Putting together my exhibition, one of the serendipitous things that helped it was that the exhibitor before me, Nick Stranks, had built a long mantlepiece-type bookshelf right around three of the gallery walls. I checked with him that the shelving was a prop, not an integral part of his concept, and then asked him if I could use it as well. He had no problem with this, since it deferred the taking-down of the shelf, and he'd also get someone to help him do it. Win win, as they say.
I went back to my studio, all excited, and fretted over what to do with the shelf, which turned out to be very long indeed.
I ended up using one side to hold my collection of flotsam and jetsam (vintage books made into blank books and boxes), and the other side to hold a number of my 'souvenir' working books (I dubbed them Re-collections), and then for the central sweep of shelf I created a small series called 'Night Ladders' that depended upon the shelves for their display.
This one you've already seen, it's called Night Ladders: After. It is a concertina papercut that can fold back into the vintage book cover. The book is called 'After Suicide'. I've been carting the book around for ages now, but the inside was quite dry and boring, so I gutted the cover a few years ago and had been toying with the idea of just using the cover as an altered book in itself, showing how gutted and empty the aftermath of suicide can be for the survivors. But I like this better. There's darkness, growth and change in it. Works for me.
Next along the shelf is Night Ladders: Escape. It hovers on the wall above the shelf, and the ladder goes completely down to the end of the shelf, sitting just shy of the floor. This is the only one of the four that doesn't fold up into itself. Instead, once the book comes off the wall, it can close up, and the ladder wraps around it, so it's still a book object, but a bit more sculptural. Everyone loves the ladder, and I'm glad, because it took a long time to make! I love it too.
I still can't work out which way the escape goes, into or out of the book. I guess that's why I like it so much. The title on the book cover is Escapes and Adventures. I like to make the cover titles a part of the work, because that's what catapults me into the work in the first place.
Next one along the shelf is Night Ladders: Grim. All the printed papers used in these books come from a huge project I helped with earlier in the year, producing a couple of editions of artists' books for light-trap Press. One book was called Twelve Labours (about Herakles), and the backing sheets for that were used in After and Escape. The other book was called The Night Ladder, and this one is what the title of my series comes from. Both books used poems by Angela Gardner, and TNL was mostly reinterpretations of fairytales, plus a new poem from which the title was derived.
Grim has used the backing sheets from TNL, and especially a poem from it called 'Bluebeard'. It's another concertina book, this time using a vintage copy of Grimm's fairy tales. Yes, I know Bluebeard isn't by Grimm, it's by Perrault, but I had Grimm on hand, and once you lose an em, it all works beautifully. It's my hand, my wedding ring. And it looks very creepy when you stand in front of it, so droopy and extended. The book cover is the same blood-red as the hand.
The last one starts on the shelf and then extends diagonally upwards to the top of the wall (Megalo has short internal gallery walls, because it's a constructed space inside a large atrium). As you can see, I wanted the four pieces to really USE the space of the shelving. One thing I like about them as a group is that they'd be very hard to show in a normal glassed plinth or even cabinet. Anyhoo, this is Night Ladders: Vision, with the text of the poem 'The Night Ladder' visible at the start and end of the upward climb. This was Angela's love poem to her partner; this series is my 'like' poem to Angela. I do like her work, a lot. The book cover is 'Night Vision' by Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer. I like to think he'd have liked this book too.
When I say 'printed papers', I mean that when you print pages using letterpress and a cylinder proofing press, you use other pieces of paper to 'pack' the cylinder. Some of them are wrapped around the cylinder with a lightly oiled paper on top, and this is the tympan packing. Other pieces sit under the main piece of paper, to provide more pressure as you work with the type or plate. When you've finished, there is usually a quantity of paper that bears the embossed impression of the text/image you've been printing. Sometimes the embossing is so lovely, I keep the paper as-is. Most times, though, when I've finished printing, I'll run the packing through my rollers to remove most of the ink before rolling up my sleeves to clean the press. These over-printed packing sheets are what has been used in this series and many other of my pieces. I love the random marks, the variations in tone, and the echoed text that re-invigorates all the enthusiasm I had at the start of a long project that I'd lost through endless hours of press-setting and paper-shifting.
Anyway, what started me writing this post was a link sent to me on one of my various list-servers. It's a fabulous collection of imaginative bookshelves. I know you all love books, otherwise you wouldn't be reading me, so I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
I had the chance today to meet up with Betty today to have a look at the show and my studio and have coffee and talk about places and movies and children etc. It was delightful, and I'm starting to get used to having time to do such things again. O joy, Spring is springing, and there's time. Except I'm meant to be at a meeting in 15 minutes, and I'm late. Poo.