Posts Tagged ‘Dylan Thomas’

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

 

 

 

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.