Neil Gaiman, eh. Respect or what?
Olly is one of those artists who have taken on a book from The Library of Lost Books to 'update' in whatever way they choose.
His art work is amazing, which I knew of course but which knocks me sideways again from time to time. Here's a small selection from his ongoing project below, but go see the rest here.
And if that isn't impressive enough all on its own, look here.
Neil Gaiman, eh. Respect or what?
I never mention the exhibitions at the John Rylands library. I'm not sure why, I often manage to get to them. I think maybe the impact on me of their various shows is quite muted or sometimes too muddled for me to work out what I think - and if I can't work out what to think, how can I possibly work out what to say? Their frequently quiet effect on me means that I nearly always intend to visit again, and there, of course, we run into the old, old problem that I nearly always don't visit again, and the moment is lost.
In the past, I've visited a number of bookbinding exhibitions, A Clockwork Orange exhibition, a tiny modern gothic show in a shed and a generous handful of others, many of them excellent so far as I can remember, that have now apparently completely dissolved into the mists of time. The library doesn't appear to keep a record of previous exhibitions, so I can't even check that out and 'remember'. Currently there is a William Blake exhibition (should visit again, probably slower) and a collection of artists' books from the Al-Mutanabbi Street project. I should definitely visit that one again, too, but I do think artists' books always run into the problem that, in display cases, they're just things. Some of them work as sculptures (for lack of a better term) and aren't meant to be opened, if indeed they can be opened at all, but most of the books really need to be handled, to be pored over in order to function as books - they lose something when that can't happen.
In July there's going to be a big to-do over Boccaccio (700 years since his birth? Death? Not sure which right now) and apart from all the academic stuff there should also be an exhibition of new artists' books to go with it. I had a bash at joining in with my own - admittedly very simplistic - proposal, but alas never even got told 'thanks, but no thanks, not quite what we're after', which would have been nice. Nothing to do with John Rylands, that was another strand of the whole collaborative set-up. Doubtless it was all for the best (in this best of all possible worlds).
Any ideas I had for the project have already joined that throng of lost possibilities, because I've finally realised that ideas are irritatingly lacking in staying power. It goes like this. I have a moment of startling clarity, or more often I hack away at some vague notion until something starts to emerge, and the seed of a possibility results. Then it sits there in my mind. If it was never going to get anywhere, it quickly shrivels and disappears, but a few of the seeds don't die. Instead they get knocked back and forth, swirled about, reconfigured into slightly (or very) different shapes. This is when I start to obsess, getting very excited at what might be growing. Even then, plenty of ideas reach the point where I realise, no, it's still too self-indulgent or empty or a dead-end. Every now and then, though, one will start to feel like the real deal and the mind goes into overdrive, providing all sorts of detail and planning. At which point there is a very limited window of time in which to plant that seed. Nothing necessarily has to be done with it immediately, but it's very important to fix the idea while I can, because soon after that it starts to decompose, and before long it's dead dead dead. It's happened often enough now that I've realised what's going on. Which is sort of useful, I suppose.
Well, little and not so little really. I just wanted to show to the world some of the amazing handmade books and other bookarts from the weekend.
First up, Elizabeth Willow's 'Waving at the queen' - a beautiful little letterpressed book on a soft grey paper, telling a tale that sounds very fairytale because of the way it's written, but is actually a little cameo of, I suspect, the sort of meetings that happen to Elizabeth a lot. She met a man who asked her what she was carrying:
and he told her that he had waved to the queen, and she had waved back and:
Simple, but haunting in the strangeness that Elizabeth gives to it.
Gemma Lacey has collaborated with David Armes for their book Pi ta pi - she provides the etchings of rain from that first drop, then a little more, and a little more until there is a steady downpour, and David provides a letterpress version of the same process.
And then there was a collagraph by Catherine Harnett, made into a book with the addition of some words from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, and Susan Kruse's Fairy Tale written over original fairy tales (and given to me in a paper bag made from some accordion music, which I'm determined to try out on the piano some time), and Nancy Campbell's translation of Rimbaud's Le Bateau Ivre in a beautiful indigo paper cover and letterpressed on a buttery soft paper and oh! so many lovely things.
And not so little at all, but poster sized instead, Andrew Morrison's King of Birds:
And that was a good day! We found out a couple of days ago that today was an MMU open day - good thing / bad thing? Well bad for parking, as it turned out, inspite of assurances to the contrary, but good I think for visitor numbers. After a slowish start, the place developed a real buzz over the rest of the day, and we had to start dismantling displays before many of the last visitors had truly finished. It felt very upbeat, and most of the exhibitors to whom I talked seemed to have enjoyed themselves in one way or another, either making new contacts, getting positive feedback or selling enough to feel a warm fuzzy glow about it. I can never quite get over that feeling of responsibility for everyone, that I want them all to enjoy and sell and so on, but the best hope is numbers through the doors, and today I felt that we had those numbers.
I ended up buying more, of course (who'd have thought?), of which my favourite was a wooden letterpress poster from Andrew Morrison of Two Wood Press. And that's the Manchester Artists' Book Fair over until the next one.
And then I listened to Sibelius Symphony no. 2 and Alt-J on the way home and that was pretty damn good too. Yes, definitely a good day.
Well, I enjoyed it immensely. I missed the Collaboration and the Democracy of Book Arts talk, as I was always going to (someone had to mind the shop) although I'm hoping to enjoy at least part of them later (yay for modern technology), but I think I got to chat to just about everyone there, and I really enjoyed that.
Of course I came away with books! In what alternative universe was that unlikely? Thus far I have swelled my collection with works by Elizabeth Willow (a delightful letterpressed book called Waving at the Queen, which I shall showcase later), Gemma Lacey and David Armes (I don't know if it has a name but I'm going to call it pi ta pi (because that's what's on the cover) and I think that should feature later too) and from Andrew Morrison's stall (and I might not have finished there). If I can just get to the bank tomorrow morning, there's sure to be more. Oh yes of course I know I shouldn't, but it's all so tempting.
Another day to run - oh go on, don't miss it.
As did many a Hot Bed Press member this weekend, I visited the Manchester Contemporary exhibition - a showcase of contemporary art galleries, some of them even from Manchester and the north (sorry).
HBP had a stand with a range of print and book artists, but I more or less knew most of that - I was there to see the rest of the show. Some of it I really liked, felt it had artistic merit (hah! How would I know? What I mean is I liked it, for whatever reason) or intellectual underpinnings or deep seated beliefs/arguments/outrage or whatever. And some of it took me back to a well established state of disbelief. It's very hard, sometimes, not to think that parts of the art world really are cynically pulling a fast one. You can only conclude that Duchamp's belief that art is art because an artist did it has become a ready excuse for an appreciable amount of art which, if not done by an artist, really wouldn't be considered art at all.
Nevertheless, there were numbers of pieces I would happily have gone home with (and that I might borrow from, sideways - for the excusability of this please google "Steal like an artist") but I didn't write names down. Well of course not, too easy. The only one of those artists I remembered well enough to look up was Abigail Reynolds. Marbling and cooling towers (and possibly maps?). She has started keeping (on her website) a list of books she feels have been important to her - I am already aware that I currently have no list of favourite books in the 'I like' section of my website - and as an avid re-reader myself I approved of the number of times her reading matter had next to it the word 'again'.
I think I shied away from a list for myself, for the same reason I was picky about listing the music I liked. Quite a lot of it is, if not dross (give me some credit), literary polyfilla. Comfort reading. Lazy. That's fair enough - I read to amuse myself, not to 'grow' - but there's no reason to inflict my choices on anyone else.
Time to encourage everyone to visit the Manchester Artists' Book Fair this year. It should be good - I know, that because I'm helping to organise it, I have to say that, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. We're in the process of putting all the exhibitors on the website at Hot Bed Press (it's been a learning curve this year, and doesn't everything take sooooo much longer than you think - I've already decided that next year will be a lot better) so watch that space. Hopefully it'll all happen soon.
Of course, I'm going to encourage everyone to buy, because that's why the exhibitors are there and I want book arts fairs to go on happening. I've yet to come away from a fair without a large hole where my money used to be, but in return for that I have countless delightful things, a ton of inspiration and very few regrets. As in most arty fields, I'm always bowled over by other people's incredible imaginations and attention to detail and patience and skill and and and. It's too much to help with the fair and have a table as well, alas, so it'll all be money out, and no money in. Perhaps when I go to Bristol in the spring I could make that happen the other way round? What, and not come away with anything new? Unlikely!
We've also (another plug) organised a morning of talks and discussion to run alongside the fair (excuse tacky image).
Sarah Bodman, Angie Butler, Nancy Campbell, Susan Kruse and Michelle Rowley are book artists with their work in collections all over the place and whose practices include, in very different ways, a lot of collaborative work. Each of them will give a talk about their own collaboration projects and will then discuss the issue together and engage with the audience. They all produce fantastic stuff - check them out - and it should be a very good morning. Get in touch with Hot Bed Press and book yourself a ticket. You won't regret it.
Recently had my first visit to the Bodleian in Oxford. They have an exhibition of tomes of medieval romance at the moment and it's sooooo good. Well, it's books - from my point of view, they'd have to work really really hard to lose my interest (I won't be surprised to find that every one of their exhibitions is a total delight). Apart from the stories themselves of high honour and tragedy and adventure and lust and loss, there's the packaging - I like packaging and will always take a book's cover into account. Age-darkened leather, heavy old paper, close-written lines (shivering monks with eyesight failing, stooped over their work in poor light, surely), ornate decoration, dainty illustrations. I'm not terribly imaginative. I'd like to be, I really would, but when I look at time-worn steps and ancient drovers' roads, what I see and like is the stone, the creation - the creators and even the users rarely play their part in my thoughts. But old books, especially the hand written ones or those with later notations in the margins, they work in an instant. And they're things of beauty. In an ideal world I would settle down in there for a week or a month or maybe a year and just soak myself in them.
Spent a week near Bath and visited often. I do like Bath, the soft-shaded stone is very gentle on the eye and it has a proper river (by which I think I mean that the city feels as if it was built round the river). It's a horribly easy place to spend money in, and I never pass up a trip to Toppings book shop, though I should because I'm incapable of coming away empty handed AND I HAVE NO MORE SPACE FOR BOOKS.
Bath also has plenty of art - private galleries galore, very varied, and public galleries too. Victoria Art Gallery is always worth a visit - I've seen so much good stuff there down the years (and the rest, natch). This time on show were Gillian Ayres (big, mostly) and David Brayne by whose work I expected to be completely underwhelmed. I've seen it in reproduction and barely registered it, but in the flesh it's altogether different. There's a quality to the paintwork that seeps water into the skies and gives a real feeling of rootedness.
On to the Holburne and an unexpectedly enjoyable photographic exhibition. I nearly didn't go. Still life? Dull, just dull. But of course it was much better than that. Ok, so there were a few traditional images, but much more besides that really wasn't - very glad I went after all.
I make prints and book arts, though nowhere near as often as I'd like - no good reason, just an inability to get on with things. I occasionally go on about landscape (with which I am mildly obsessed) and various of its elements, and I like to pass comment on exhibitions I visit.