Posts Tagged ‘artist’s books’

A walk with Virginia Woolf

September 25, 2017

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The British Library has recently acquired three more of my artist’s books for their permanent collection. The first is called Strand of the Thames, and in it I’ve set an extraordinary entry from Virginia Woolf’s Diary of 1939. She writes about discovering the Thames foreshore in London, observing and thinking as she walked – and so I followed in her footsteps seventy years later, and found everything (everything) still as she described. I made the book in the form of a 1930’s photograph album, with 15 grisaille images of the places where VW’s walking and observing, like photographs in watercolour, and to bring the material presence of the river itself into the book, I mixed the watercolour paint with Thames water. The words are lettered with a little driftwood stick from the river, picked up on that same strand.

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A limited edition of Strand of the Thames

Making editions of my artist’s books isn’t always easy or appropriate; one-off works sometimes don’t lend themselves to duplication in any way.  But I like to make editions where possible, as they are a much more affordable version of the artwork, and for this book, because of the photograph-album reference in the original, I’ve made a quarter-size facsimile (4×6 photo size), constructed in exactly the same way on handmade paper, with black-and-white photographs of the grisaille images mounted with acid-free photo corners. This is a signed limited edition of 20, and the British Library have also added one of these to their collection, but there are a few left available from the studio, at £40 each. [Contact lizmathews(at)pottersyard.co.uk]

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From walking with Virginia Woolf to flying with Maureen Duffy

The other one of my artist’s books that was recently added to the British Library’s collection is Paper Wings.

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One of a special edition of five, this artist’s book is again constructed in exactly the same way as the original. With Paper Wings, the ‘original’ is also a prototype, since I intended to make an edition of the work from the start. It’s one of my all-time favourites among my oeuvre – inspired by Songs for Sappho, a very exciting love poem cycle by Maureen Duffy, which the poet allowed me to set in its entirety and to publish for the first time here at The Pottery Press.

A new love song cycle by Maureen Duffy is an event in itself – and these poems are engaging, witty, moving, personal yet universal, and a profound exploration of all the weathers of love by a poet who brings her years of experience and a deep, sensitive humanity to the work. And the cycle itself is dazzlingly inventive, drawing the reader into the immediacy of the experience with running themes and motifs, contrasting humour and vulnerability, strength and tenderness, darkness and light in the different weathers and moods, the spiralling hopes and fears of a love documented from its beginnings through the seasons of three years, and on into the future.

Paper Wings detail

I’ve written before here on Daughters of Earth about my work on the book, and its first flight as an installation at Enitharmon’s London gallery. The book itself is now constructed into a double-sided concertina that opens fully to 27 metres long, with each poem-page forming a link in the chain and set so that the first and the last songs are back-to-back, forming an unending cycle within the book, in reflection of the song-cycle itself. This form gave me an opportunity to reflect that infinite variety and inventiveness of the individual poems by giving each a full page of handmade paper 30cm high by 42cm wide, and working on the design of each setting individually, often incorporating materials from the words.

I mixed paint with wine, riverwater, honey, wax, sugar, salt, mud, snow, rain, earth, clay, herbs, tears or blood, and lettered the words with a driftwood stick, a twig from an apple tree, a white dove’s feather, a reed pen, a clothespeg, a chopstick, a hand-cut bamboo nib, a paintbrush and a clay-working tool, as well as the occasional steel nib – and I used many different methods of construction for the pages to reflect each poem as closely and as materially as possible. I’ll show you a small selection of poem-pages here, beginning with Song 42, where it all started for me. I was delighted when Maureen Duffy came to a private view at midsummer 2012 of light wells, my exhibition at The London Centre for Psychotherapy  – and even more pleased when she bought one of the pots in the show. At this private view we talked a little about the possibility of my setting some of her work – I’ve been a very appreciative reader of Maureen’s fiction and poetry for many many years, and wanted to work with her words – and to my great pleasure she was open to the idea. You can perhaps imagine my delight when she sent me this poem a few days later – a poem inspired by one of my own bowls – the latest in the poem cycle she was then writing. And we went on from there:

Song 42

The idea of these love poems as messages flying through space, linking the parted lovers with a strong cord, is one of the themes running through the cycle that evoked very powerful images for me.

Eleventh Song

Also present in that first poem-page is the motif of the cosmic circle or sphere, or by extension two parted hemispheres, that conjures Donne – a motif that I’ve referenced throughout the cycle, including the pages for the first and last songs, as well as in the circular structure of the book itself:

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Fifth Song

Many of the poems were written in direct response to a contemporary event; this next one evokes that extraordinary cosmic moment in December 2010 when the light of the sun shining on the full moon was completely eclipsed by the earth’s shadow:

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Third Song

‘Like Hafiz seven centuries ago’, I formed the letters of Third Song with a reed pen from Persia – exactly like those that can be seen in the British Museum – dipped into red wine.  For the next one, I drew and lettered with a traditional Japanese brush and based the design of the image on a 10th Century woodcut from The Tale of Gengi – also written by a woman:

Song 32

And for this next one I posed for 32 self portrait silhouettes in a variety of hats, and lettered the poem with rainwater mixed into the white paint:

Thirteenth Song

For Song 44 I made a snow-cage through which to glimpse the words with white paint mixed into snow-melt:

Song 44

Because I was setting the entire cycle, and couldn’t pick and choose which lines to set, I found one or two challenges to my image-making skills among the poems.  These poems are very contemporary, wrought from the fabric of everyday life, and I’ve never before set a poem with the line ‘my email is down’ –

Eighth Song

– or one referencing a draining board:

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but with both of these, I thought that what worked so well in the poem would also work in the image it evoked in my mind, and just trusted the words – with some success, I think. Some of the poems brought a strong visualisation readily to my mind, and clearly suggested materials I could include – for the next one I mixed the honey-coloured paint with sugar:

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and this one I lettered with a white dove’s feather picked up on Hampstead Heath:

Song 30

For my favourite of all, I mixed the paint with honey, and lettered it with a wicker stick:

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– and if you look closely, you can see some little stripy bee-shapes in the surface texture of the handmade paper, transferred from the drying towel in the press – another embodiment of the words in the material form of the setting.

Paper Wings DVD

You can see that I took these photographs of each poem-page before the construction of the book, and I used them to make an artist’s film. More than a simple film-of-the-book, Paper Wings the film is an exciting, immersive experience. As the pages turn, Maureen Duffy reads each poem – her lived-in voice bringing a living and breathing presence to the cycle, within a soundtrack of the seasons.

The film is available on dvd from The Pottery Press, for £10. (Contact thepotterypress[at]pottersyard.co.uk)

 

Paper Wings limited edition book

From the photographs I also made a limited edition of 100 full-colour books, bound suspended from a top-binding for two reasons: first, to reflect the form of the installation (where the poem-pages were strung overhead like prayer-flags with the words flying through the air), and also to allow the reader to follow the through-the-year sequence like a calendar, so you can stand the book and turn the pages day-by-day. Each book in this edition is numbered and signed both by the artist and the poet, and again, available from The Pottery Press for £15 – we have a few copies left.

Paper Wings special edition

And the Special Edition of five (one of which the British Library have just added to their collection) is a half-size facsimile of the original, constructed in exactly the same way as the (27-metre-long) concertina book, from full-page digital reproductions of each page and acid-free adhesive. It’s contained in a slipcase made from off-cuts of the handmade papers in the original, and it’s numbered and signed by the poet and the artist. I have a couple of copies still available for £250.

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I think of Paper Wings as a key feature of my continuing Singing the Year collection of contemporary illuminated manuscripts. I’ve enjoyed screening the film at arts festivals, including BABE 2017 at the Arnolfini in Bristol, and turn the page artists’ book fair in Norwich, as well as showing the book at events including The National Poetry Library’s Material Word, and King’s College London’s Fabrication Arts and Humanities Festival. But somehow I feel reluctant to part with the original, which is still with me here in the studio. It took me five months to make, during a time when I was very ill, and it was quite literally a life-saver, an escape from the harsh realities of pain and fear into a world of inspiration and poetry.  It represents for me something inexpressible – as perhaps the best poetry always does – and it gives a material form to a poem-cycle that speaks of unending love. I’ll be reading it again on National Poetry Day.

 

 

 

BABE 2017 BLOG POST # 3 – LIZ MATHEWS

April 4, 2017

T to D at BL for BABE2017

Tomorrow morning we open the doors to BABE 2017. With hours to go and set up fully underway, we put some questions to artist Liz Mathews about her work and what she’ll be bringing to the festival…

Source: BABE 2017 BLOG POST # 3 – LIZ MATHEWS

The moment that holds you

January 11, 2017

enitharmon-invitation

A walk through the year, season by season, moment by moment, with poet Jeremy Hooker.

My new artist’s film The moment that holds you gives a vivid portrait of the turning year seen through the eyes and words of West Country poet Jeremy Hooker.  Evocative, summoning, the poems draw you in to a landscape wherein everything connects – the material world plaited into the skein of time, all illuminated by shifting scattered points of light.

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In sixteen artist’s books, I’ve set the poet’s word-images of the turning seasons that catch each moment as it draws together time past and future, not by illustrating the text with pictures, but in such a way that the words become the images.  (These books are all part of my Singing the Year collection of contemporary illuminated manuscripts.)  And this close association between word and image is further echoed by the dialogue between poet and artist as we read the poems, among sounds of the seasons and music by jazz pianist Dorian Ford.

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The premiere screening of The moment that holds you has now been rescheduled; it will now coincide with the London Book Fair, and will be at Enitharmon‘s Bloomsbury gallery on

Wednesday 15th March at 7 for 7.30pm

I’ll be introducing the screening, and the artist’s books featured in the film will be on exhibition in the gallery, along with Enitharmon’s beautiful editions of Jeremy Hooker’s poetry collections, and we’ll be celebrating with music and wine.  What better way to anticipate the clocks springing forward and the days lengthening?

  • Join the guest list at info@enitharmon.co.uk 
  • and the film is available to buy on DVD from Enitharmon for £8 (or leave me a note in the comment box below to buy one direct from me).

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.

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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.

Autumn on the wing

September 28, 2015

Maureen Duffy invitation

I’m looking forward to some autumn events: firstly an evening with Maureen Duffy on 14th October, as part of Fabrication: King’s College London’s Arts and Humanities Festival.  I’ll join Maureen (in conversation with Katie Webb) to talk about working with her poems in artist’s books, and show Paper Wings, my setting of her love-poem cycle Songs for Sappho, which reflects some of the dazzling inventiveness of the poems. Paper Wings is now constructed into a 28-foot-long double-sided book – following its incarnation as an installation at Enitharmon’s Bloomsbury gallery last autumn – and we’ll be discussing some of the unusual materials and processes of its making.  The event will be followed by a drinks reception and you can reserve free tickets at

https://maureen-duffy.eventbrite.co.uk

Paper Wings Song 43 (text by Maureen Duffy)

Song 43 from Paper Wings  (text by Maureen Duffy)

Then on Tuesday 20th October I’ll be giving a talk to the North London Lettering Association, called By way of wordsa quote from Jeremy Hooker’s poem City Walking (1) – and I’m looking forward to showing some of my recent work setting his texts on clay, driftwood and handmade paper, as well as talking about lettering materials and techniques, and life as a lettering artist seeing everything by way of words.  The NLLA welcomes non-members to its meetings (tickets £4), which regularly feature artists, letterers and calligraphers in demonstrations and talks of great interest to anyone who reads the world by font, language and pictogram; details and directions at

http://www.northlondonlettering.co.uk/programme/

Detail from p1 of In the light (text by Jeremy Hooker) artist's book by Liz Mathews

Detail: page 1 of In the light  (text by Jeremy Hooker)

And my third outing this autumn will be to the Small Publishers’ Fair at Conway Hall on 6th and 7th November; I’ll be on the Artists Books Online stand with several other book artists, and I’ll be showing books from the small to the very large, all for sale and easily carried away.

SmallPubsFair 2015 Ecard

SmallPubsFair 2015 Ecard

The fair is a thrilling annual event stuffed with beautiful, thought-provoking, imaginative, quirky and affordable artworks which would restore anybody’s faith in the vitality, diversity and inventiveness of the book arts, and indeed the multifarious imaginations of British artists, designers and makers working with text.

Autumn from All the year by Liz Mathews (text by John Clare)

Sweet Autumn   (text by John Clare)

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

Paper wings and the material word

November 19, 2014
Maureen Duffy and Liz Mathews with Paper Wings at the Poetry Library Open Day. Photo by Jessica Atkinson

Maureen Duffy and Liz Mathews with Paper Wings at the Poetry Library Open Day. Photo by Jessica Atkinson

The 6th Poetry Library Open Day on Sunday 16th November took the theme of ‘The Material Word’, and featured a fascinatingly eclectic selection of exhibits, from poetic beer mats and brilliantly designed text/art to ‘proper’ books with beautiful covers, including several published by Enitharmon Press.  The publicity led us to expect ‘edible poems, poems on T-shirts and poetry teabags’, all of which were entertainingly present, but there were also a lot of very beautiful, considered and complex manifestations or embodiments of poetic texts, including Michele Roberts and Caroline Isgar’s artists’ book The Dark and Marvellous Room, in which 12 very short stories, each a vivid vignette from an observant ten-year-old’s quirky take on family life, are balanced by 12 equally unsettling images – all set on a concertina string of detachable postcards in an oval framed cardboard case, like a souvenir from another time or place. We also liked the look of Pascal O’Loughlin’s witty Chocoholochismo, but didn’t expect it to survive the day without some encroachment from the general public.

Lots more images can be seen here, from the Poetry Library’s record of the day – not a complete catalogue, but a very good selection. We were there with Maureen Duffy, as the Poetry Library had included our Paper Wings, screening the artist’s film of the book throughout the day, and showing the limited edition printed book, which is a half-size digital facsimile of the original artist’s book/installation. It was a pleasure to meet so many poetry readers and artists’ book lovers, as well as to enjoy this entertaining and thought-provoking selection from the Poetry Library’s treasures.

On Saturday, we’d visited the Small Publishers’ Fair at Conway Hall, an event crowded with the most extraordinary range of books, artists’ books and things you could call books at a pinch, as well as prints, letterpress posters, laser-cut graphic art, pages made from vegetables, and some little things that looked like tiny paper hats – all for sale, and all so covetable.  So having cleaned ourselves out for the month there, it was quite a relief just to look at the exhibits at the Poetry Library event, and not to be able to take some lovely things away with us. It is however, still possible to buy a copy of Paper Wings, in either book form or the DVD, from Enitharmon Press where the book is a limited edition (of 100) signed by both artist and poet, for £15, and the DVD is £10 (+VAT).

Paper Wings book and DVD

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 The Pottery Press; contact thepotterypress[at]pottersyard.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