Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

The Blue Hour of Natalie Barney

November 3, 2017

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

Here at The Pottery Press we’re proud to announce the publication of our latest book: The Blue Hour of Natalie Barney, Frances Bingham’s revealing new play which opens at the Arcola Theatre in London on 7th November.  Amanda Boxer (Mosquitoes, National Theatre; Medea, Almeida Theatre) plays Natalie Barney in this world premiere, directed by Kenneth Hoyt.

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

My cover painting for the book is a watercolour called Twilight in the Rue Jacob and was inspired by a still from Tristram Powell’s 1962 film Natalie Barney, showing Natalie opening the doors of her book-filled room to the leafy shadows of her twilit garden, an image that seemed to me central to the story.  

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.

The play welcomes us in to share a private hour with Natalie and to witness her wild and visionary creed up close; the book allows us to savour again this intimate exchange.  There’s an interview with the actor Amanda Boxer, director Kenneth Hoyt and writer Frances Bingham on Youtube and Facebook, as well as a Facebook event, and Frances has contributed a guest blog post to the Arcola Theatre’s blog, which you can read here.

The Blue Hour of Natalie Barney is Pottery Press Pamphlet number 2, and is available to buy by post from The Pottery Press, or in person from the Arcola Box Office or the Owl Bookshop, Kentish Town, for £4. Or you can order it from any good bookshop with ISBN 978-0-9930171-2-4

 

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:

Twentysecond Song

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:

Song 24

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:

Song 53

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:

Sixteenth Song

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:

Song 33

– 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.

 

 

 

Past Present at The Pottery Press

September 19, 2017

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The Pottery Press is proud to announce the publication of a new title, the first in a new series of Pottery Press Pamphlets.

Past Present: Piers Plowless and Sir Orfeo

by Maureen Duffy

(From the Forward by Frances Bingham)

In Past Present the coupling of two long poems by Maureen Duffy 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. For the past: her catchy, robust translation of Sir Orfeo, a medieval narrative lay which migrates the Orpheus myth to the England of a folk tale and gives it a happy ending; the classical Underworld becomes Elfland under a green hill, the Arcadian landscape an English orchard.

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Duffy’s skilful translation catches the energy and rhythm of the original, its narrative immediacy and sturdy language, so that the reader experiences it as a bardic re-telling in that truly folk idiom.

And as for the present:

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The New Vision of Piers Plowless is Duffy’s contemporary riff on the visionary medieval poem Piers Plowman – an inspired evocation of everyman Piers and his creator Will Langland with Blake and the protesting Muses in a dark satirical vision of 21st Century austerity Britain.

And where is our Piers who can set all to rights?

Where should we search for him?

Who’ll build us Jerusalem?

Blake’s vision of London as the new Jerusalem, a place of visions and nightmares, is ever-present in Duffy’s London trilogy of novels and her poetry, and in this long poem it inspires her to a magnificent rant, addressed to fellow-author Will Langland who wrote his protest song for everyman Piers and the ‘fair field of folk’ so many centuries ago.

Her protest against a so-called austerity which causes suffering to the poorest in society while sparing the richest, and tries to silence the arts and deplete learning and libraries, has never been more relevant.  But crucially, like her medieval model, there’s robust humour here too – and a breath of hope, a call to arms.

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                                         … I see them stream

as in Blake’s darkest dream over London Bridge…

‘Blake’s darkest dream’, the cover image, is by lettering artist Liz Mathews who has worked with Maureen Duffy’s poetry before, notably in Paper Wings (also published by The Pottery Press).  Liz has also lettered titled pages and painted 9 full-page colour images for Sir Orfeo; atmospheric colour studies rather than illustrations, they accompany the text, dreamlike and evocative.

Frances Bingham, London 2017 (from her Forward)

Past Present: Sir Orfeo & Piers Plowless  (The Pottery Press 2017) £5

contact thepotterypress(at)pottersyard.co.uk

Past Present and Sir Orfeo

Sir Orfeo, an artist’s book

I’ve also made an artist’s book inspired by Sir Orfeo, setting lines from Maureen Duffy’s translation into a work made from a huge single sheet of handmade paper – 2 metres long by 70cm high – torn and folded into a sequence of pages, but readily restored to the unifying whole image, the hero’s name writ large across the sheet like a medieval banner for Suleiman the Magnificent.

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In July the banner was hung as a stage backdrop at the launch event for Past Present at Burgh House in Hampstead, where a capacity crowd heard a spirited reading of Piers Plowless from Maureen Duffy, followed by the premiere performance of Songs for Sir Orfeo, a work in progress: celebrated jazz pianist Dorian Ford is composing a jazz opera setting Maureen Duffy’s translation, and some of the first songs were performed by award-winning world music singer Vimala Rowe. (This exciting event was filmed and will shortly be available on dvd.)

Here is my artist’s book, page-by-page. Each double-page spread is followed by close-up details so that you can read the poem:

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Sir Orfeo is a one-off signed original on handmade paper 2m x 70cm, in a slipcase. £700

 

 

The moment that holds you

January 11, 2017

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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).

Entrances – Dylan Thomas’ 100th anniversary

May 2, 2014

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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’:

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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.

Hope of Poetry

March 8, 2010

A space made with words

The lettering on this tall bowl is set so that it maps the physical contours of the bowl for the eye to understand, with colours that reflect what’s happening in the text, and with the lettering responding to the curve of the vessel and the physical implications of the text.  The lettering is applied with a brush, and then fired into the body of the clay, in this case without a covering clear glaze, to allow the earthy texture of the unglazed clay to surface.

This articulation of form allows a tactile apprehension of the pot’s dimensions, its enclosing of space, expressing the individuality of each vessel I throw on the wheel. The sense of a space made with words is then extended by the setting of the words to reveal their meaning.

Here the text is from a poem by Valentine Ackland called Hope of Poetry, where she presents her belief in the future and her faith in poetry as a physical thing, vulnerable like a tender little green plant, but strong and unquenchable like a flame. I’ve set the text around the earthspace of the clay vessel, mapping the contour with concentric rings of colour that reflect the text, and using these bands of coloured text to make the bowl appear almost see-through, to draw the eye inward.  And I’ve used the parallels and tensions in the text to mirror the outer and inner surfaces of the vessel, to allow the viewer to apprehend the relationship between without and within, and between text and form, and to see through to the core of bright fire at the heart of both.

(This text is taken from a gallery talk given on 19th May 2008 at the Southbank Centre.)

Signed one-off. 19cm high x 19cm at rim.

To buy or enquire about any work, please leave me a note in the comments box below or click on contact details.

All photos copyright Liz Mathews.

Permission is needed for any use of these images.