Archive for the 'Work in focus' Category

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

February 10, 2021

Lockdown London looks particularly beautiful in snow, and when it snows, the first thing I do is go out and get a snowball to use for painting it. Here above is our London street, and below, the February page of my artist’s book From Grass to Harvest, which sets lines from Virginia Woolf’s The Years, one page for each month, in a concertina book that allows the December page and the January page to be tied together, so that the year circles seamlessly round. I painted the snow here with Titanium white mixed with snowmelt, so that the snow itself has a material presence in the painting – and took as my subject the view from our window of a street that Virginia Woolf passed along many times on her way to visit her friend Roger Fry, who lived nearby.

This book, indeed this page, features in an online preview of my forthcoming exhibition The Prospect of Happiness at Hampstead’s Burgh House, which was postponed from last year due to the first lockdown, but will be on show before too long. Meanwhile, I keep adding extra works into the preview, so it’ll probably need the Albert Hall by the time it’s actually installed; you can have your own private view here.

I love everything about snow – walking in it, writing in it, eating it, painting it, painting with it. I love how it covers up all the black plastic and the rubbish bins and transforms them, along with everything else, into elements of a visionary landscape of the imagination. I love how it starts stealthily, casually, and then builds to a great crescendo, whirling round the lamp-posts and obliterating everything that is not snow, until our London street becomes a country lane, timeless, uninhabited, silent, except for the faint breath of the falling snow. Last night, hearing a crystalline scratching, I looked up at our skylight to see nothing but an icy white blanket, and realised I was listening to the cosmic song of the snow.

These pages are from Snow like thought, my artist’s book setting a poem of that name by Jeremy Hooker. 

You can find the poem in his wonderful recent Selected Poems 1965 – 2018, from Shearsman Books, who say of him: ‘Jeremy Hooker is a literary explorer, and a poet with a powerful sense of place, whose joy in the landscape and his surroundings shines through the entire body of his work.’ I find his poetry constantly inspiring, and I love the way he always writes with a sense of the individual in the landscape, fully engaging with an always changing world. His poems evoke what he calls ‘an ever-elusive reality’ not by definitive description, but rather by allusive images, and a visionary openness that draws the reader into a closer relationship with the living landscape and the ideas and memories it embodies, ‘the life flowing through the leaf’. 

Snow like thought

because it arrives

seemingly from nowhere

small flakes wandering

sideways

down & up & down

then faster, heavier

bringing up

deeper silence

from some place not dreamed of

that was always there.

Each poem ends with a sense of underlying silence; it is where questions continue, and I hope to find a new beginning.

Jeremy Hooker, Selected Poems 1965-2018 (the poem and his words quoted by kind permission of the poet)

Inspired, I’ve just started work on a new artist’s book, with today’s fresh, timeless snow.  

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One house, six portraits

February 5, 2021

I had a really exciting commission recently for a collection of portraits of an Arts & Crafts house in Ireland; six portraits, four on paper and two in clay. It’s a glorious house with many lovely A&C features and details, from the irregular ground plan to the decorative articulation of each aspect, and studying it brought me many happy hours in lockdown London. But of course, it’s not without its challenges: it has one of the most complicated roofscapes I’ve encountered in a single building, and getting the chimneys in the right alignment from each angle took some doing. Luckily my client got really involved and supplied me with a stream of images, as we examined the house together, discovering ever more delights in each aspect.

I started with working drawings of each side, looking at line, proportion and detail, as well as assessing technical aspects in preparation for hand-building the two portraits in clay. Equipped with the finalised working drawings, I handbuilt the two clay portraits first:

Each portrait took three or four days to make to this stage – where as you can see, they’re still wet, very delicate, easily damaged and needing careful handling during the drying process. Both clay portraits had their special vulnerable points: the veranda side needed very careful drying because of the free-standing posts, which (of course) tend to dry much quicker than the thick areas of clay, leading to disastrous cracks if one’s not careful; and the front elevation, with its extended wall out to the right, has a potential weakness at that point where the thin mass of clay meets the thicker section. So I turned the covers several times daily and watched them like a lynx for three weeks until they were bone dry and ready to decorate for the first firing.

Meanwhile, turning covers wasn’t all I did. While the clay portraits were drying, I started work on the paper portraits, one by one, using much the same process (as with the clay portraits) of incising the working drawing into the surface of the material first – this time, into the thickness of the handmade paper, and then working top to bottom, left to right with the pencil and colour to complete the drawing, one passage at a time. I drew the same two aspects first, fresh from studying the photos very closely for the clay portraits, beginning with the South, veranda side:

and then the East, entrance side:

And then I moved on to the angled view of the front, from the North-East, a diagonal viewpoint giving a glimpse of the front door, and emphasising the recession of planes and play of roof-line which made the clay portrait something of a challenge:

Then I drew the last paper portrait, of the West, garden aspect. This side of the house, with its lovely complex roofscape, paved and planted garden terrace, and the light-filled garden room, has another character again; old and new in an informal harmony entirely in keeping with the Arts & Crafts style of the house:

By the time these four drawings were completed, the clay portraits were fully dried and ready for decorating for their first firing. I aim not to put too much colour on at this point, as I don’t want to wet the carefully dried-out clay  too much, so I paint only the areas that will be under the glaze in the finished portrait: that is all the windows and window-frames, the views inside the windows, any gloss paintwork and any shiny metals. On the veranda side I had fun painting a trompe l’oeille for the inside of the garden room – but the white doors inside the veranda were tricky to reach without damaging the delicate posts of the veranda. On the entrance front, I enjoyed painting intriguing little views inside the windows. At last everything was ready for the first firing, the portraits dried again and packed in the kiln on a bed of sand to help them move about during the shrinkage caused by the firing.

The first (bisque) firing took all day (about ten hours), and then it was a nerve-wracking wait of two more days’ cooling until I could safely unpack the kiln — to find all well, and the portraits looking good, ready for their second decoration and glazing. This took another week: the rest of the decoration included all the brickwork and pointing, the roof and wall tiles, the stonework, panelling, and of course the greenery and foliage, the plant pots and the water butts. Then I glazed the portraits, brushing on the glaze to the windows and paintwork, and taking care not to spill onto the freshly decorated brickwork, as the newly-fired porous clay is very absorbent and makes any accidents of this kind difficult to remove. This is how the veranda side looked with the glaze freshly applied – you can see all the window areas and paintwork are covered with the creamy white glaze, and it’s still quite wet on the bay window:

When the glaze had dried, I packed the portraits back into the kiln for their second firing, and after another ten hour firing and two day wait, I was able to unpack the kiln and find the portraits fully formed and almost ready:

I was happy to find the glaze beautifully glossy and transparent, and the colours bright and fully matured, with lots of detail in the brick and tile and stonework, and all of the trompe l’oeille interiors clearly shown.

All six portraits were now ready for the final touches: inscriptions and framing. I lettered inscriptions with a brush on the flat back of the clay portraits, and attached their integral brass fixings to allow them to be hung on the wall. Then I lettered a single line inscription in graphite beneath each drawing, and framed and sealed them in pale oak frames, ready for the journey to their home.

For more views of these and many of my favourite commissions for portraits on paper and in clay, please see the Gallery page and the Portraits on paper page on my website Potters’ Yard House Portraits and see also my page here on Daughters of Earth for my architectural studies and house portraits. I’m always happy to consider a subject for a commissioned portrait — for any special place from cottage to castle — and can give an estimate from a snap of your special building. Prices start at £300 for an A4 portrait on paper, £400 for an A3 portrait on paper, and £500 for a portrait in clay – this is for a quite straightforward subject, as the price is determined by the complexity of the work.

 

Walking with Maureen Duffy’s Wanderer

November 26, 2020

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Yesterday I was lucky to take a lockdown walk in my own studio, alongside Maureen Duffy, in a live online special event hosted by King’s College London’s Centre for Life-Writing, and sponsored by FUIS (La Federazione Unitaria Italiana Scrittori). We were celebrating Maureen’s work, and also marking the launch of STRANDlines digital collection, which brings together material related to Maureen’s life, work, activism and research, among other exciting features. Here’s a link to a film of the event: A conversation with Maureen Duffy & Liz Mathews.

An event with Maureen’s poetry and conversation will always sound promising, and this one, adeptly chaired by Katie Webb, proved to be very special – even though the members of the great audience were scattered across the globe and in the comfort of their own homes. I feel very privileged to have set many of Maureen’s poems in artist’s books and paperworks (including Paper Wings, my artist’s book setting-to-paper her love-song cycle Songs for Sappho, now on long-term display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery), and I find her work constantly inspiring. She’s a great collaborator on projects and encourager of artists’ work, and her latest collection of poetry, Wanderer, was published earlier this year by our micro-press, The Pottery Press.

I’ve set five of the poems in that collection (so far), including the poem that gives the collection its title, and I was there to talk about that one (particularly its design and the making process) after Maureen had read the poem. Hearing Maureen read Wanderer is always going to be a moving experience, one that reinforces the empathy and identification at the heart of the poem, and so it proved yesterday evening – a hard act to follow! When I first heard the poem, I was deeply struck by this sense of identification, and I chose to focus my artist’s book on the last eight lines that express so much, aiming to set the lines within a constructed context so that the physical book could embody the words. I called the book Walking.

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When I’m working on an artist’s book, I often spend a long time first, looking at the poem and the paper, to see where elements of the book’s structure could reflect aspects of the poem — in terms of meaning and a flow of images — so that the book can embody the words as fully as possible. For this book, I wanted those connections to be a simple as possible, for the book to be sparse, not over-decorated, for every mark to be meaningful.

To begin the process, I thought about the first visual image that the poem had given me — that long walk towards safety and freedom — and I conceived the design in terms of three long lines, circling endlessly round a double-sided book, to begin again at the beginning. I saw a long line of wanderers, a long line of watercolour to represent the vast distances of terrain to be crossed, and the words of the poem themselves in a long line — these three lines juxtaposed and mirroring each other along the book’s length.

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Then I looked at how the book’s material construction could reflect the meaning of the words, in terms of the size, shape and number of the pages, and the path they follow through the book. This book needed a linear structure, like a classic concertina-fold book, but not exactly. I wanted more continuity than individual jointed pages could give. So I made it from four long sheets of handmade paper like this:

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— each sheet folded into a zigzag of five square pages. I constructed it with two sheets side-by side, two sheets back-to-back with the first two, and the middle joint hinged with another short sheet, stuck between the two sides with acid-free adhesive. This made a long book with five double-page spreads on the first side, and four on the other side, plus front and back covers. And in the middle, a visible joint between the sheets. I set the text so that this joint falls at two crucial points in the poem:

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— here on the first side, the valley joint or hinge trough becomes an abyss of nothingness, where the ghostly wanderer, and the line of the terrain they wander, fade into the void —

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— and the corresponding mountain top joint or hinge peak on the other side becomes the summit, this craggy high pass the wanderer must scale before they can reach the longed-for sunlit lands of life on the other side:

A further way to get the material to reflect the meaning of the words is with colour. The book begins with earthy browns, turning to dry sandy ochre tones of the parched desert,

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next fades into the faint translucent thin grey, disappearing to nothing at the abyss — and then turns to a watery grey-blue

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to represent an equally inhospitable sea-crossing — and only on the words ‘longing’ and ‘believing’ do the colours strengthen,

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not just in the watercolour line, but in the line of wanderers too, where the figures become more diversely coloured, brighter,

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more individually marked, and the line of the words reflects the line of people across the terrain like a mirror, or like a mirage in the desert.

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For the lettering, and to make the marks for the people, to reflect the development and movement of the words, I used some quirky lettering tools:

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a driftwood stick from the Thames, carved by water and flung up on the sandy foreshore on London’s South Bank; a wooden kebab-stick sharpened to a point; and a pottery tool. These all make great lettering-pens because they’re so rudimentary — the lack of a nib-dip to control the flow of ink or paint means that the colour has its own fluid agency; I don’t like to be too controlling of the materials — I like to let them do their own thing (up to a point) and work with the freedom of the result. The same thing applies to the tool I used to mark the people-line:

— a wooden clothes-peg, with its wire stripped out, makes two beautiful pens which you can use in different ways — either like a broad italic nib, or:

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— sideways on, or even using just the corner for a smaller mark, to delineate extra details. You can see in this photo the way that the paint has flowed on to the paper quite thickly for the figure just to the left of the peg-pen, making it look very heavily burdened, or perhaps as though carrying a child; but the figure walking behind that one, marked when there was hardly any paint left on the peg, appears very faintly, almost disappearing. This technique adds so much to the individuality of each figure, making each one unique, unrepeatable.

A clothes-peg is a nice domestic reference, intimate but universal, bringing individuality to each person in the line — each one carrying their own burden, their own history, their own life. I wanted this to reflect the poem’s identification with the wanderer, not just an anonymous migrant, refugee, homeless person, but a unique, unrepeatable individual human being — each one of us, indeed.

I’d like to show you the book, setting the last octet from Wanderer, page-by-page now; you’ll need to imagine it with the pages running forward side-by-side, flowing on from each other, rather than vertically stacked as on this page:

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— And I’ll be adding a link to the recording of the event here as soon as it’s available. Here now!

Maureen Duffy’s collection Wanderer is available from us here at The Pottery Press, (£9.99) or to order from bookshops including the Owl Bookshop in London’s Kentish Town, who have an order and collection service available throughout lockdown, and welcome orders by email or phone:

owlbookshop@gmail.com

http://www.owlbookshop.co.uk

Owl Bookshop, 207-207 Kentish Town Road London NW5 2JU

Tel: 020 7485 7793

An invitation to Dunkirk

May 26, 2020

The Dunkirk Project invitation card

You are cordially invited to visit 

A NEW EDITION OF

THE DUNKIRK PROJECT

for the 80th Anniversary 2020

with  

DAILY NEWS FROM DUNKIRK 1940

from 26th May to 4th June

EACH DAY’S FRONT PAGE NEWS HERE

AND

THAMES TO DUNKIRK ON FILM

A new short film of the largest book 

in the The British Library

CREATING DUNKIRK

A new series on the art of Dunkirk

1. John Craske’s epic embroidery

The Evacuation of Dunkirk

STRANGER THAN FICTION

Highlights from Dunkirk stories, including

a jam sandwich, a tattered news-clipping

a top hat and twelve pairs of silk socks

The Dunkirk Project

an interactive installation

by Liz Mathews

CLICK OR TOUCH SCREEN HERE TO ENTER

https://thedunkirkproject.wordpress.com

Messages from nature

April 15, 2020

Proclaiming Spring, words by Maureen Duffy, artist's book by Liz Mathews

Proclaiming Spring, words from ‘Narcissus’ by Maureen Duffy, artist’s book by Liz Mathews 2020

In these dark times, it’s so heartening to see the new little leaves on the oak tree, violets in every pavement crack, and the blossom on the apple trees promising an abundant harvest of apples and cherries, later in the year. It’s reassuring to think that there will be a later in the year. Narcissus, this beautiful and brave poem by Maureen Duffy brings a rousing wake-up call that echoes many of our thoughts and desperate hopes for this time of worldwide crisis. So much loss can only strengthen our determination to heed the voices of the earth, now demanding loud and clear that we must make the world a better and safer place while we still have the chance.

…proclaiming Spring, calling on

us all to live, put on our green

before the skies darken and we

run out of Springs forever.

Detail from Proclaiming Spring, words by Maureen Duffy, artist's book by Liz Mathews

Page 2 of Proclaiming Spring, text by Maureen Duffy, artist's book by Liz Mathews

Page 3 of Proclaiming Spring, text by Maureen Duffy, artist's book by Liz Mathews

Page 4 of Proclaiming Spring, words by Maureen Duffy, artist's book by Liz Mathews

Page 5 of Proclaiming Spring, words by Maureen Duffy, artist's book by Liz Mathews

page 6 of Proclaiming Spring, words by Maureen Duffy, artist's book by Liz Mathews

Narcissus is from Maureen Duffy’s latest collection, Wanderer, published February 2020 by The Pottery Press.

Eight artist’s books by Liz Mathews

February 18, 2020

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Paper Wings

55 love poems by Maureen Duffy set to paper by Liz Mathews

A contemporary illuminated manuscript in the form of a double-sided concertina book, setting 55 love poems by Maureen Duffy with one poem to each page of handmade paper (30cm x 42cm). The dazzling variety of the poems, and their recurring themes and motifs proved inspirational for the use of vibrant and diverse materials and tools in making the book. Materials include handmade papers, acrylics and watercolours mixed with honey, wine, blood, snow-melt and rain; lettered with diverse tools including reed pen, Japanese brush, driftwood stick, clothes-peg and swan’s feather quill. The book was originally exhibited (before construction) as an installation flying overhead in the London gallery of Enitharmon Press in 2014.

Book measurements: 31cm x 22cm x 7.5cm closed: opens to 11.5m long x 31 cm high. (Portfolio slipcase 33cm x 23cm x 8.5)

One-off original in slip-case £4000

(A half-size facsimile of this book copy – 1 in a special facsimile edition of 5 – is currently on display in the Treasures Gallery at the British Library, in a new exhibition of the work of 17 contemporary book artists – all women.)

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Tatter’d colours

Text by Anne Finch from The Soldier’s Death (17th century)

Eight flag-pages made from French linen canvas, bound with a continuous length of linen bookbinding tape, to be read as a book or hung in the form of regimental colours. I came across this poem by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea, in AP Wavell’s Other Men’s Flowers (Jonathan Cape 1944), and found its appalled pacifist-Jacobite overtones both astonishing and inspiring within the Field-Marshall’s collection of favourite poems, known to him by heart. I too am a pacifist (probably also an ‘appalled pacifist-Jacobite’ in fact), and much of my work has been concerned with conflict, and, like this poem, with the effects of war on the individual. (For more on this, see The Dunkirk Project, and my artist’s book Thames to Dunkirk.)

Materials include linen thread and bookbinding tape, acrylic ink and paints, charcoal, soot, ash, chalk, clay slip, mud, tea and acid-free matt varnish, the text lettered with a driftwood stick and large Japanese brush. Contained in a kitbag/cover made from English cotton duck, linen thread and tape, and acrylic paints, with materials and instructions for hanging and restoring to book form lettered on the flap of the kitbag case.

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

‘To hang Tatter’d Colours, remove book from kitbag cover and unroll to flat book form. Unthread the long end of the tape binding the pages at top left, and hang from hemp ropes or beams in diagonal sequence as illustrated on the kitbag flap, fixing each flag with twine through the loops at the top. To rebind into book form, fold pages into sequence, aligning top edges with care, and thread the long tape back through the top left loops in the order indicated on the kitbag flap.’

Measurements: each page 70cm high x 40cm wide, book opened to hand extends up to 4m including the interval tape linking the flag-pages. Kitbag measures 47cm x 14cm x 11cm

One-off original  £1000

Tatter'd colours by Liz Mathews (detail of kitbag/cover)

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Sir Orfeo

Text by Maureen Duffy from her epic poem Sir Orfeo (published in Past Present, Pottery Press 2018)

Artist’s book made from a single huge sheet of handmade paper. The paper is painted, lettered, folded and torn into 12 double pages, but still retains its ability to be restored to the whole image – in keeping with the text, a contemporary retelling of the Orpheus story in an English medieval romance about a king who loses his queen and his position and identity, almost his life, and then by great good fortune and his own goodness, regains everything. This restoration to wholeness is echoed by the form of the book.

The whole sheet is lettered with Sir Orfeo’s name; the large letters then form the framework of the design for the individual pages, where the story is told and reflected in a semi-abstract design of watercolour and handmade acrylic inks. This book was originally shown as the stage backcloth to the first public performance of this bardic poem by the poet, accompanied by jazz pianist and composer Dorian Ford and world singer Vimala Rowe, performing Dorian’s original settings of words from the text (at Burgh House in Hampstead, London, 2017). After the performance, the backcloth was folded into the form of the book, but can easily be restored to the single sheet. I am particularly interested in this tension between duality and integrity of form in my books, especially where it reflects some aspect of the text itself.

Measurements: whole sheet of paper 200cm x 70cm high, book closed 25cm x 28cm x 2.5cm. Contained in portfolio slipcase made from handmade papers 33cm x 29cm x 3cm

One-off original £800


Singing the Year (text by Vita Sackville-West)

Singing the Year

Lines from Vita Sackville-West’s English epic poem The Land.

In the form of a double-sided concertina book with 12 pages, one page for each month, Singing the Year is constructed so that the December page can be attached to January, and the year flows in a seamless cycle, repeating and renewing, like ‘patterns on a scroll unwinding’. I have kept the design simple to allow the vibrant colours, sounds, sights and atmosphere of the text describing the organic seasonal cycle to speak for themselves.

Materials include various handmade papers, watercolours and handmade acrylic inks, acid-free adhesive, and the book is lettered with driftwood sticks and a wooden clothes-peg. In the ‘May’ page shown below, the blue beehives are made with little stacks of paper, the swarm with a scrap of russet gold paper attached to the page with honey mixed into the acid-free adhesive, and the warm golden colour of the lettering also has honey mixed into the paint, lettered with a little wicker stick.

Each page 42cm x 30cm (approx), opening to a circle with maximum diameter of about 5 metres

One-off original in slip-case  £1200

May page from Singing the Year (text by Vita Sackville-West)

February page from Singing the Year (text by Vita Sackville-West)


Version 2

The Seasons Alter

Text from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in the 1623 First Folio version, with original spellings and renderings.

This book is made from a single sheet of handmade paper 52cm x 72cm, painted, lettered, folded and torn into a sequence of pages which draw the text continuously across both sides of the paper, creating a double-sided painting which folds to a book with 24 pages in sequence. The text is from Titania’s prescient Act 1 speech in which she warns of climate chaos and the dissolution of the cosmic order as a consequence of conflict, exploitation and reckless violation of the natural world. The colours and brushwork reflect the flowing sequence of the text and present the confusion of the seasons swirling to an inescapable vortex, mixing the gentle, traditional and predictable characteristics of each season with violent disruption and discord.

Materials include handmade paper and acrylic paints mixed with mud, rainwater, icicle-melt, so that the weather has a material presence in the work; it was air-dried in winter sunlight, and first shown in an exhibition in Norwich Millennium Library. In slip-case made with the same materials.

Measurements: double-sided single sheet of handmade paper 72cm x 52cm

One off original £1200

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Swallows on the Thames (text by Matthew Arnold)

Swallows on the Thames

Lines by Matthew Arnold from The Scholar Gypsy

Another book made from a single sheet of paper, setting Arnold’s lines in a painting made with acrylic paints mixed with water from the Thames, and lettered with a Thames driftwood stick. The single sheet is made up of 12 pages that flow across the sheet ‘as the ox ploughs’, in a continuous unending sequence, and fold down to a book 20cm x 20cm x 1cm (approx), and the work can be read page-by-page as a book, or framed for display on the wall. This dual nature can perhaps reflect an imaginative idealisation of a mid-summer reverie, an afternoon’s shady lazing on the river in its country-mode, which contrasts strongly with its urban manifestation in the following book, Strand of the Thames.

Measurements: sheet opens to 72cm x 52cm, and the closed book is 20cm x 20cm x 1cm (approx). Contained in portfolio slip-case made with the same materials.

One-off original £700

Swallows on the Thames (page 5)

Swallows on the Thames (page 6)

Swallows on the Thames (detail) text by Matthew Arnold


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Strand of the Thames

Text by Virginia Woolf, from her Diary (1939)

Artist’s book in the form of a 1930’s photograph album: a setting of Virginia Woolf’s diary record of a Thames-side walk, set in 15 grisaille watercolours of the actual sites where she’s walking; watercolour paint mixed with Thames water and the text lettered with a Thames driftwood stick. This book lent itself particularly well to a small edition; I took monochrome photos of the watercolours for each page, and constructed each volume for the edition in the same way as the original/prototype, as a concertina photo album on black handmade paper, fixing the photos in with acid-free photo corners. (All materials in both original and edition acid-free.)

The one-off original is now in the permanent collection of the British Library.

Measurements: original 42cm x 31cm x 5cm (approx); limited edition 15cm x 12cm x 1.5cm

Signed and numbered limited edition (of 20) £40

Read more about this book on the British Library’s blog in a guest article by me: Virginia Woolf’s Haunted Walk

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Rag – Luideag

Text by Ruaraidh MacThomas/ Derick Thomson; book by Liz Mathews

I was inspired to set this extraordinary poem (in the original Gaelic as well as the poet’s own translation to Scots English) by the moving poignance of the idea, and by how surely the words describe the fragility of the language, surviving shredded and scattered, clinging to sharp rocky headlands, used only by ‘ragged children’, exposed to the wind and weather, sounding with the sea in its voice.

I set the lines in both languages, one like a shadow or reflection of the other, on 8 clay pages, scraps torn from a single sheet of stoneware clay, the words scratched into the surface of the clay, so that they are ‘written on the rocks’. The hard sharpness of the fired clay shards reflect both the harshness and fragility of the poem’s atmosphere and meaning.  The clay pages are tacked with linen thread to a rough cotton cloth, ripped and wind-torn to a ragged softness. The scruffy cloth is distressed with a mixture of paint, charcoal and soot, strong tea and Scotch whisky, and finished with an acid-free sealant. Contrasting in texture with the stony clay, it wraps the shard/pages to protect them when the wall-hanging is folded down to a book. The closed book is contained in a box made from recycled cardboard and handmade papers, tied with a rough cotton and linen strap, like an old cardboard suitcase.

Measurements; box 30cm x 16cm x 13cm; book opened to wall hanging approx 120cm x 70cm at widest

One-off original  £1600

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Liz Mathews with young visitors to turnthepage artists’ book fair, Norwich

Journeys of imagination

February 18, 2020

New from The Pottery Press

F4C7B535-6A9A-403D-BACC-5466C2EC7DEAWanderer by Maureen Duffy

New poetry by ‘one of Britain’s foremost writers’ (Guardian), and ‘a unique literary talent’ (Sarah Waters)

We travel with Maureen Duffy on the Wanderer’s terrifying voyage, on exploratory passages to India and Ravenna, on a very English train-ride, to concerts and galleries (and on the journeys of imagination they stimulate), through the gardens and street-markets of London, and to the junkshop of the remembered past. Maureen Duffy describes one of these poems as ‘a kind of elegy to life and love’, the ultimate theme of this brave and passionate collection.

Maureen Duffy’s published some 34 works of fiction – since her first novel That’s How it Was came out in 1962 to immediate acclaim – and at least 10 collections of inspiring poetry including her wonderful Collected Poems. Then there’s her non-fiction including biographies of Henry Purcell, Aphra Benn and Britain itself. And then she’s written some 16 plays for stage, screen and radio, including Rites at the National Theatre, and recently Hilde & Virginia at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre, with Sarah Crowden. Maureen’s play Sappho Singing has recently been adapted as a film, to be premiered on International Women’s Day (8th March) 2020 at the Coronet Theatre in Notting Hill. And Paper Wings, lettering artist Liz Mathews’ artist’s book setting Maureen Duffy’s love-poem cycle Songs for Sappho is currently on show in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery.

Wanderer, Maureen Duffy’s new collection, is as inspiring as ever. Brave, truth-telling, passionate and tough, these poems speak vividly of the cosmic and the local, and how the two are connected. Intimate, entertaining, yet characteristically engaged with the dark troubles of humanity, they are drawn from her London life, her East End roots, and her lifelong themes and empathies, confirming her local alliegiancies and her citizenship of Europe and the world in multi-coloured words.

’Tough poems, made of the rough substance of real lives… a beautiful answering back against the worst.’ (David Constantine)

Wanderer by Maureen Duffy

Pottery Press pamphlet 5, 48 pages with 31 full-colour images setting the poems by lettering artist Liz Mathews

ISBN 978-0-9930171-5-5

£9.99

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3B868791-9A27-4E1C-8DBD-077971230311London Panopticon by Frances Bingham

Today’s the day. Sometimes it seems that this day, today, whichever day it is, might be the last chance to – do what? – something essential, yet unnameable, before the deluge. Seize the moment…

Blue makes a London pilgrimage from the Thames up to Hampstead Heath, walking through time and the city, meeting Londoners past and present on the way. A litany of London voices – irascible Jeremy Bentham, Wose the tree-guardian, Virginia Woolf street-haunting, Fletcher the sacked banker and innumerable others – sing their city incantation: protest song, lament, celebration.

London Panopticon also draws on a Londoner’s perspective, on a visionary journey within this heartland. Frances Bingham, like Maureen Duffy, writes across the literary spectrum, and has published fiction, poetry, non-fiction and plays, most recently Comrade Ackland and I for BBC Radio 4. She has rediscovered the neglected poetry of Valentine Ackland in Journey from Winter (Carcanet 2008), her acclaimed critical edition, and her definitive biography of Ackland is forthcoming next year (2021). London Panopticon really defies categorisation, encompassing short-form fiction, lyrical prose-poetry and play-script; the narrator Blue makes a journey through the day and the city, and encounters places and people at the heart of the city. I’ll just call it an urban Under Milk Wood, inspired by London itself.

‘London Panopticon is more than a pamphlet. As sparkling and all-encompassing as the city itself, it is a vision, a love song, a pilgrimage, a perfect union of image and word. And it takes one’s breath away!’  Mimi Khalvati

London Panopticon  by Frances Bingham

Pottery Press pamphlet no 4, 80 pages with 28 b/w images by lettering artist Liz Mathews

ISBN 978-0-9930-171-4-8

£9.99

Both books available from The Pottery Press, or to order from your local bookshop.

Memories in clay

March 14, 2019

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There’s a lovely article by Mark Palmer in this week’s Country Life about my work making small-scale house portraits in clay, and my aim to capture the spirit of the place –  the heart of a house – by means of a meticulously detailed likeness. The whole edition is devoted to ‘Smaller country houses’, so my miniatures fit charmingly. I’ve been making these little sculptures for 30-odd years now – I made my first in 1986 – and I’ve been lucky to have hundreds of fascinating commissions, each one for a portrait of a place that’s individual, interesting, and loved. And not just people’s homes: I’ve also made portraits of churches, theatres, log-cabins, pubs, shops, schools, hospitals, banks, restaurants, town halls, Greek temples, a library, a fire-station, and (only once) a dry-cleaners – all special for one reason or another – oh, and some grand National Trust houses too. As for beloved homes, I’ve done a gypsy caravan, one or two log-cabins, terraced town-houses and Elizabethan manor houses, some thatched cottages and the odd castle, and always it’s the detail that I love – the quirkiness and the unique characteristics that each subject brings. I haven’t yet done a lighthouse or a windmill – but I do enjoy a challenge, so who knows…

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I’ve often exhibited these little sculptures – I showed a dozen or so in my first ever exhibition about a hundred years ago it seems, all portraits of houses and buildings local to the show in the Wisbech and Fenland Museum – including one of the museum itself – and I’ll be continuing the tradition in an exhibition next year (2020) in Hampstead’s beautiful Burgh House. There I’ll be showing a collection of portraits of London’s small historic houses – among them, of course, Burgh House itself, celebrating again the beauties of the vernacular. But for now, I’m looking forward to my next commissions – and who knows, maybe even that windmill.

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There’s a gallery of some of my favourite commissions on my website Potters’ Yard House Portraits – as well as information about commissioning. And you can read more here on Daughters of Earth, on the page called Architectural reliefs and house portraits.

Snow in feathers

January 23, 2019

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Last evening we had a beautiful snow storm here in North London – huge snowflakes like swan’s feathers, and not just a flurry – a real blizzard, though it didn’t settle except on the icy grass of the gardens, and in drifts on the shed roofs. But in the darkness of the early evening on our street, the flakes swarmed round the lamp-posts and fell thick and fast, though the word heavy didn’t fit the scene – it was more a complex dance of thickly-falling lightnesses through the dark. We watched from the window for ages, warm indoors while people passed by on the snowy pavement, some hunched and hurrying, some snow-strolling in pleasure, and two little girls dancing along with their mouths open to taste the great feathery snowflakes. The scene reminded us of John Clare’s opening poem in his great cycle of the year The Shepherd’s Calendar, called January, A Winters Day:

Withering and keen the winter comes

While comfort flyes to close shut rooms

And sees the snow in feathers pass

Winnowing by the window glass

Clare evokes (with his usual idiosyncratic spelling) the feeling of a snowy afternoon, and the way everyone responds, starting with the farmer hanging out in the pub reading the paper or ‘old moores almanack’, which he believes every word of, as he believes his Bible:

Puffing the while his red tipt pipe

Dreaming oer troubles nearly ripe

Yet not quite lost in profits way

He’ll turn to next years harvest day

And winters leisure to regale

Hopes better times and sips his ale

– while the labourer still goes to work, ‘and braves the tempest as he may’, including the thresher, who’s ‘shuffling through the sinking snows/ Blowing his fingers as he goes’, to cut the hay from the stack and throw it in piles on the snow for the hungry cows. The shepherd in his great coat, with his dog sheltering from the wind behind his heels, ‘Takes rough and smooth the winter weather / And paces through the snow together’, while the lonely unused plough, like the horses idling in field and yard ‘pass time away / In leisures hungry holiday /…/ Dreaming no doubt of summer sward’.  

Clare’s sympathetic, observing vision shows us men and women at work and at enforced  leisure or unemployment, cows and dogs and hogs, cats, moorhens and geese, as well as schoolboys ‘never at a loss for play / Rolling up giant heaps of snow’ and ‘Making rude things’ until they’re ‘numbd wi cold’ and go off to find ‘hotter sports’ to play – kicking their football over the frozen ground or sliding the hours away on the ice and skating on the meadow lake. And the robin ‘picking the trifles off the snow’ thrown for him by a kindly woman, and perching on the windowsill to find the little hole in the window pane he remembers from last winter, to creep into the cottage warmth.

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For a moment yesterday evening it certainly did feel like winter in earnest, though our snow didn’t last (sadly no ‘crumping underfoot’). I made this paperwork on a sheet of handmade paper (30cm x 40cm) with beautiful deckle edges, mixing the watercolour and acrylic paints with snow-melt to give the painted snow a real material presence, and lettering the text with a little winter twig, before scattering and splattering the snow-melt snow at random over the whole scene, words and all. The words are from John Clare’s poem Snow Storm, which paints a picture of a familiar world transformed by winter:

Domestic spots near home & trod so oft

Seen daily – known for years – by the strange wand

Of winters humour changed…

Trees bushes grass to one wild garb subdued

Are gone & left us in another land

There’s something so engaged and so engaging about the clarity and recognisable truth of this vision that the reader stands beside Clare now, seeing with his eyes that magical transformation. Snow Storm was part of a huge collection of his poems that Clare fair-copied in c.1832 as The Midsummer Cushion, mostly written in the late 1820’s and early 1830’s, though many of the poems were still not printed on his death in 1864, and the collection wasn’t published in its entirety for over a century until 1979. It has been one of my bibles for the last 20 years, one of those books I turn to for truth, enlightenment, revelation, stimulation, inspiration, and solace in troubled times. Perhaps I could call it a complex dance of thickly-falling lightnesses through the dark. And sometimes things seem very dark.

Back in our January day in 2019, we were sorry not to wake this morning to a transformed world, ‘another land’, but maybe all we can do, with our ‘troubles nearly ripe / Yet not quite lost’, is hope for better times and sip our ale, like John Clare’s farmer. After all, there are weeks of possibility before the end of March.

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The Shepherd’s Calendar by John Clare (ed. Eric Robinson & Geoffrey Summerfield, OUP 1964)

The Midsummer Cushion by John Clare (ed. Kelsey Thornton & Anne Tibble, Carcanet 1979)

Winter Snow  Paperwork by Liz Mathews with text by John Clare from Snow Storm, 30cm x 40cm, watercolour/acrylic on handmade cotton rag paper  For sale £250 unframed

Frost, stars and the consolations of art

December 4, 2018

December nights

December nights: after work yesterday evening we listened to David Attenborough’s heroic and stirring speech to the Climate Change Conference just before we went to a live screening for the first night of the Nutcracker from Covent Garden. Walking to our local gorgeous Art Deco Odeon, our minds and talk were full of the crisis, but once inside we were soon enchanted by the exquisite set designs, the moving beauty of Tchaikovsky’s music, the grace and athleticism of the Royal Ballet’s dancers, the glamour of the event. Loved it, every minute, and it felt very joyful – the beginning of the festive season. In the interval a little girl practised her ballet steps in the cinema aisle, and afterwards, a group of older women in the audience danced out of the cinema, pirouetting up the corridor with much laughter. On our walk home there was frost on the parked cars and stars in the London sky shining like fairy lights in the winter trees – and even the pavements were sparkly, as though the magician’s sequinned dust had floated out of the cinema and into the streets.

December nights detail

December Nights

Text by Helen Waddell   Paperwork by Liz Mathews: silver enamel lettered with a driftwood stick, under acrylic watercolour on handmade paper 30cm x 40cm

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