Friday, January 04, 2013

Ralph Chubb: The Secret Country

Ralph Nicholas Chubb (1892-1960) was an artist with an extraordinary and peculiar vision. His idealisation of the 'beautiful young man' was based on experiences of religious vision and the horrors of World War I muddled with early personal experiences of same-sex love that moulded his psyche and, in a very real sense, possessed him, for the rest of his life. It has been a surprise, over the last few months and years to discover the breadth and scale of Chubb's painted work since, like most bibliophiles, I came to him as a book-artist and one-man small press and even then, as someone whose books it is nigh impossible to gather together in one place without the resources of Croesus to fund you. Chubb produced about 15 books between 1924 and 1957 and as he progressed, the productions became more and more elaborate and more highly limited, many produced in folio size by hand printing lithographic images and text, sometimes also hand-colouring a small number of each edition.

He created a personal mythology which, at it's best, was an expression of sexuality in religious, transcendent, near euphoric terms: a mythos populated by boy-gods, angels, Spartan warriors and pauper-Princes. At its worst it descended into what Timothy d'Arch Smith has called "uninspired tales of fairies, elves, knights, dragons, maidens in distress, all the trappings of an outdated and untalented nursery"

As with many great artistic souls, the power and size of his vision was possibly too much for his mind and he appears to have suffered from mental health issues throughout his life but particularly after the second war. He became obsessed with the occult significance of his world view and packed a couple of his titles full of occult symbolism, numerology, astrology and Celtic mythology and he began to identify himself as Raf, the guardian angel of Albion: his literary visions swerving very close to the flame of delusion. Perhaps the books helped, perhaps they were a form of therapy and without them he might have lived at a far less functional level. Whatever the case, they are beautiful and inspiring in the way that only passion and obsession can be.

The illustrations in this post are of The Secret Country, a 1939 production of only 37 copies, (seven of which were painted in watercolour) and I'm grateful to Paul Young of Prying1books who is currently selling this copy on Ebay, for providing them.


Alexei said...

Such a beautiful book.

Catacomb librarian said...

The books seems so enchanting.
Will you make a photo of each page one day? The world needs to see this rarity.

Anyway, thanks for the images you put online, you gave us glimpses of this obscure book.

Who links to my website?