Posts Tagged ‘Summer’

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.

Swallows on the Thames

July 5, 2011

The swallows are here, and though the weather’s uncertain, at least it’s real summer. John Clare’s birthday falls in July, and we like to celebrate with dinner outside, eating from the dinner service with inscriptions from his Shepherds Calendar. The July bowl shows Clare’s characteristic quirky spelling and punctuation, and is decorated with jasmine, honeysuckle, evening primrose and peas, in honour of a fragrant evening in the garden.

Most summer evenings when we sit out, we’re treated to a dazzling display of aeronautics from our local swifts, and one of the great joys of hanging out by the summer river has always been the swallows doing their thing.

Swallows on the Thames is a one-elephant book, made from a single sheet of handmade paper, painted, torn and folded into a sequence of pages. The whole sheet looks like this:

and the beautiful cool summery text by Matthew Arnold winds with the flow of the river:

In my boat I lie,

Moor’d to the cool bank in the summer heats,

‘Mid wide grass meadows which the sunshine fills

Where black-winged swallows haunt the glittering Thames

I’ll be showing this artist’s book in an exhibition this winter in a riverside gallery in London, to remind us of the summer river in those December days. More details of this exhibition next month, when I’ll also be showing some more of my current series of contemporary illuminated manuscripts on the theme of the dance of the seasons and the passing year.

If you’d like more information about any of my work, please leave me a note in the comments box below, or click on contact details for other ways to get in touch.

To the sea

June 1, 2011

With June, true summer begins. John Clare’s lines from A Shepherds Calendar (June poem) capture for me not only the sights and sounds, but the feeling of the month.

We are enjoying being back in the studio after our maytime excursion to the Ice House in Holland Park, where my Watermark exhibition was the first show of the summer season. This month, I’d like to give you a tour of the exhibition, to show how it worked in that beautiful space.

This image of one of my driftwood sculptures was on posters throughout the park, leading to the Ice House.

The entrance to the Ice House.

The exhibition had 60 works in clay, handmade paper and driftwood, in two rooms, a square entrance hall and a round inner room like the inside of a great pot:

All of the work was connected by the theme of water, in the poems, in the materials, in our bodies, and running through our lives, from source to sea.

Source was the first work in the exhibition: made from Thames driftwood, with the lettering of the text carved and incised with the woodgrain:

Implicit in each beginning is its end.

(Kathleen Raine)

A dish made from a slab of clay, with the perhaps unwise inscription:

I am the poem of earth said the voice of the rain

(Walt Whitman)

Living water, a waterfall in clay with a vivid text by Vita Sackville-West flowing down like leaves down a stream.

Into the inner room, and in the middle, a Persian garden with goldfish and a large pool bowl, The voice of the river, with a beautiful text by Frances Bingham:

I am the voice of the river singing in your dreams

A lullaby of waters, a litany of streams

The first group of works around the circular space had several artist’s books made from a single sheet of handmade paper torn and folded into a continuous sequence of pages. The idea is that the image works both as a whole, and page by page in the book:

This form of book, where the text moves round in a continuous circling flow, and the paper, though shaped by hand, retains its wholeness, has for me some structural relation to the pots thrown on the wheel, and the spiralling setting of their text. I enjoyed showing visitors the way that the book opens page by page, and then reforms into a whole image.

The next group of works included some more of these artist’s books, including one called Inland, with a beautiful text by Wordsworth:

and a tall jar and paperwork, with texts by TS Eliot and Virginia Woolf:

On to the middle group:

where the central work is Tree-river-river-tree:

Here the image in four parts develops with the text, in a four-way reflection.

My own image reflected in the glass of the frame, as I photograph a paperwork with one of my favourite texts:

I am the daughter of earth and water


The next group in the inner room centres on another artist’s book and a group of Water vessels:

Because I love, there is a river flowing all night long

(Kathleen Raine)

And the last group round the circle included two driftwood sculptures:

All things, with a text by Vita Sackville-West:

and Stream wash away, with a text by Kathleen Raine:

and Love flows, a tall bowl with a beautiful text by Frances Bingham:

In the middle of this circular inner room was a long cabinet containing concertina artist’s books, opened out to their full extent:

with Kingfisher, a brilliant text by Richard Price, in the end frame.

We return to the outer room for the last groups in the exhibition:

These pots and paperworks were shown on the brick chimney-piece of the Ice House, and included a group of Three phosphorescence pots with white-gold lustre:

three bowls with Valentine Ackland’s poem Idyll, written in Spain during the Civil War:

and six spheres with 9ct gold lustre:

And then the final group of works, or coda:

An artist’s book Coda, with text by Matthew Arnold

Another waterfall in clay, with text this time by Valentine Ackland

A pair of artist’s books, with beautiful texts by Frances Bingham:

And, finally, on the open door, the last work in the exhibition:

A little further

we will see the sea

breaking into waves

(George Seferis, translated by Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard)

Store of happiness

August 19, 2010

This week, instead of the proposed risky attempt to call back the heatwave – after all, we don’t want a hosepipe ban – I’ve decided to focus on a very desirable seasonal effect, in the hope that the weather will take a gentle hint, and do a bit more of what we like to see in August. Store of happiness is a one-elephant artist’s book made from a sheet of handmade paper, torn and folded into a book form, which you read by opening and turning the pages, following the spiral form of the book.

The text is by from La Possession du Monde by Duhamel, quoted in one of my favourite books, M. Minnaert’s Light and Colour in the Open Air, and like the text in The lovely blue, it’s characteristically brimming with an infectious enthusiasm for the delights of nature, while being rather formally expressed; the lettering reflects this combination of firmness and pleasure. I’ll show it to you page by page.

This way of looking at nature – Do not depart before you have understood – reminds me of Margaret Tait’s penetrative investigating gaze, as described in her text ‘On seeing’ in Subjects and Sequences: A Margaret Tait Reader. She calls it ‘peering’ through the camera lens, a combination of studying and contemplating that allows her to see the thing more deeply, to ‘follow’ it. This in turn reminds me of Van Gogh’s opinion (in an 1888 letter to Theo) that ‘It’s not enough to have a certain dexterity. It is looking at things for a long time that ripens you and gives you a deeper understanding.’

Margaret Tait suggests further that ‘treating everything equally’ is also important – that ‘the woman standing here, and the leaf on the wall, it’s all got equal significance.’ This is another echo of Minnaert’s inspiring philosophy. Some obedient close observation of birch trees against the February sky this year proved that it’s absolutely true about the ‘delicate glow’ – a pleasure to look forward too, but not just yet.

The Summer hath her joyes,

And Winter her delights.

(Thomas Campian)

Perhaps I should repeat the first line of that couplet.

The lovely blue

June 25, 2010

Considering what a drastic effect my One Elephant book Shelley’s Cloud had on the weather the weekend I made it in March, and the equally inevitable result of the reckless Bank Holiday Clouds, I felt it my duty as a good citizen to make The Lovely Blue – hence this unprecedented sunshine for Glastonbury. If you’re going to make a spell for a heatwave, you might as well make it a good long one, so it’s double-sided, and 12 pages instead of the usual 6; I’ll show it page by page as usual.

In unending beauty the blue sky spans the earth.

It is as if this blue were fathomless,

as if its very depth were palpable.

The variety of its tints is infinite;

it changes from day to day, from one part of the sky to another.

What can be the cause of this wonderful blue?

What are these particles of matter that scatter light in the atmosphere?

In the summer after long drought the air is filled with dust and the sky seems less blue and more whitish.

But after a few heavy showers, the air becomes clear and transparent, the sky a deep and saturated blue.

Whenever high cirrus clouds appear filling the air with ice crystals the lovely blue disappears and changes into a much whiter colour.

Therefore it can be neither the dust not the particles of water and ice that cause the scattering that colours the heavenly vault.

The only possibility is that the molecules of air themselves scatter the light, causing a brightness many miles deep with a decided preference for the violet and blue rays.

Text by M. Minnaert, from Light and Colour in the Open Air

The sheet of paper before tearing and folding looked like this:

And like this when folded:

Let’s hope it lasts; the only bit that worries me is page 9.

Now summer is in flower

June 17, 2010

Now summer is in flower and nature’s hum

Is never silent round her sultry bloom.

(John Clare)

Seasonal pots have always been a pleasure to make. I like to paint what’s in the garden (or in our case on the roof) – so sometimes that’s daffodils or bluebells, sometimes courgettes. Now the rosemary flowers have just faded, but the strawberries are here, the sage is in full bloom, and the lavender hedge is just about to begin – we only have to wait just a little longer for that heady delight. This June plate was a birthday commission; I often use lines from John Clare’s Shepherds Calendar or his Midsummer Cushion for seasonal commissions – his ‘wildfield catalogue of flowers’ never fails to inspire.

Also of the moment are strawberry bowls, cherry bowls and flower jars and jugs – just right for keeping the drinks cool in the garden (or on the roof). With an English summer you have to make the most of every sunny afternoon.

And with a profusion of flowers everywhere (thanks to all that rain), the pots tend to get covered too (and the car).

Summer pots for sale from the studio (each a signed one-off): strawberry bowl size from £60; little lavender bowl size £30; Joy and treasure plate (text by Burns) £120; flower jars from £80.

To enquire about or buy any of these pots, please leave me a note in the comments box below or click here for contact details.

All photos copyright Liz Mathews