Posts Tagged ‘Jeremy Hooker’

Under the Quarry Woods

April 26, 2018

9780993017131Under the Quarry Woods by Jeremy Hooker is the third in our series of pamphlets from The Pottery Press. Quarried from journals written over 16 years at his home in a Welsh former mining village, these new prose poems by the eminent poet and critic are alive with observations, impressions, memory and dream.  Forming a meditation on a place and its people, they reveal an industrially- scarred landscape in which the writer finds himself to be at once a stranger and at home – and his response is powerful, moving, lyrical and humane.

As a lettering artist I’ve been lucky to work with Jeremy Hooker’s words for many years now, setting his lines and poems in an on-going collection of artist’s books, many of them in my Singing the Year series of contemporary Books of Hours, and in an artist’s film The moment that holds you.  I found this new sequence as inspiring as ever – subtle, deeply felt, closely observed, visually arresting word-pictures that reveal more than they say.  The harshness of the scarred landscape is illuminated by glimpses of natural beauty and by possibilities of regeneration for the land and its fractured communities – and shadowed by some impossibilities too.

These juxtapositions and contrasts in texture, colour and tone were very stimulating for me as an artist – and for the design of the book cover I looked for an image that combined darkness and light, destruction and tentative regeneration, drawn from the deep woodland landscape.  I chose a photo I took a few years ago of a lightning-struck oak tree in the middle of the woods, surrounded by small oak saplings sprung from its acorns, all under a lowering sky of heavy cloud; dark layers of woodland and cloud-cover, with the small new growth determinedly emerging. Lightning oak with saplings.

For the colour images within the book, I chose a poem from the heart of the sequence:

As I wait in the car four seagulls fly over the supermarket carpark, crying.  For an instant I smell the sea and hear the swash of waves on shingle, curling over and withdrawing.

Distance returns, restless as the tides.

My memory is salt with longing.

I made an artist’s book setting this poem with a sheet of handmade paper the colour of sand and shingle, folded and torn into a sequence of pages, but readily restored to the whole image – and then I painted the image with watercolour and gouache mixed with salt-water, lettering the words with a small driftwood stick and a wooden clothes-peg. The book is called Salt wave, and it’s contained in a portfolio slip-case, shown here first:

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Under the Quarry Woods is available from The Pottery Press at Potters’ Yard Arts for £5.

ISBN: 978-0-9930171-3-1

Contact studio[at]pottersyard.co.uk

A Triptych from The Pottery Press

April 26, 2018

Past Present by Maureen Duffy  9780993017124.jpg  9780993017131

The Pottery Press is celebrating its first three pamphlets, with the publication of the third: Under the Quarry Woods by Jeremy Hooker on 23rd April 2018. The Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town London hosted a packed celebration for us on the day of the launch, with a lot of Prosecco, book-signing and partying, and all three writers reading from their books for a very enthusiastic audience.

[A little background: The Pottery Press is a micro-press set up by Potters’ Yard Arts (artist+writer partnership Liz Mathews and Frances Bingham based in Tufnell Park, North London) to publish limited edition artists’ books and text/image collaborations.  I’m the artist half of The Pottery Press, which we set up in 1999 – last century – with our first publication MOTHERTONGUE in 1999, an artists’ book with a narrative poem by my partner Frances, and images by me. Fifteen years later, the second Pottery Press book was Paper Wings, an edition of my artist’s book with Maureen Duffy, setting to paper her inspiring 55-love-poem cycle Songs for Sappho. Both of these books are in the British Library’s artist’s books collection and the National Poetry Library – and we still have a few copies of each available to buy from The Pottery Press.]

For our first pamphlet, Past Present, we’re very proud that Maureen Duffy again entrusted an extraordinary text to us – in fact two: Piers Plowless and Sir Orfeo. Maureen read first for us in the celebration, followed (hard task) by Frances with The Blue Hour of Natalie Barney – and then we were very happy that Jeremy Hooker allowed us to lure him from his Welsh rock for a rare London appearance, to read from the third pamphlet, Under the Quarry Woods, which we’ve just published. I’ve been lucky to work with the words of all three of our writers – and more inspiring words for a lettering artist to set would be hard to find. These pamphlets continue our tradition of making fusions of word and image – and beautiful books.

So, to begin with Maureen: she hardly needs any introduction from me, having published some 34 works of fiction, at least 9 collections of poetry, non-fiction including acclaimed biographies of Henry Purcell, Aphra Behn and Britain itself, and 16 plays for stage, screen and radio, most recently Hilde & Virginia at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre earlier this year. As though this were not enough, she’s also a tireless activist and pioneering campaigner for writers’ rights, President of Honour of the British Copyright Council and the ALCS, Vice President of the Royal Society of Literature, and what’s more, an inspiring collaborator and encourager of the work of others. She writes across the literary spectrum, and in the words of a recent TLS article:

‘Maureen Duffy has inspired many other writers and proved that the English novel… can be fantastical, experimental and political. Perhaps it is her poetry, though, that most fully captures her range, as she presses on like a medieval troubadour across barriers of genre, gender, space and time.’ (Maggie Gee in the TLS)

Past Present by Maureen Duffy

In Past Present the coupling of two long poems makes a weird and powerful statement about England on the edge; a land with an imagined mythic past, a millennial present and perhaps apocalyptic future. The second poem of the coupling is a catchy, robust new translation of the medieval lay Sir Orfeo, which Maureen performed last summer at Hampstead’s Burgh House, accompanied by Music for Sir Orfeo composed and performed by acclaimed jazz pianist Dorian Ford and award-winning world music singer Vimala Rowe.

For this celebration Maureen read from the poem that opens Past PresentPiers Plowless – which embodies this fantastical/political troubadour strain; it’s her contemporary riff on the medieval poem by William Langland, The Vision of Piers Plowman, a powerful critique of an affluent society that sacrifices its most vulnerable citizens for the financial gain of the few – a dark vision of Austerity Britain never more relevant than right now.

…I see them stream as in Blake’s darkest dream over London Bridge…

Piers Plowless has recently been included in the British Library’s influential online series Discovering Literature, in an article by Lawrence Warner, who describes it as a ‘modern reincarnation’ of Langland’s poem, but ‘not a translation… Even better, it is a poet’s invocation of the poem across time and space’.  We in the audience held on to our hats!

9780993017124.jpgOur second pamphlet is a playtext: The Blue Hour of Natalie Barney by Frances Bingham, script for a new play, produced at Arcola Theatre London in November 2017:

In the blue hour of Paris twilight one trailblazing artist paints a remarkable picture of her life, her liaisons and her passionate self-belief: Natalie Barney.

Frances also writes across the literary spectrum, and has published fiction, poetry, and non-fiction, including her acclaimed critical edition which rediscovers the poetry of Valentine Ackland. She had a daunting task, not only in following Maureen, but also because she was reading to an audience that included Amanda Boxer, the actor who commissioned the play and starred in the world premiere production last November. Amanda inhabited the part completely and unforgettably, as so many of us witnessed, but for our celebration on Shakespeare’s birthday we had to put up with the writer’s reading…

They say it takes two to tango, but in my case it’s sometimes three.  Or more.

Natalie Barney was an unstoppable force in modernism and the early gay rights movement. Her lovers were the most beautiful women of the era; her friends were the most celebrated artists of twentieth century culture. She was condemned by some as a wrecker of lives and fascist sympathiser, celebrated by others as a dynamic patron of the arts and supporter of writers, especially women, in her legendary Parisian salon. The Blue Hour is an impressionistic portrait of this phenomenon and the multiple stories of her life; an imagining of her inner voice.

9780993017131Our third reader was Jeremy Hooker, poet and critic, teacher and broadcaster, whose collection of prose poems Under the Quarry Woods was published on 23rd April, the third in our triptych of pamphlets. This is his 17th collection of poetry, published alongside 18 volumes of prose in the form of journals, essays and influential critical studies of writers from Dorothy Wordsworth to David Jones, as well as editions of writers including Richard Jefferies, Alun Lewis, Edward Thomas, Wilfred Owen and Frances Bellarby. For the last fifty-odd years he’s been writing about poetry, nature and place, and Under the Quarry Woods continues this life’s thought and work. These prose poems are quarried from journals written at his home in South Wales, on the outskirts of Treharris, a former pit village in that once-important mining area:

‘The difference, here, is that my sense of belonging has lifted off, like mist blowing away from the hills.  And what is laid bare is the history, the world-transforming movements that changed the landscape, and the way of life they created in the communities, in neighbourhoods that are now ghosts of themselves, with people that are made to feel useless, people who are lost.’

Alive with observations, impressions, memory and dream, the poems cumulatively form a meditation on a place and its people, revealing an industrially-scarred landscape with a deep history, its harshness illuminated by glimpses of natural beauty and possibilities of regeneration for the land and its fractured communities.

All three of our writers read and performed their work with real engagement, giving an inspiring and moving experience for the audience.  Although very different in style and voice, they share in common qualities of beautiful lyricism and true humanity – and one audience member said to me afterwards that she had been enthralled in turn by each reader – and found the evening inspiring and hope-restoring in these difficult times.

Pottery Press logo

The look and feel of a book is important to us both. Each pamphlet has an individual design, with covers and accompanying images by me. As a lettering artist, I aim for a fitting vessel for the very special words: a design that’s appropriate for each individual text, and instead of illustrations, I include accompanying images where appropriate, giving the words space and a context that allows them to speak for themselves. Sometimes these are settings of the words (as in Under the Quarry Woods), sometimes they’re colour studies that evoke the atmosphere of the text (as in Past Present) or black and white title pages or drawings that visually punctuate the pages. Each book is designed, edited and typeset independently, and printed in a small edition with full ISBN apparatus so that it can be ordered through any bookshop. The books can also be purchased directly from us at Potters’ Yard – contact details here.

Under the Quarry Woods by Jeremy Hooker

ISBN:978-0-9930171-3-1 £5

 

The Blue Hour of Natalie Barney by Frances Bingham

ISBN:978-0-9930171-2-4  £4

 

Past Present: Piers Plowless & Sir Orfeo by Maureen Duffy

ISBN:978-0-9930171-1-7  £5

 

 

 

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)

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