is the ghost that haunts every one of these phenomenal pictures by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. It is a ghost of Wales, it has the bitterness of a poem by R. S. Thomas, it was the nightmare of his father and is both ghost and god in these pictures.

To a twelve year old a horse is indeed a massive thing. It is a masculine thing. It is tacitly acknowledged but never aloud, that girls find a pleasure in riding which is to do with maturing, with sexual awakening, with the first feel of firm flesh under the hand and between the legs. Perhaps in Equus, and in these pictures of the Mari Lwyd, and in my night times in the stables there is a male equivalent. There is an unmistakeable sexuality about a horse and, mare or stallion, it is a masculine energy. To touch a horse is to feel dense, hard-packed muscle, it is to feel the heat of something so powerful as to be overwhelming, it is to feel vulnerable and small against the power of a creature on the outside edge of domesticity. To walk above horses on a precarious wall is an act of initiation and trembling. Here is death and sex and worship and sacrifice.

The psychiatrist in Equus muses that some things come ‘before’. To Alan’s mother this thing which comes ‘before’ is the devil. Although the word is never used, they both feel the active power of an archetype at work in themselves and in the boy. The active power of an archetype is not to be trifled with and whether it comes ‘before’ or is placed in our psyche by parents or trauma, what are archetypes but other people’s ghosts? and what is its active power but a haunting or a possession?

These pictures are, to me, a set of stations. Stations of the Cross they may not be but there is a journey here. Stations of the Cross are the points at which one stops on a journey towards death. The Mari Lwyd was a dead thing on a journey round a village, pausing like a religious procession round a church, or through the streets of Jerusalem, or on its way to a crucifixion.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
2001, conté on paper, 122x153cm

Clive Hicks-Jenkins writes: “One of the last services I was able to perform for my father in the final stages of his illness, before he became unconscious, was to shave him. It was the first and the last time in our lives together that he was unable to do it for himself. We were both silent, and although I had to concentrate on the task, I was aware of his eyes locked on mine throughout”

I. Jesus is condemned to death

Man and man
are standing in the
white stone and high
columns of palaces.

Silence and frustration
hanging as the dust in
warm air circulates.

Questions about truth
are soft curls of
sunlight and silence,

and somewhere in the years
beyond this room and this judgement,

a million voices speak

with him

of injustice

in a blinding white silence.

From Stations of the Cross
By Callum James

Red Halter
Clive Hicks-Jenkins

2001, conté on arches, 56x76cm

II. Jesus is given his cross

and splinter
and blood.

Cracked grain and tight knot
to be worked and eased
like a muscle strung in pain

and butting against rough wood.
Rough hewn it will weigh down
a line of vertebrae

and twist through years
into precious metals,
mother of pearl, soft
engraving and small pendant.

Dead wood will flower
and flow like the water
drawn on its grain.

and splinter
and blood.

From Stations of the Cross
By Callum James

Stumbles and Falls
Clive Hicks-Jenkins
2001, conté on arches, 56x76cm

IX. Jesus falls for the third time

Down and down
to where toenails
are hard yellow
and breath is an intake of dirt
and where the gutters
run damp and stinking at noon.

Where the sun has gone:
an eclipse of legs and hem

Even the fascinated wince,
even their intake of breath
stutters as body and bloodied
wood crack heavy to the grit.

Light twists and heaven is,
for only a moment, dark.

And the moment stretches
and it will always be there
in the memory of angels.

from Stations of the Cross
by Callum James

The Second Fall
Clive Hicks-Jenkins
2001, conté on arches, 56x76cm

VII. Jesus falls for the second time

Is it the world tips
or the pitch of liquid
in a dizzied ear?

The sickening spin
and the sudden
of grip

There must be tears
down here where the view
is sandal-straps
and calloused toes
and dog's paws and
tall, tall people
who rise above and seem complete.

God has crumpled
to a bag of stick limbs
and is empty as dust.

There must be tears down here.

This is a fall
that will shake the world.

From Stations of the Cross
By Callum James

Deposition III
Clive Hicks-Jenkins
2001, conté on paper, 122x153cm

I have stood before this painting where it hangs in a house in a Welsh valley at three o’clock in the morning and been lost in the tangle of the sheet and in the tangle of the lines or veins of the artist’s conté crayon and imprisoned in the exposed ribs of the horse. Standing in the dark again, in that massive presence. The picture, almost as large as a horse, tips your head back until you feel you might fall backwards like the man.

XIII. Jesus is taken down from the cross

Hard to hold for lightness,
floating to the ground in the
care of arms; guided like a feather

to rest:

the body.

Free from all weight, finally,
laid like a soft rag on the ground
here is the final proof

of God:

a body.

from Stations of the Cross
by Callum James

Equus Montage

As a way of clearing some feelings, Google helped me to find these images, some powerful, some laughable, of productions of Equus around the world. Therapy by Google! God help me!

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Equus Mask

I talked below about the masks used in Equus, their Genesis in the mind of John Napier in 1973, their elevation into a must-have design accesory for any production and then Napier's reinvention of them for the current production. I've been trying to describe them to people. Now, hopefully I can just direct them here.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Harry Clarke and the Geneva Window

In 1926 Harry Clarke was known throughout the world as both a stained glass designer and a book illustrator. No better choice then when the Irish Ministry of Industry and Commerce were looking for someone to design and produce a stained glass window to represent Ireland at the League of Nations in Geneva.

The window had a difficult birth. There were delays in design and production. His original pencil draft was for a series of scenes from contemporary Irish literature in eight square panels of glass. But Clarke fell ill with TB and the panels were only just completed at the point when he had to be transported to the Swiss sanatorium where he eventually died. The window was, at that point unglazed. The family firm completed the work and billed the Ministry but the window was never transported to Geneva. It was bought back by Clarke's family and exhibited on loan at The Dublin Municipal Gallery until 1988 when it was bought and restored by the Wolfsonian Institute in Miami where it still resides today.

The images below show the window as it is now and then six watercolour and pencil sketches for some of the panels which were sold at Southeby's in 1996 with estimate ranging from £8,000-£20,000 each.

I'm fairly sure that this is the first appearence of these images on the Internet - which, to be honest, gives me a little frisson of pleasure! How camp is that"

PS. John C., I have to say that comparisons between the film and the play (or at least this production) could take me twice as long to write about as the comment on the play below. Suprisingly they didn't update the jingles and equally surprisingly, it didn't seem to matter much. The program notes say that the text was only updated in a very very few insignificant places. The whole had no feel of being dated. The other significant difference for me between stage and screen is that on the stage, there are some laughs! Obviously there can't be any of that straight-to-camera agonising by Dysart on stage and Griffiths certainly played it a lot less fiercely. The banter he has with his magistrate friend actually relieves the tension at points on the stage in a way it doesn't during the film. Anonymous, thank you for the information on the Delany bookcover - do feel free to introduce yourself if you want to... Macdowells, you can lecture me all day long about spacing, type, typography and the placing of the 'small stone' on the page and I will listen and learn.

Stained Glass Window

Harry Clarke R.H.A (1890-1931)

Wolfsonian Foundation, Miami

"The Dark curtain of night moved noiselessly,
and the
three angels stepped nobly in the firelight"
James Stephens


"The widow thought that the world was

strange, the sky extraordinary, the man's

head against the sky was a wonder, a poem"

Seumas O'Kelly


"Joxer's song, Joxer's song - give us

wan of your shut-eyed wans"

Sean O'Casey


"Mavourneen is going

from me and from you

where Mary will fold him in Mantle of Blue"

Padraic Colum


"There's music along the river

For love wanders there

Pale flowers on his Mantle

Dark leaves on his hair"

James Joyce


"If I were to die tomorrow all I would ask

from the world would be the charity of its silence."

Lennox Robinson


It's 2.30am and I've just travelled back from the first night of previews of Equus at The Gielgud theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue in London. Walking through the streets of London afterwards with a friend I realised I was in a state of stunned shock, quite profoundly upset and distressed. I have known the play for many years, read it a number of times and ditto the film but never seen it on stage. I was 2 years old when the original 1973 version was on at The National Theatre and provoked a storm of controversy... but I should start at the beginning, as the psychiatrist Martin Dysart says, at the beginning of the play.

The set for this production was designed by John Napier who designed the 1972 original. It was, in many respects an updating of that design. A sparse set of four black blocks (the whole set is black) on a revolving central dais with two ranks of seating high up above the stage like an old 'anatomy theatre'. Six huge black doors around the rear, under the 'stage seating' open to become stable doors from which the much updated 'horses' emerge at various points.

The story is familiar to most but if you do not know it and want to learn it by going to see the play then stop reading now. Alan Strang (Daniel Radcliffe), a 17 year old boy blinds six horses with a metal spike and is sent to the care of psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Richard Griffiths); the play is the story of his treatment, told by Dysart who is, at the same time, feeling a crisis of vocation, agonising over the sense of wonder, passion and worship that he has to remove from his child patients in order to also remove their pain.

Strang comes from a dysfunctional family but not more than most (perhaps a little more than would have been admitted in the 1970s) a religious mother, an emotially cold and atheist father (those performances are wonderful precisely for their depiction of the ordinary-wierdness of families) who becomes obssessed with horses from a very young age. The obssession becomes a form of worship and he develops a fairly structured form of worship muddling up the violent images of Christianity with an Equine archetype he names Equus - both a slave and a master to humans (ie to Strang himself). With puberty the obssession becomes sexual and the when Strang has his first fumbling sexual encounter with a girl - in the barn attached to the stables, all he can see is Equus, and in a psychotic moment takes the metal spike to the stable and blinds the horses so they can no longer look at him, so Equus can no longer watch him. In Mythical terms he is trying to blind his god to his sins...

This is an intense play. It follows the destruction and rebuilding of a young soul and although there is healing, there is also loss because of the healing. Sitting six row back in the stalls, behind Radcliffe's family, there was a real immediacy to the experience. There's no denying that this production has been about Daniel Radcliffe from the beginning, heavily trailed with near-nude promotional shots and of course, his worldwide fame through the Harry Potter movies has made this an event that it otherwise wouldn't have been. That said, as a bit of a Daniel Radcliffe fan in my dizzy moments, he put in an astonishing performance. The nudity was far less shocking than seeing him smoking and swearing violenty, and when the clothes did come off, for all the talk of 'Dan the Man' and tabloid prurience about 'How Harry has Grown', it was quite clear that Alan Strang is a boy. Radcliffe may have been buffing up at the gym but he is still a slight and vulnerable-looking (and though he doesn't like it much - short) boy. All of which was only enhanced his characterisation.

I can't provide a 'theatre review' as such, I'm too tired and drained. The play has always been popular among gay men. The eroticism of the male horse and the disturbed teenage boy is a very 'masculine' experience in many ways (this production opens with a shirtless Strang pressed against the chest of his favourite horse 'Nugget'). The play is also about the conflict of teenage boy with adult world particularly as it revolves around sexuality. This, plus the fact that Alan Strang is normally played by a cutie in the nude (one has to be honest about this) has made for something of a gay following for the play. What I didn't realise was how much this tragic examination of mental illness was going to affect me. Far more than when reading the play or watching the film. Everything about me which has ever felt vulnerable, everything which is not quite right in my head and every unresolved issue of adolescence (and who doesn't have those), every pained desire for human contact and every imaginary emotional world I have ever created were presented back to me and torn apart on the stage. I'm not claiming this as a unique experience, when the play was written the 'generation conflict' and the notion of what it means to be a teenager were just as hot topics as they are today and form a central theme of the play and we all loose something of our sense of 'worship' to survive in an adult world. I am just stating my personal response. I feel as though I have been through a family tragedy, in my own family, impotent to do anything about it, as if the tragedy was, in some way, me.

I do not mind feeling like this. I am not about to fall into a pit of despair from which I will never rise. This is what good theatre, really good theatre should do to you... and Equus did.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Porcelain Boy : Porcelain Skull : Porcelain Porn

This has got to be one of the most longstanding projects on my list. An aeon ago, I suggested to Porcelain Skull aka Alex, that I'd love to do a book of his poems, called of course, Porcelain Boy. For all kinds of reasons this has taken an age to get even to this stage. It's been through a number of incarnations and this, I hope is it's final 'cover look'. Inspired by a little something I saw on the literary journal McSweeny's once. The cover is going to be printed on Hahnemühle paper and then folded four times to make a wrap in which the stitching can be hidden. I haven't decided on an interior paper yet. The first ten of the edition will have original mini-collages by Alex as well as the standard illustrations which will be pen drawings. Now I've got this far I'm really quite excited. I've been saying pretty much since I started this blog that I wanted to include some modern authors in my list and this will be a first. The way it's gone, this whole look could change ten more times before the thing gets published - but I have a good feeling about it now...

...and why the Porcelain Porn? just a shameless plug for R's occasional blog about the wonders of Victorian Porcelain....

Monday, February 12, 2007

Some Ace Books Covers for Samuel R Delany Books

Below are nearly all the early Samuel R Delany novels published by Ace Books. Although it should never be doubted that Ace Books provided a service to SF which is pretty much second to none in discovering and publishing new talent in the sixties, their format had to be relentlessly commercial. Covers were designed for appeal to SF readers who were coming out of the pulpy fifties SF universe of rocket ships and hairy Martian monsters. They had to be cheap. They had to be short. There are some almost painful descriptions of SRD having to cut huge lengths of text to fit Ace's word-length requirements which he tells in his memoir of the period The Motion of Light in Water.
It is perhaps partly this experience that prompted one of Delany's later academic themes in the study of science fiction which has been to place the physical object, the book, its economics and production within the sphere of literary criticism.
The point can be well made with reference to the Harry Potter books of all things. Imagine J K Rowling going to her publisher with Harry Potter number one, and an outline of the way the story would develop through seven novels. No matter how enthusiastic they may have been, no publisher in their right mind would have alowed the first Harry Potter book (HP and the Philosopher's Stone) to be the doorstep size of the fourth, fifth and sixth books. It's not until the fourth book that Rowling has economic power enough to produce what she wants and to know it will be published and find an audience. Imagine what might have happened to the Harry Potter series is Rowling had been in a position to write the first three books as fully as the (currently) last three? Hence, the economics of book production have had a literary effect.
Such is the same with Ace Books. It was very often the first UK publication (normally in paperback) which saw the first publication of the 'full text' of Delany's early novels.

The Jewels of Aptor

Ace Books (Ace Double F-173), New York, 1962

This little novel is your basic quest story and as such it has, I think, been unfairly underestimated in the Delany canon, even by Delany's fans. Its a real treat to read even forty plus years on. Perhaps expecially forty years on, as it sparkles with all the themes SRD later came to explore more fully and with the beginnings of a very individual style. The cover isn't credited but I wouldn't be surprised if it were Jack Gaughan.

The Towers of Toron

Ace Books (Ace Double F-261), New York, 1964

Now how's this for whacky! The artist is uncredited and to be honest, it's such a long time since I've read this one that I couldn't tell you what kind of justice s/he might or might not be doing to the story - but does it really matter with graphics like that!

The Ballad of Beta-2

Ace Books (Ace Double M-121), New York, 1965

So many of Delany's short (because of Ace Books word limits) early novels are small masterpieces in their own right. This one follows a PhD student in ethnography out into space looking for the origin of a song. Something as simple as this becomes an involved tale of culture, language and isolation which has such a level of sophistication that it is difficult to see what the cover artist was thinking. This cover is credited to Ed Valigursky. One can see where he was going with it on reading the story but it does seem a little dated even for 1965. Perhaps it would have been more at home on the cover of the SF of the decade before. One can't say the same of the typographical choices on the cover! Could that font be any more 'sixties'?


Ace Books (F-388), New York, 1966

This is one of Delany's most enduring tales, certainly if the number of reprints and translations is to be taken as any indication. Also, one of the couple of SRD novels which made it into the recent, and acclaimed, SF Masterworks Series by Gollancz. A tale about the use of language set in what might now be regarded as an almost cyber-punk style universe. How very few SF novels have a female poet as the protagonist. No artist credited with the cover. I should also just take a moment to boast that my copy of this, along with The Einstein Intersection below are two of those most rare things - near mint copies of an 1960s Ace Paperback!

Empire Star

Ace Books (Ace Double M-139), New York, 1966

One of Delany's most complex and satisfying short works which should not be confused with the graphic novel Empire. This novel is exceptionally difficult to illustrate given that it was a time-travel story of great convolutions. This cover which is attributed to Jack Gaughan (see below for the reliability of Ace Books attributions although in this case at least the style looks right) has some reference to the story but any illustrator would have struggled with producing one image for the cover. There are some beautiful illustrations for the story by John Jude Palencar in the 1981 Bantam collection of short Delany fiction Distant Stars. In fact now I have thought of them I may have to include them in a later post. But Palencar had the advantage of being able to produce multiple images which follow the story closely - not an option open to the cover illustrator.

The Einstein Intersection

Ace Books (F-427), New York, 1967

Delany's breakthrough novel and perhaps one of the most evocative of the Ace covers for his work, this one by Jack Gaughan. Elsewhere on the blog I have noted that there is another cover in white with an orange minotaur's head which is also credited to Jack Gaughan. This would appear to be a later printing in which Ace Books, with its usual cavalier attitude to such things, simply forgot to change the attribution to a different artist. The artists daughter was in touch with me at the time of the previous post to say that she agreed that second cover did not look much like her father's work. This cover, the genuine Gaughan not only respects the contents of the story but also, and it is rare to be able to say this about Ace Book covers, the typography is rather nicely done.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

New Post at...

...The Postcard Palace

It's back!


Off here tomorrow (actually now today) to look at lots of lovely things I can't afford to buy...
However, this is one those fairs at which the goods and dealers are heavily vetted and the entrance fee normally keeps the hoi poloi out so my observations on antiques and collactables fairs below may not apply.

John Coulthart

I don't often do this, but every now and again you come across someone else's blog that you wish was your own, and so a little bit of promotion (and let's be honest, off this site it will be just a little bit of promotion) can't go amiss.

John Coulthart, illustrator, designer and all round nice chap with a blog stuffed full of interesting things and beautiful images.

A blog called:

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Unexpected Beauty

Every now and then, when things are feeling a little scratchy and metallic: when there's ice on the wind, something appears out of nowhere to remind you of beauty. This is a little how I feel about stumbling over this picture in an out-of-the-way folder on my computer.
Tripping through the paintings of Jamie Wyeth on his website is not so much like looking at pictures as it is like visiting a place. And in this place, the sunlight is always clear, the breeze is strong and salted and the birds, animals and people are contemplative.
I can't offer a 'reading' of the picture above in any formal sense, I can say that it bears more than a cursory glance. It is full of questions which can only really be resolved by the creation of a personal and complete story in the imagination. The boy is wet, and sunburned on his arms, used to the open air and yet he is indoors and naked. The strength of his upright back - and indeed the strong cross in the composition are somewhat at odds with the vulnerability of his very thin limbs and the huge adolescent feet (like the oversize paws of a young dog). The contrast is there also between the intense and glistening colours of his living skin and the dry bone of the whale jaw: a dead thing. His lightness and the weighy mass of the bone are another contrast which is only resolved by the composition of a cross. Is he being eaten? Sacrificed? There is something so very mythic about this picture, which, I suppose is why it calls me back and back again.
Every one of Wyeth's pictures holds almost as much depth and those below are just a few favourites.
PS. robscoble, 'Snub' is a fantastic name, so very Edwardian, and R has already poked fun at his nose! The last below is, of course, for you.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Sometimes, I'm told, a therapist will ask you to draw how you feel. Sometimes it just comes out in a doodle when you're not expecting it...
This, I think, is a hangover from too many people at yesterday's exhibition.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Modern Works on Paper at the RA

Those nice people at The Old Stile Press sent over some tickets for an Exhibtion/Fair at the Royal Academy in London yesterday so R and I braved the engineering works on the Southern region trains and made our slow way by car, coach and train to the capital.

The exhibition was vast, taking up two floors of the Royal Academy of Arts (which looks pretty filthy and nondescript from the outside these days), so took most of the afternoon simply to ensure we'd been in every room.

Of course, the artwork on display: Burne-Jones, Simeon Solomon, Paul Nash, Eric Ravillious, Kate Greenaway, Henry Moore, Lord Snowdon, and a whole host of other famous and not so famous names, was all fantastic but it was hot, crowded and very just so damn big, very soon one wall of pictures begins to blur into another and it becomes very difficult to remember items that stand out. There was a particularly interesting stand by a gallery in Salisbury specialising in book illustration which included a marvelous Dulac, a couple of fantastic fantasy book illustrations and a beautiful cover painting for a book called 'The Silver Swan' the name of who's painter escapes me entirely. And one could go on... remembering the picture in a vague kind of way but having had the time to appreciate it properly and let the details sink in. Of course, the pseudonymously titled room 'Covered' where the artists' books were housed was something of a highlight for me but beyond that, only twenty-four hours later the whole thing is a bit of a blur.

Having said that, I wouldn't want you to go running off with the idea that it wasn't a fantastic day. It was and a lot of my increasing claustrophobia during the day I guess has to be put down to the sheer number of people and the continued strain involved in avoiding being touched and bumped. It was great to be in London again as I haven't been for a long long time now. It was great to be out and about with R (this counts as our Valentine's Day Treat). It was amazing and inspiring to see so many beautiful things in one place at one time. And the meal at an Italian in Compton Street afterwards wasn't too bad either!

One definite highlight, as always, the walk back to Waterloo across the Thames in the dark. London is, quite simply, one of the most breath-takingly beautiful cities in the world.

And perhaps the best thing about the exhibition...? Being able to come away with a little piece of art tucked under our arms courtesy of the 'drawing swap'! A novel idea. Bring a drawing with you or sit at a table and do one on the day, hand it in and take a reciept. It gets stuck to the wall with all the others. At the end of the day come back and you can then swap your receipt for any picture of the wall which takes your fancy and which you are quick enough and (in my case) tall enough to nab. So we came away with two life drawings from the 1920s - one female and one male. I had resolved earlier in the day not to get yet another half-naked man or boy to go on the wall of my study, but to be honest, most of the stuff on the wall was life drawing and nothing from the minority which wasn't really grabbed me. Anyway - how cool to be able to say that one my drawings has hung on the walls of the Royal Academy! And here he is, my new chum below - haven't thought yet of a name for him.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Today's Cool Find

In a dusty draw full of paintings, prints and drawings, in a secret location in Hampshire, I today came across a selection of fantastic pencil drawings. There is no date on any of them but I would hazard a guess from the style that they are perhaps from the 1860s/70s. A number of them look to be meticulous copies of engravings. This one in particular caught my eye. I don't know if these two are supposed to be The Virgin and Child or some other mother and son combo. I'm sure it's a copy of a more famous artist's work so perhaps someone will recognise it. This drawing is so fine, and I have quite an experienced eye for this kind of thing, it took a magnifying glass to ensure that it was in fact an original drawing and not a print.
Who links to my website?