Sunday, 24 April 2016

and here a pause...

With a house move just completed and a new website needed (I no longer live in Colva and now do more than make artist's books) there will be a bit of a pause in content updates. Nothing imminent; best just to have a cup of tea for now. So for now, here's a photograph I took of balloons over Bagan in Myanmar in December 2015.

Monday, 21 September 2015


I have long wanted to do something with the dried seed heads of the Welsh poppy (Meconopsis cambrica), which has proliferated in our garden walls and paving. Sometimes they weather to look like tiny wizened hands, but here I have utilised their resemblance to the hulls of boats, or dugouts. The backing, from which they set out on their journey, is a section of an old wooden measuring rule. The work is, of course, extremely fragile, as strong only as the dried stalks, the symbolism apt for the current (and horribly recurrent) news which inspired it, of desperate people setting to sea. The words on the top of the piece (Forþon me hatran sind / Dryhtnes dreamas / þonne þis deade lif / læne on londe) are taken from the Anglo-Saxon poem, The Seafarer, and though written in an entirely different context, they are fitting. There are many translations of the words; my own version is: 'Dearer to me my Maker's blessings than this fleeting mortal life'.


Recently I was looking for old books with a quantity of blank, or nearly blank, pages to print over. To this end I bought, in the Honesty Bookshop in Hay, a copy of 'Celebrated and Historical Speeches', printed in London in 1933. An unexpected bonus came on the front flyleaf, with an anonymous inscription from (presumably) the book's sometime owner. It read: 'The war settled nothing, achieved nothing. & all but wrecked civilisation. Never should we again allow the stupidity of Emperors, & rulers, or the futility of politicians rush us (sic) into the madness of another such conflict.' Wise words, made all the more poignant by the fact that they had bled through and made a negative impression, a sort of radioactive afterimage, in white on the following blank page. I sourced another copy of the book and made a triptych from three of its boards, with the emendation and its afterimage making up the side panels and the book's half-title the centre. The remainder of the book, with its thousands upon thousands of words, from rulers, monarchs, statesmen and politicians, was removed.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Moulding Plane: The Plough

A second moulding plane marked with a changing pattern of stars, this time those comprising the asterism of The Plough (aka The Great Wain or Wagon, Charles's Wain, or The Big Dipper) - Dubhe, Merak, Phecda, Megrez, Alioth, Mizar (a double star with Alcor) and Alkaid. Again, the blue stars show how it looked to humans 50 millennia ago, the white stars how it looks now, and the red stars how it will look in 100 millennia.

Moulding Plane: Cassiopeia

A moulding plane marked with the changing pattern of the stars (as seen from Earth) that comprise the constellation of Cassiopeia. The blue stars show it looked from our perspective 50 millennia ago, the white stars how it looks now, and the red stars how it will look in 100 millennia, with list of the star's traditional names - Shedir, Caph, Tsih , Ruchbah and Segin - on the rear.

Monday, 14 September 2015

43 Simenon (si ou non)

August 2015
double-sewn booklet
16 pages
180mm x 214mm

The content of Simenon (Simenon si ou non) comprises the openings or endings of six novels – two Maigrets and four romans durs – by Georges Simenon. The openings have been rewritten into endings, and the endings have likewise been turned into openings. Barring a few minor changes necessitated by grammatical sense the words are identical, just re-ordered; they are paired by number throughout, raising the puzzle of which is which, with the identities of both originals and imposters revealed at the end. The booklet is sewn at both sides (this was the origin for the booklet in fact as I was looking for a subject suitable for such a treatment) with the pages interleaved. I know the French title is gramatically shaky (‘You’re not going to call it that, are you? Si!’) but that’s what it has been since the booklet’s inception; the name was too good not to make use of in such a way.

writers on phonograph cylinders cabinet


August 2015

What was once a spice cabinet is now the housing for all six of the cylinders in the 'writers on phonograph cylinders' series - Algernon Blackwood, Hans Henny Jahnn, Robert Walser, Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse and Arthur Machen, details of which can be found throughout the blog. The bottom drawers of the cabinet are filled with fireweed silks and dried marigolds respectively, their contents the same as those found in the cylinders for Robert Walser and Hermann Hesse. There is also another cabinet I have made to house all six cylinders, reconstituted from an old oak writing slope, now repaired, shelved and felt-lined.

writers on phonograph cylinders: Arthur Machen

July 2015

This sixth and last cylinder pays homage to the Welsh writer Arthur Machen (1863-1947), author of, among others, The Inmost Light (1894), The Three Imposters (1895), Ornaments in Jade (1895), The White People (1899), The Bowmen (1914), The Great Return (1915) and The Terror (1917).

Born in Caerleon in Gwent, but living and working for the bulk of his creative life in London, Machen was a writer of the borderlands, the literal ones of the Welsh Marches to which he returned time and again in his fiction but also the liminal worlds of the uncanny as they manifest in the everyday. His was an ability, as Iain Sinclair puts it in his 2103 essay, Our Unknown Everywhere, 'to recognise holy hills behind a sprawl of suburbs'. Holy hills and shadowy strangeness; his half-hidden worlds of pungent darkness that he conjured in his works required a similar treatment, hence the cylinder is lined with an old dark pelt of uncertain provenance. Works referenced on the cylnder include The Great God Pan (1894), A Fragment of Life (1906) and The London Adventure (1924).

writers on phonograph cylinders: Hermann Hesse

May 2015

This fifth entry in the phonograph series pays homage to the German-speaking Swiss poet, novelist, and painter, Hermann Hesse (1877-1962), the author of, amongst others, Knulp (1915), Strange News from Another Star (1919), Narziss and Goldmund (1930) and The Glass Bead Game (1943). The main lettering on the cylinder has been transformed from 'Edison Blue Amberol Record' to 'Amberol Pure-Tone Record', a nod towards Hesse's key essay written in 1914, after the outbreak of the First World War, O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!, in which he decried the unthinking lurch to nationalism and called for people to remember their common European heritage. Other works referenced on the cylinder include Siddhartha (1922), Steppenwolf (1927) and Wandering (1920), with a passage from that beautiful collection's Mountain Pass ('But I smile, and not only with my mouth. I smile with my soul, with my eyes, with my whole skin, and I offer these countrysides, whose fragrances drift up to me, different senses than those I had before, more delicate, more silent, more finely honed, better practised, and more grateful…') printed on the side. As with all of the cylinders, this one contains something appropriate to the writer inside, in this case dried marigolds. As an important plant of offering, festivities and worship in both western and eastern religions, they seemed the perfect plant to pay homage to a writer who sought and promoted spiritual truth and understanding through his words.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

six translations of The Top by Kafka: 2015 edition

June 2015
sewn booklet
20 pages
128mm x 164mm

A re-set edition of a booklet that I originally wrote in 2002 - Six Translations of The Top by Kafka. The content of the booklet comprises six transliterations, in English, of an English translation of Kafka's short story, The Top (c. 1917-23). After the original story, the transliterations take, respectively, the following forms: same syllable count; a retelling through dictionary definitions; a retelling using the Oulipian standby of n+7 (replacing the story's nouns with the noun 7 words after it in a chosen dictionary); an anagram of the original; a version using the same syntax and punctuation, and lastly a version using the same syntax. The covers use the pages from some wonderful 1880s legal blue paper I found, whose lines of convoluted legalese seem just right for the content.

66 gates

March 2015
Card with CD
148mm x 148mm

I knew there were a lot of gates on the Offa's Dyke path between Kington and Knighton, my main memory of a September walk - along with finding a decent haul of both Beefsteak Fungus and Hen of the Woods, both cooked up and enjoyed in the following days - being the clanging of gates; what I didn't realise was that are 66 of them (probably more now) in the 12 1/2 miles. I walked the route again (Knighton to Kington) on 18th March this year (2015) and took my recorder with me, capturing both the opening of the gate, the pause and the subsequent clang, letting the reverberations die down until background noise took over. Listening afterwards it's interesting how the background traffic noise near Knighton gives way to skylarks in the hills above and then sounds of lambing as Kington nears. I hadn't realised either that the sound of gates - all so individual - could be quite so funny.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

exhibition in Freshford

My cylinders and a number of bookworks appropriate to the theme of the exhibition - 'Artists who use Found Objects' - are going to be on display in Freshford, near Bath, from June 6th-June 14th (I think I come under 'Curiosities'.) Open 11-6 daily - come along if you are nearby!