Archive for the 'Work in focus' Category

House portraits from Potters’ Yard

July 23, 2016

The Limes (house portrait by Liz Mathews)

I made my first house portrait in 1986 – 30 years ago, and I’m still doing it so it must be an addiction.  I’ve always thought of these architectural studies in miniature as a kind of visual pun – an intimate portrait made from the very same material as its subject – which gives a curiously tangible feel to the likeness.

Braehead ceramic

I recently had the pleasure of making this portrait of a house built in the characteristic Moffat stonework of its area in Scotland – one man’s childhood home. The commission was to make the portrait ‘as it was one summer in the 60’s’ and I aimed to capture the telling detail that makes a good likeness, but also somehow to catch an atmosphere from memories of happy days. I worked from photographs and descriptions – and very much enjoyed hearing the stories and finding out the details that gave me a strong idea of the house’s feeling. When it was done, he said:

I am very pleased indeed… It is perfect. You caught the grey stone brilliantly, and I love the honeysuckle and the rest… – how well you caught the colour and detail. 

About this photograph, he wrote:

I think the portrait looks even better in real life. I am so glad I asked you to do it.  I love the colours and tones, and the way it looks welcoming and occupied.

and that the portrait is ‘now on show in a room that contains many of the things it once contained’, which I think shows how a portrait can become very closely identified with its subject. The success of a commission for me depends on this identification, where the portrait becomes a palimpsest, taking on qualities and characteristics of the house itself, and containing within its material form much more than appears on the surface.

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I also heard recently about this portrait of a traditional Hebridean blackhouse that I made years ago:

Many many years ago I commissioned you to do a little replica of my parents-in-law’s house. The result was exquisite and to this day it remains one of my mother-in-law’s most favourite possessions.

This lasting quality, how the portrait gives lasting pleasure and contains such significance is one of the real joys of the work to me. I’ve just set up a new website, to show a portfolio of some of my favourite past commissions and also to show how the commissioning process works. As one-off original signed artworks, these architectural portraits in miniature are surprisingly affordable; they start at £300. If you have a beloved building you think might make a good subject, send me a photo and I’ll give you a quote.

For more information, see Architectural reliefs & house portraits

Potters’ Yard house portraits is at http://www.pottersyardhouseportraits.com

A small part of Europe

July 2, 2016
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Tatter’d colours (artist’s book by Liz Mathews) exhibited at The Forum, Norwich, and photographed by Gary Florance

We were in Norwich during the Referendum, at turn the page artists’ book fair 2016.  The fair was wonderful, very busy, with over 60 book artists showing a vibrant and thrilling collection of work, and a large and enthusiastic audience of visitors who were intelligent, informed and excited about the books on show.  The only thing that marred a terrific event was the Referendum result, which had stunned and dismayed everyone I spoke to.  Norwich itself, like London and Scotland, voted pretty overwhelmingly to remain, so at least we had the feeling that we were in a city which feels our European heritage and culture as strongly as we do.  So this is a record of my exhibition, up for a rainy midsummer week in a small part of Europe.

Hot ice and wondrous strange snow

30 artist’s books by Liz Mathews

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Hot ice was exhibited in the foyer and on the mezzanine of the Millennium Library, housed in the stunning glass atrium of Norwich’s Forum, where turn the page 2016 was held.  Our stall was just outside the library entrance, so we were on hand to talk about the show as well as the stand.

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Liz Mathews with young visitors to turn the page 2016, photographed by Frances Bingham

My artist’s film Paper Wings, setting Maureen Duffy’s 55-poem love song cycle, was screened on continuous loop (appropriately enough) just inside the entrance to the book fair.

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I’ve laid out the images for Hot ice in viewing order, to give you a virtual tour, and to show the juxtapositions and relation between the works.

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Hot ice and wondrous strange snow in the Millennium Library, Norwich, photographed by Gary Florance

The show began with midsummer, and The Seasons Alter  (double-sided artist’s book free-hanging in the middle) setting text from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with handmade paper, acrylics, rainwater, mud  (can be seen page-by-page on last week’s post)

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2  Swallows on the Thames, text by Matthew Arnold from The Scholar Gypsy (handmade paper, Thames water, acrylics)

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3  Butterfly cloud text by Jeremy Hooker from Butterfly Cloud (handmade paper, birch pole, silk thread)

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– then on to Autumn, with

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4  In the light text by Jeremy Hooker from In Drenthe (handmade paper, watercolours)

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5  Portrait  text by Jeremy Hooker from Self portrait with falling leaves (handmade paper, acrylics and watercolours)

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– then round the corner to winter, and the second side of The Seasons Alter, and

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6  It is a winter’s tale  text by Dylan Thomas from A Winter’s Tale (handmade paper, snowmelt, acrylics)

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7   Light through text from Virginia Woolf’s Diary, 4th January 1929 (handmade papers, acrylics and rainwater)

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– then on towards spring:

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8  32 bar blues  text:  A Quiet River by Richard Price (32 stoneware bars, cotton duck canvas, acrylics and watercolours, silk, wool and linen threads, birch poles and copper pipes)

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9  Hot ice and wondrous strange snow  text from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (handmade papers, snowmelt, acrylics)

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10  Spring song  text from Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, original poem by Wang Wei (handmade paper, acrylics)

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11  Lark song text from Debris:  A Cycle of Poems by Jeremy Hooker (handmade paper, acrylics)

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12  Green light  text from Green Rain by Jeremy Hooker (handmade paper, watercolour, rainwater)

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– then on to a double-sided seven-fold zigzag group, starting with

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20   All things in flux  text by Maureen Duffy from First Light (a poem about Turner) with handmade paper, watercolour, raw clay slip

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21  Blake’s Graffiti  text by Kathleen Raine from What Message from Imagined Paradise (Thames driftwood (broken wine box), acrylics, watercolour, linen tape and handmade paper)

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22  Four pages from Clare’s Year:  Autumn text by John Clare from Autumn (‘Siren of sullen moods’) with handmade paper, acrylics

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23  Lines and nets text by Jeremy Hooker from Guests of Silence (driftwood, stoneware clay, silk-linen threads)

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24  Four pages from Clare’s Year:  Winter text by John Clare from November in The Shepherd’s Calendar (handmade paper, acrylics)

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25  Pattern text by Virginia Woolf from Moments of Being (driftwood, stoneware clay, silk threads)

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26  No end text by Jeremy Hooker from Written in Clay (Earth Song Cycle) with handmade paper, watercolour, acrylics

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– then round the corner to

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19   Turn  text by Maureen Duffy: Burdsong 20 (handmade paper, acrylics)

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14  By way of words  text by Jeremy Hooker from City Walking II (a poem referencing King Lear) with Thames driftwood, handmade paper, stoneware, acrylics, chalk, rock.

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15  Four pages from Clare’s Year:  Spring text by John Clare from Hymn to Spring (handmade paper, acrylics)

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16   This Earth  text adapted from Winifred Nicholson (driftwood, stoneware, silk threads)

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17  Four pages from Clare’s Year:  Summer text by John Clare from To the Memory of Bloomfield (handmade paper, acrylics)

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18  Rag/Luideag   text by Derick Thomson/Ruaraidh MacThomais from Donegal/Dun Nan Gall (stoneware paperclay pages sewn in cotton-duck binding with linen thread; acrylic paints and charcoal mixed with tea and whisky. Can be read page by page; folds to box.)

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13   Writing it  text:  Writing it by Jeremy Hooker (handmade paper, acrylics, watercolour)

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– then the exhibition continued upstairs

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on the library’s mezzanine:

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27  When I heard you like that text by Frances Bingham from The Principle of Camouflage (a novel re-imagining Shakespeare’s Tempest, set on a coast not unlike North Norfolk’s), with handmade paper, watercolour and acrylics mixed with Thames water

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28  The river’s answer text by Frances Bingham from the same book, with handmade paper, watercolour and acrylics mixed with Thames water

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29  One such night as this text by Valentine Ackland from Every Autumn a wind like this wind blows (acrylics on a huge sheet of handmade paper 2m x 80cm)

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Tatter’d colours (artist’s book by Liz Mathews) exhibited at The Forum, Norwich, and photographed by Gary Florance

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Tatter’d colours (artist’s book by Liz Mathews) exhibited at The Forum, Norwich, and photographed by Gary Florance

30   Tatter’d Colours  text by Anne Finch (b.1661) from The Soldier’s Death. Eight flag/pages made from French canvas linen sewn with linen thread; acrylic paint with charcoal, mud, soot, rainwater, blood; cover made from cotton duck, with same materials – folds and rolls to kitbag case.

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It seemed appropriate to end the exhibition with Tatter’d colours at this moment which marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme; another small part of Europe which is forever England.

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Frances Bingham & Liz Mathews at Hot ice and wondrous strange snow, photographed by Gary Florance

 

(All photos by Liz Mathews, unless otherwise credited.  Please don’t use photos without permission.)

 

 

 

Hot ice and wondrous strange snow

June 18, 2016

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Hot ice and wondrous strange snow appear in a catalogue of contradictory concepts in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and my summer exhibition explores a world of strange times, weird weather, dislocations and ultimately, the joy of finding oneself in the right place and time.

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The exhibition focuses on The Seasons Alter, an artist’s book which sets Titania’s speech about the disruption of the seasons – words eerily recognisable in our time of climate change and environmental upheaval.

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As a lettering artist, I translate poetry into the language of material form – here it’s a single sheet of handmade paper folded into a double-sided page sequence, endlessly circling like the year, and the text is lettered with a driftwood stick in handmade inks mixed with snow-melt, rainwater, mud and dust.

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I work with poetry, anciently prescient or modern, that says something relevant and often paradoxical about contemporary concerns, focusing on the layers of meaning within each text, so the words can speak afresh, directly to us and about our world.

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The 30 artist’s books in Hot ice and wondrous strange snow mark five anniversaries in 2016 that are particularly important to me.  As well as the two artist’s books setting lines from Shakespeare in this year of his 400th anniversary, I’m also including two works setting lines by Virginia Woolf in the 75th year since her death.

Light through (detail)

This is a detail from Light through, with words from VW’s 1929 diary.

I’m also celebrating the birthday of one of my favourite living poets: Jeremy Hooker is 75 this year, and I’m including nine artist’s books setting lines from his poems; his work is a very important inspiration to me and his most recent collection, Scattered Light, just out from the essential Enitharmon Press has some of his finest poems.  His major collected, The Cut of the Light, is one of my most-read and all-time-favourite books.  I’m just finishing an artist’s film setting 16 of Jeremy Hooker’s poems, and I live much of my working and reading life immersed in his words.

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Above and below two details from By way of words, setting lines from Jeremy Hooker’s City Walking II, a poem that draws on Shakespeare’s King Lear:

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Another very special anniversary (and another poet whose work has been essential to me for a long time) is the 50th anniversary of Maureen Duffy’s novel The Microcosm.  This book changed the world for me when I first read it in my early 20’s, when it was already nearly 20 itself, and I’m proud that my tattered copy was signed for me and my partner Frances by Maureen when we met her in a Soho club years ago.  It’s still essential reading.  Her poetry, too, is a constant inspiration, and I’ve been very lucky to work with her on several major projects in recent years, including our artists’ film of Paper Wings – which will be screening throughout the turn the page artists’ book fair (which is hosting this exhibition).  I’ve included two books setting poems from Maureen’s brilliant most recent collection (again from Enitharmon), Pictures from an Exhibition:

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The image above is a page 3 detail from Turn, and the one below is a detail of All things in flux, setting some lines from First Light, a poem about Turner so moving and engaging that it inspired me to risk a Turner-esque painting of my own:

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And the fifth, but not least, anniversary that the 30 artist’s books in Hot ice celebrate is a professional one; it’s 30 years since I set up as a studio potter.  My partner the writer and poet Frances Bingham and I set up our first studio together not far from here in North London back in June 1986 – and her work has not only been the most formative and significant influence on mine – I couldn’t have done any of it without her.  So the final section of this Norwich exhibition opens with two of my settings from Frances’s novel The Principle of Camouflage, which brilliantly transposes Shakespeare’s Tempest to the north Norfolk coast in the last year of the Second World War, in a magical exploration of place, exile and home, the powers and duties of the artist, the restoration of lost things, the discovery of love and the survival of hope in an apparently doomed world.

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Hot ice and wondrous strange snow 

Artist’s books by Liz Mathews

The Millennium Library in The Forum, Norwich

from 24th to 29th June 2016  10am to 8pm

Open daily, free entry

part of turn the page artists’ book fair

at The Forum, Norwich

Friday 24th and Saturday 25th June 2016

10am to 6pm, free entry

 

At the turn of the year

January 11, 2016

Steel solstice (detail): artist's book by Liz Mathews (text by Maureen Duffy)

My first work-in-progress in 2016 is Turn, a group of nine artist’s books setting poems and lines from Maureen Duffy’s new collection Pictures from an Exhibition, just out from Enitharmon Press; I’ll be showing some of them at the book’s launch on 28th January, when Maureen will be reading some of the poems. (Launch event is free, but it is essential to contact Enitharmon via info@enitharmon.co.uk to RSVP)

I began with a setting of lines from the first poem in the collection, A Christmas Concert, which includes

                                                  … a moment

redeeming winter’s, Lucy’s, shortest day

and longest night, […]

with promise of returning Spring.

I made the artist’s book at the winter solstice on 21st -23rd December, painting the snow with paint mixed with snow melt (from last year’s snow), and calling it Steel Solstice.  This ‘promise of returning Spring’ is one of the recurring themes in MD’s poems (especially in her recent love poem cycle Songs for Sappho, which I set in Paper Wings), the turning of the year towards light and away from the darkness of parting and absence.  Her new collection includes the extended sequence Burdsong in which the poet continues to trace the lines of connection binding together the lovers that were mapped so memorably in the poems for Paper Wings; I couldn’t resist setting a few of the 20 Burdsongs, and they will be among the books on show at the launch event.

As the book’s title infers (and like several of the Songs for Sappho) many of the poems are responses to the work of other artists, reminding us of MD’s characteristic openness of eyes, mind and spirit, her generosity, and her vivid awareness of the ‘great company’ (Jeremy Hooker) of poets, artists and thinkers through millennia and across the world, still communicating with each other and with us all through word, image and thought.

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One of my favourite poems from the collection, Last Light is a moving evocation of Turner’s life and paintings; All things in flux aims to capture something of the economy of the poem’s imaginative summoning of Turner’s vision.

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Darkling, another of MD’s trompe l’oeil poems, evokes one of her favourite poets, Keats, whose life had certain parallels with her own. The last stanza of the poem begins I follow your beautiful script / across the pages that are your true portrait –  and I enjoyed the challenge of presenting the lines, first in a recognisably contemporary script (from an unsigned letter to William Godwin c.1783) in Touchstone, and then in a fair copy of Keats’s own hand (from his 1820 letter to Shelley) in another setting, Talisman, lettering the text with a goose-feather quill picked up on Hampstead Heath just opposite Keats’s House. (I found these letters in the Bodleian’s Abinger Collection of manuscripts, with a timely pointer from Dr BC Barker-Benfield.) Both settings will be on show at the launch.

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And judging by the daffodils already coming up in our window boxes, spring is only just round the corner.

An extraordinary panorama

May 19, 2015

The Dunkirk Project invitation card

The Dunkirk Project 2015

‘An extraordinarily vivid panorama of the untold story of Dunkirk 1940’

On the 75th anniversary of the evacuation of 300,000 allied forces from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940, The Dunkirk Project will be sharing breaking news of what was happening day-by-day live every day from Tuesday 26th May to Wednesday 3rd June 2015.

Follow amazing personal stories of courage, heroism, triumph, despair, and downright eccentricity through the Nine Days Wonder, in the wake of ‘the little ships of England that brought the army home’.

Since 2010, The Dunkirk Project has been collecting material on Dunkirk 1940 in a River of Stories: not only extracts from a mass of published accounts and reports, but also many unpublished accounts from archives, and memories and eye-witness stories from individual contributors.

You are invited to add your own story, family memory, comment, poem, artwork, question, response or link to the ever-growing collection that has become ‘an extraordinarily vivid panorama of the untold story of Dunkirk 1940’, showing how it was for the individuals in that great crowd, as well as for those who rescued them, those who nursed them, and those who waited at home desperate for their safe return. (And even one or two of those who bombed them.)

This new edition of The Dunkirk Project for 2015 features:

* many new contributions in the River of Stories

* a page-by-page tour of my 17m long artist’s book Thames to Dunkirk (now in the British Library)

* a new page on BG Bonallack, Virginia Woolf’s diary and the making of Thames to Dunkirk

* new poems and artworks including Dunkirk phossils by Charlie Bonallack

The Dunkirk Project 2015

http://thedunkirkproject.wordpress.com

Fly away on paper wings

August 29, 2014

Poster for Paper Wings at Enitharmon Press

 

I’ve recently been working on a very exciting project: an artist’s book on a similar scale to my huge Thames to Dunkirk (now in the British Library) but with a very different concept.  I’ll be showing it as an installation at the beautiful Bloomsbury gallery that is the new home of poetry publisher Enitharmon Press, from 22nd September to 17th October.  [Please note the exhibition is now closing on 15th October.]

I’ve set all 55 poems of Songs for Sappho, a brand new love song cycle by celebrated poet and author Maureen Duffy, whose 80th birthday was marked last autumn at a splendid Symposium at King’s College, London, her alma mater.  The poems chart the changing weathers of a passionate, living love, from longing in absence to delight in the joys of being together.  All the moods and colours of the poems are reflected in their dazzling variety on sheets of handmade paper, to be bound together in a contemporary illuminated manuscript, or Book of Hours.  But for their first flight, they will be shown in this installation, hung aloft in Enitharmon’s airy bright space like washing on the line, or prayer-flags in the breeze.

The title Paper Wings is from Maureen Duffy’s poem Life Writing (from Environmental Studies, Enitharmon 2013):

                                                         I box up

my archive, my writing life.  Do I feel bereft

seeing it vanning away to its hope of an

afterlife?  ‘We will be remembered in our songs,’

Sappho promised and Behn begged for her verses’

immortality.  These children grow up and fly away

on paper wings or cruise like Milton’s fallen angels

through the ether, and I rarely visit unless asked.

The idea of the poems flying away on paper wings is present throughout this new song cycle, written during the same period as the poems in Environmental Studies.  So many of the Songs are messages flying through the ether, virtual words spanning virtual space connecting the parted lovers. When I first read them, I saw them aloft like smoke signals or flying through space like paper darts, and later I came to see them as though slung up high from a fine unbreakable line between two fixed points, both connecting them and measuring/mapping the distance between them, while the words of the messages are lifted into the breeze like the beneficent mantras of prayer-flags.

Fifth Song (text by Maureen Duffy) from Paper Wings (artist's book by Liz Mathews)

Some of the poems are swift as Cupid’s arrow, some light and gauzy as a heart-shaped kite, while others hang heavy as wet washing on the line, and so I envisaged this installation allowing us to glimpse or catch these intimate messages in flight.  But I also recognised Songs for Sappho as a true song cycle, a sequence of love poems in the eternal present, without a beginning – because this love is prefigured – and without the (apparently inevitable) end of the affair – world without end, amen – circling back on itself like the seasons in an endless cycle of renewal.  This cyclic aspect suggested to me the physical form of a concertina artist’s book, where the linear sequence allows the end to turn back upon itself to join the beginning in an unbroken circle of continuity.

The circle is itself a recurring theme in these poems, from the two hemispheres that make up the lovers’ metaphysical world, to the ring where love and war fight it out, and the bowl of sky given by the poet to her beloved.  And this world of love mapped by the lovers’ words and dreams is centred on the heart, a heart-shaped earth (like the ancient cordiform world map found buried in the archives of the Museo Correr in Venice), and completed, first, last and always, by the lovers’ ‘meeting lips’.

This is not to say that the weather of the world of love is unrelievedly sunny: many poems lay bare love’s pains and sorrows, absence, anguish and yearning, evoked by ‘the dead hand of winter’, heavy hanging clouds, wearying rain or imprisoning snow. Yet with the natural cycle, spring returns suddenly, ‘summer renews’, and the world is again alive for the lovers, a real solid physical earth, their ‘earthly Eden’ a ‘safe landing’ for the ‘loving symbols in wings’.

In the form of both the book and its pre-construction manifestation as an installation, I’ve aimed to reflect these themes and poetic preoccupations, allowing the connections to reveal themselves gradually as the reader moves through the cycle, without (I hope) blocking out other insights and interpretations.  A primarily visual first response to a poem can sometimes open other ways of apprehending – revealing sounds, rhythms and structures more clearly, for example.  I believe this love song cycle to be very important, a lasting work that will be widely celebrated and acclaimed, and I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity by Maureen Duffy to work with the poems.

Paper Wings book front cover

Here at The Pottery Press (our small tiny press, occasionally publishing limited edition artist’s books) we are also publishing a printed version of Paper Wings, a digital facsimile that combines some aspects of both the artist’s book and the installation, to accompany the exhibition at Enitharmon.  The book (ISBN 978-0-9930171-0-0) is out on 22nd September, and will be the first printed edition of the poems.  And there’s also a dvd version documenting the work; in this artist’s film, Maureen Duffy reads each poem as the pages of the book turn and the complete song cycle unfolds.  The film was made here in the studio at Potters’ Yard by me and my partner the writer Frances Bingham, and is released by Potters’ Yard Arts, also on 22nd September.  Both are available from Enitharmon. (www.enitharmon.co.uk)

Spiral of light (text by Maureen Duffy) artist's book by Liz Mathews

In the exhibition, the Paper Wings installation is framed by other artworks, hung apparently more conventionally on the gallery walls, but these are also (mostly) artist’s books, made from a single sheet of handmade paper torn and folded into a sequence of pages; with these books, I aim to set the text so that it can be read both page-by-page, and as a single whole image.  The wall-hung works continue the theme of airy phenomena set by Paper Wings, from Maureen Duffy’s great spiral galaxy in Spiral of light, or her ‘ropes of stars’ in Vision of the Floating City, to Jeremy Hooker’s ‘white birds’ which are the feet of dancing women flying round a flowery meadow in Women dancing in a field of poppies.

Women dancing in a field of poppies (text by Jeremy Hooker) artist's book by Liz Mathews

And of course, what also continues is my own visual response to these wonderful texts: when I first read Maureen Duffy’s novel Londoners many years ago, I saw the words (in her hero Al’s meditation about the Reading Room in the British Museum) flying round the dome of that great round space, as I saw Lorca’s dreams fly up, singing with joy, and Dylan Thomas’ ‘other air’ streaming again with ‘a wonder of summer’.  The spiralling form of some of these books evokes that circling renewal of the seasonal cycle, while other books like No end (shown below, setting a stanza of Jeremy Hooker’s powerful poem Written in clay) take the form of an endless river flowing onwards…  These simple forms folded from a single sheet of paper contain both individuality and unity, as the page-by-page sequence coexists with the completeness of the whole image, reflecting how the individual words combine in unexpected ways to create new meanings within the poem.

No end (text by Jeremy Hooker) artist's book by Liz Mathews

No end, p1 No end, p2 No end, p3 No end, p4 No end, p5 No end, p6 No end, p7

 

No end, back cover and slipcase

 

No end (text by Jeremy Hooker) artist's book by Liz Mathews

 

Some installation shots in the gallery follow:

 

Paper Wings installation at Enitharmon Press

Paper Wings detail

Paper Wings in the window at Enitharmon

 

 

 

Entrances – Dylan Thomas’ 100th anniversary

May 2, 2014

On this high hill (artist's book by Liz Mathews, text by Dylan Thomas), coverDSC_0005

Dylan Thomas’ poetry has been very important to me for many years and I’ve recently set some of his poems in artist’s books for my new collection Singing the Year. For his 100th anniversary in 2014 I’d like to show ‘On this high hill’, a book inspired by his Poem in October:

On this high hill, page 1On this high hill, page 2On this high hill, page 3On this high hill, page 4On this high hill, page 5On this high hill, page 6

On this high hill, back cover

I love the idea of the ‘parables of sunlight’, and ‘the listening summertime’, and the way that the poem summons the summer back to the October day for the poet’s birthday. I’ve tried to embody this singing mystery in the intensity and movement of the colours – a deep sky blue pours out from a vibrant golden vortex, the two colours swirling and dancing in a spiral of light. The book is made from a single whole sheet of handmade paper, torn and folded into the sequence of pages. The whole sheet image looks like this:

On this high hill (whole sheet)

And the mystery sang alive.

 

From ‘a wonder of summer’ to ‘a winter’s tale’: the next book was inspired by lines from Dylan Thomas’ poem ‘A Winter’s Tale’:

It is a winter's tale (artist's book by Liz Mathews, text by Dylan Thomas), cover

It is a winter's tale, page 1 It is a winter's tale, page 2 It is a winter's tale, page 3 It is a winter's tale, page 4 It is a winter's tale, page 5 It is a winter's tale, page 6

It is a winter's tale (back cover)

I thought that some beautiful lines from this poem could be set into the folds of the paper that make up the book (‘a fold of fields’), with the whirling snow drawing the lines through the sequence of pages towards the whirlpool vortex. The snow on this book is made from paint mixed with snowmelt – I made it during a London snowstorm in 2012, so that there is something of the real thing in the physical form, as well as the text. The whole sheet unfolded looks like this:

It is a winter's tale (whole sheet, artist's book by Liz Mathews, text by Dylan Thomas)

And this is a detail of the snow spiral’s core:

It was a winter's tale, detail

‘It is a winter’s tale’ is a large scale ‘elephant’ book, made from a single sheet of handmade paper about 70cm x 50cm. The first book, ‘On this high hill’, is a little elephant, made from a sheet about 30cm x 42cm (A3, approximately), and so is this last one. The small-scale nocturne ‘Sleeping light’ takes its inspiration from just two lines from Dylan Thomas’ poem ‘I fellowed sleep’:

Sleeping light (cover) Sleeping light, page 1 Sleeping light, page 2 Sleeping light, page 3 Sleeping light, page 4 Sleeping light, page 5 Sleeping light, page 6 Sleeping light, back cover

I lettered the text in a silver enamel, onto the cloudy blue grey watercolour of the painted ground.  At different angles, different aspects of the text light up. This how the whole sheet image looks, with the text beginning at the vortex and spiralling out into the clouds overhead:

Sleeping light (artist's book by Liz Mathews, text by Dylan Thomas)

and this is a detail of the book unfolded:

Sleeping light, unfolded

 How light the sleeping on this soily star

How deep the waking in the worlded clouds

 

To contact me about these books or any of my work, please go to the contact page.

In the shade of the plane trees

July 25, 2013

Handel's trees (artist's book by Liz Mathews, text by Frances Bingham)

The most recent work in my Singing the Year collection of Books of Hours and contemporary illuminated manuscripts is a celebration of summer. Handel’s trees is an artist’s book made from a single sheet of handmade paper (70cm x 50cm approx), torn and folded into a sequence of pages.

Handel's trees (detail), artist's book by Liz Mathews, text by Frances Bingham

The text is from London Panopticon, Frances Bingham’s docu-fantasia travelogue where the writer explores in a leap of historical imagination the idea that Handel’s aria Ombra mai fu was inspired by the young plane trees being planted in London squares at that time, now grown into such ancient and venerable trees as those in Brunswick Square, beside the Foundling Hospital, Handel’s favourite charity. The text is lettered with sticks from these trees:

Liz Mathews lettering Handel's trees with plane tree sticks

The story is told in a dream recounted by Wose – ‘an outdoor-dweller, tree obsessed, with an old wild mad wind-filled voice’:

‘I lie down, yes, under the plane trees’ huge green umbrella, like an Emperor in a green pavilion.  The branch-limbs of these giants are long as a great tree themselves, arms outreached across the whole garden, vast gentle mammoth leviathan creatures.

‘I dreamed there with my head on the roots, tree-memory rising up like sap, recall in the grain of the wood-rings.  The planes were saplings, small as an ordinary apple, like the ones on the pavements planted after, later.  They were set out as they are now, in the square garden, but with everything younger, just newly growing.  A stout man was walking around on the grass beneath the trees, humming, in his blue coat like a frock. He lay down under one of them, in the shade, and took off his long white curling hair suddenly.  He was happy, thinking of those other plane trees before, the foreign ones whose transplanted seeds sprouted here so well.

‘Then in my dream there was music; another man came strolling along, whistling as though to himself, but it was greeting.  He was tall, all in red velvet, very dark, like a holly-plant himself, and when he sang his voice was very high, high as a boy’s but full, purely sweet.  His song was foreign too, but I understood it as the trees understand, by the sound.

My beloved plane tree, with your beautiful soft leaves, may your fortune be bright!  Let no thunder or lightning or ravaging storms disturb your sweet peace, nor the boisterous south wind profane it.

‘He touched the tree trunks as he sang to them, circled them slowly, knelt down at the foot of the one by his friend, who conducted a little, then applauded him.  In my dream the trees shivered with pleasure as they listened, understood the compliment.  In my dream, the charm protected them, sung into the heartwood, even when two were blown apart by the sky-smelt, so the charred huge stumps grew greenly again.

Never was tree-shade so dear, so friendly and sweet…

‘Presently he stopped singing, and began to read instead, leaning back against the pillar of trunk with his legs stretched out.  The other one fell asleep, but the trees remained.

In the shade of the plane trees let the foundlings sing!’

Handel's trees (front cover and slipcase)

Handel's trees (page 1)

Handel's trees (page 2)

Handel's trees (page 3)

Handel's trees (page 4)

Handel's trees (page 5)

Handel's trees (page 6)

Handel's trees (back cover and slipcase) text by Frances Bingham

For more on my artist’s books and my new Singing the Year collection, please see Artist’s books & bookworks.

light wells

March 28, 2012

My next exhibition, light wells, is set in the light-drenched spaces of the meeting rooms of the London Centre for Psychotherapy in leafy Kentish Town, just down the road from my studio. It’s on from 23rd April to 7th September 2012, and visitors are welcome throughout the exhibition (Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm) by appointment (please phone 020 7482 2002). At midsummer, the LCP will be hosting an open day and exhibition event, long light, when I’ll be there talking about mudlarking, making artist’s books, and the poetry that inspires my work. Meanwhile, here’s a preview:

light wells: perspective, perception and imagination

There is always some kind of light contained within the dark.

The painter Winifred Nicholson expressed this conviction through her work, painting light and colour with a visionary awareness, seeing everything with the joyful prismatic aura of living light: a ‘rainbow of light, rainbow of darkness’.

The group of works brought together in light wells examines the relationship between the inner life and its outward expression, the light contained within the dark vessel, showing through the delicate, complex structure of the physical, like sunlight through the leaves.

Sometimes the light is the natural light of the sun, moon or stars flooding the landscape, sometimes the glancing illumination of perception and insight, sometimes the visionary half-light of dreams.

As a lettering artist, I work in clay, handmade paper and driftwood from the Thames, but my primary structural medium is words. I see my work as a way of fishing the letters up from ‘the deep o’ the pule’, mapping their celestial dance, dredging them from the well, finding them in the driftwood’s grain – a way of seeing the light in thought, word and physical form.

In this collection I have worked with texts about perception – how the light falls on the mind’s eye; about perspective – how we individually interpret what we all see; and about imagination – the light within.

Each text inspires a different form, or physical means of expression: sometimes the text will suggest to me the containment of the vessel, the earthy embodiment of clay, the cosmic transformation of the fire, the circling flow of the throwing process. Other texts suggest the light-bearing transparencies of the paper, or the spiralling sequence of the pages of an artist’s book, or the dual-natured transitional form of water-carved driftwood.

With each text, I seek to give an initial impression of its meaning (the ‘whole’ image), which is confirmed and deepened by a more considered reading – so that the text is literally ‘read’ as integral to the form of the work, and the word-by-word or letter-by-letter details become structural elements in linked sequence.

Most of my artist’s books are made from a single whole sheet of handmade paper, which is folded, painted, lettered and torn into a sequence of pages; it’s important that it can be reformed and seen as a whole image, that its integrity is unbroken, but it also can be read as a flowing sequence of pages, allowing the reader to turn and handle the painting as a book with all the enjoyment of its feel as a space-containing ‘volume’.

I like the link here between the pages’ spiralling flow and the inner spiral of the clay vessel’s thrown form: this is reflected and brought to the surface with the setting of the lettering flowing round the vessel, drawing the reader into an awareness of its physical form, dimensions, weight, volume, in the act of reading the text.

On paper, I use an unconventional lot of mark-making tools, including wooden clothespegs, chopsticks, slate shards, feather quills – and my favourite lettering ‘pen’ is a little driftwood stick picked up on a beach of the Thames. On the clay, I always letter with a brush, freehand onto the raw dried pot. I love unglazed clay – its stoney feel, colour and texture – and I like to let it breathe, to allow the fire deep in. But the glazed clay has its own light-bearing, wetness-remembering qualities, too – I like the two feelings to coexist in a pot.

When I’m working with driftwood, I don’t interfere with the river’s carving, except to incise or highlight the lettering; the beautiful shapes formed by the tree’s growth and the water’s intervention seem to hold the letters of the text within the grain, waiting to be revealed. And when I’m working with paper, I like to let the light show through from the ground. I love the handmade paper’s responsiveness, how it soaks up or resists the colour, how its texture affects the flow of the ink, how it meets me halfway, instead of sitting there impassively waiting to be painted on. I love a bit of unpredictability in something I’m making – I want it to have a life of its own.

light wells: an exhibition of work in clay, handmade paper,       and Thames driftwood

by Liz Mathews

23 April to 7 September 2012

London Centre for Psychotherapy, 32 Leighton Road London NW5

Visitors welcome by appointment throughout the exhibition;           Monday to Friday 10am to 5pm – please phone 020 7482 2002

long light midsummer open afternoon Saturday 23 June 1pm-4pm

Admission free

Writing Britain at the British Library

March 13, 2012

I’m very pleased that my monumental artist’s book Thames to Dunkirk which is now in the British Library is to be featured as a ‘key piece’ in the British Library’s major summer exhibition:

Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands

from 11 May to 25 September 2012.

From the British Library’s What’s On page:

‘As the world’s attention turns to the UK this summer, the British Library will be celebrating some of the outstanding treasures of its English literature collections. Featuring a range of stunning items, some of which have never been seen before, Writing Britain will draw on the breadth of the Library’s collections to explore how writers from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Virginia Woolf and Hanif Kureishi have been inspired by, and helped to shape, the nation’s understanding of landscape and place.

From William Blake to the 21st-century suburban hinterlands of JG Ballard, Writing Britain will examine how the landscapes of Britain permeate the nation’s great literary works. Taking location as its starting point the exhibition will allow visitors to read between the lines of great works of English literature, discovering the secrets and stories surrounding the works’ creation and critical reception over the years, shedding new light on how they speak to the country today.

Key pieces

• Laurie Lee
Cider with Rosie, 1959 – the manuscript of one of the great nostalgic paeans to rural living. Cider with Rosie is an autobiographical account of Laurie Lee’s childhood in Slad, Gloucestershire, an idyllic village community, at the very point at which modern technology such as motor cars began to sweep away the traditional ways

• Ted Hughes and Fay Godwin
Remains of Elmet, 1979 – Ted Hughes spent his earliest years in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire (the ancient Celtic kingdom of Elmet), and celebrated the area in a poetical/photographic collaboration with the photographer Fay Godwin. Hughes wrote to Godwin: ‘Without your pictures there would have been no poems at all.’

• William Wordsworth
‘On Seeing some Tourists of the Lakes pass by reading’, 1806, and Guide through the District of the Lakes, 1810 – The Guide was written to train the minds of his readers to the same loving response to the landscape of the Lakes that Wordsworth knew after many years of devoted observation. The draft of ‘On Seeing some Tourists of the Lakes pass by reading’ is heavily scored through, indicating Wordsworth’s rejection of it and obscuring the text almost completely

• Liz Mathews/Virginia Woolf
Thames to Dunkirk, London, 2009 – This 1 metre high by 17 metres long concertina book is a watercolour map of the length of the Thames, with text from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, and lettered by the artist using a piece of Thames driftwood as a pen

• Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales, early 15th century – This early manuscript copy of The Canterbury Tales describes the pilgrims who assembled in Southwark, and references to the capital abound, including the Prioress’s suspect French, learnt not in ‘Parys’ but the more humble ‘scole of Stratford atte Bowe’

• J G Ballard
Kingdom Come and Crash – J G Ballard defined the hidden violence of anonymous peripheral landscapes: gated communities, hyper-real shopping malls, clinical airport terminals. The violence of the novel’s suburban portraits is reflected in the force of the hand on paper on the manuscripts in the exhibition

• Angela Carter
Wise Children,1991 – After time in Japan, Carter settled in South London, and Wise Children is a mourning for a lost London of Lyons tea shops, and also a celebration of the dizzying linguistic richness of its inhabitants. It reflects on a century of London life, and on divisions within the capital

• William Blake
London, 1792 – William Blake was a staunch Londoner, who lived, and is buried, in the capital. Like the narrator of his 1792 poem, London, Blake would walk the streets of his neighbourhood

The exhibition will also feature a series of newly commissioned video interviews with British authors, exploring a sense of place in Britain today and how their work reflects Britain’s unique landscapes, together with two specially commissioned environmental soundscapes, recorded and composed by UK artist Mark Peter Wright.

For further information about the exhibition, including when tickets will go on sale, please register for our e-what’s on newsletter www.bl.uk/newsletters/subscribe.html.’

For a page-by-page preview of Thames to Dunkirk, opened out to its full 17m extent, please click here.

To view Thames to Dunkirk as part of my online interactive installation The Dunkirk Project, please click here.