Posts Tagged ‘Singing the Year’

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.

In the shade of the plane trees

July 25, 2013

Handel's trees (artist's book by Liz Mathews, text by Frances Bingham)

The most recent work in my Singing the Year collection of Books of Hours and contemporary illuminated manuscripts is a celebration of summer. Handel’s trees is an artist’s book made from a single sheet of handmade paper (70cm x 50cm approx), torn and folded into a sequence of pages.

Handel's trees (detail), artist's book by Liz Mathews, text by Frances Bingham

The text is from London Panopticon, Frances Bingham’s docu-fantasia travelogue where the writer explores in a leap of historical imagination the idea that Handel’s aria Ombra mai fu was inspired by the young plane trees being planted in London squares at that time, now grown into such ancient and venerable trees as those in Brunswick Square, beside the Foundling Hospital, Handel’s favourite charity. The text is lettered with sticks from these trees:

Liz Mathews lettering Handel's trees with plane tree sticks

The story is told in a dream recounted by Wose – ‘an outdoor-dweller, tree obsessed, with an old wild mad wind-filled voice’:

‘I lie down, yes, under the plane trees’ huge green umbrella, like an Emperor in a green pavilion.  The branch-limbs of these giants are long as a great tree themselves, arms outreached across the whole garden, vast gentle mammoth leviathan creatures.

‘I dreamed there with my head on the roots, tree-memory rising up like sap, recall in the grain of the wood-rings.  The planes were saplings, small as an ordinary apple, like the ones on the pavements planted after, later.  They were set out as they are now, in the square garden, but with everything younger, just newly growing.  A stout man was walking around on the grass beneath the trees, humming, in his blue coat like a frock. He lay down under one of them, in the shade, and took off his long white curling hair suddenly.  He was happy, thinking of those other plane trees before, the foreign ones whose transplanted seeds sprouted here so well.

‘Then in my dream there was music; another man came strolling along, whistling as though to himself, but it was greeting.  He was tall, all in red velvet, very dark, like a holly-plant himself, and when he sang his voice was very high, high as a boy’s but full, purely sweet.  His song was foreign too, but I understood it as the trees understand, by the sound.

My beloved plane tree, with your beautiful soft leaves, may your fortune be bright!  Let no thunder or lightning or ravaging storms disturb your sweet peace, nor the boisterous south wind profane it.

‘He touched the tree trunks as he sang to them, circled them slowly, knelt down at the foot of the one by his friend, who conducted a little, then applauded him.  In my dream the trees shivered with pleasure as they listened, understood the compliment.  In my dream, the charm protected them, sung into the heartwood, even when two were blown apart by the sky-smelt, so the charred huge stumps grew greenly again.

Never was tree-shade so dear, so friendly and sweet…

‘Presently he stopped singing, and began to read instead, leaning back against the pillar of trunk with his legs stretched out.  The other one fell asleep, but the trees remained.

In the shade of the plane trees let the foundlings sing!’

Handel's trees (front cover and slipcase)

Handel's trees (page 1)

Handel's trees (page 2)

Handel's trees (page 3)

Handel's trees (page 4)

Handel's trees (page 5)

Handel's trees (page 6)

Handel's trees (back cover and slipcase) text by Frances Bingham

For more on my artist’s books and my new Singing the Year collection, please see Artist’s books & bookworks.