Saturday, 4 April 2020

Isolation and melancholia....


As a continuation of presenting some older books I thought I must choose Mharbna, which I showed several years ago at Oxford Fine Press Fair in 2013; I made 7 I think and I thought I had sold them all there, but I found one recently that I hadn't finished binding - I think I ran out of the exact leather I wanted for the spine ( but have since found something similar), and also because it was in my mind to try and sell one to an Irish institution but then I forgot all about it... so I still have one to sell.

Mharbna means elegy and I made it after a dear friend died aged 96; she was my neighbour and confidante and we had long conspired to keep her in her in her own home, as she so much wanted, despite her increasing blindness and frailness - she promised me she would always go up and down (4 flights of) stairs on her bottom, and we had long near daily sessions discussing art and poetry, including Seamus Heaney,
and after her death I found some lovely old Irish maps , including of Donegal...

In spite of the inevitability of her death I was completely devastated; and so when I was told of a call for an artist in residence to work and do a bit of teaching in the furthest NW corner of Donegal, I applied and was accepted and set off with a car full of drawing and printmaking equipment to the remote house up a mountain they gave me in the foothills of Eiragal, the crystal mountain.
I needed to cure deep grief and loneliness with isolation .










This was the view from the front door.




I gave myself a quest to provide structure, to search for the place where a bog body, a medieval woman as it happened, was dug out of the peat; I called in at the National Museum in Dublin on the way to see her and her shawl, perfectly preserved.....
In a strange state of mind I wrote a daily journal almost in a trance - and used it for my text in the book, handwritten in each of the 7 books, which I had never attempted before...
it all too quite a long time to complete when I got back after quite a few weeks away, I needed a lot of time to process the experience and be able to deal with it; and my narrative was mixed up with the natural melancholia of the area, raw-ly beautiful and full of wildlife - otters in the stream, hares, birds, pools of frog spawn; ever present shaking and wobbling bog which sucked you down if you stood still too long; an old abandoned railway line stretching across an empty landscape, the porridge road, and near the house what was once the highest railway station in the British Isles, Caisal na cGorr....see images below


the old station.....and below the stream by the old line where we saw otters playing



here are some more images:


a letter to my friend begins the book...


I  found old railway sleepers which became my wolves:
below left are the stones where St Columkille once lay and were suppose to cure homesickness...tho I wasn't homesick at all, (altho I think P, who came with me for moral support, was ready to come home by the end)


exposed fossilised tree roots from ages back exposed in newly cut peat
and below old buildings at the end of the line at the coast where ships sailed for the USA...
and below that a ritual tree with suspended offerings - bottles of holy water, plaster Mary's,
a baby's dummy.......





I did find the remains of a trench where the bog body had been found at the end of the residency, almost by chance, although nothing seemed by chance in that landscape. I made several more images but haven't them to hand...it was a long book....
I liked the way that, like with all woodcuts, the impression on the back of the paper gave a white reversed landscape of emptiness....

Anyway - I felt it was a suitable time for an airing; my covid reading list has recently included Olivia Laing's Lonely City, I have finished  Death Desire and Loss in Western Cultures now - a fascinating wander through centuries of philosophies, poetry and literature, written in 1998 after the AIDS crisis, and also a suitable re-read now; and I am also re-reading a nice little book I bought from one of my favourite bookshops - at the Arnofini in Bristol, when I was taking part in a BABE Book fair - A Field Guide to Melancholy by Jacky Bowring, including some of my favourite figures, Thomas Browne and Sebald....I bought it for the endpapers and format, such a nice book in the hand...


just love those owls.....

More jollier books tomorrow; and viv a vis the large The Untenanted Room - see back - one copy might still be available if I finish doing some printing in my enforced confinement, I never did my own or the poet's copy, or one for another customer , and I think there is still one number left after that....
currently I am doing binding so nothing very interesting to show for a couple of days .....but I am working hard.....

Friday, 3 April 2020

A Welcome to Fine Press Association members.....

if you are just joining this - I am posting up today about The Ship of Fools that I was supposed to be bringing to the fair, as well as other things....


such as In The Night Garden , which continues the ecological theme discussed in the post below...and was part of an exhibition at Pollocks Toy Museum in Scala Street just before Christmas ( seems a long time ago now) - there was more information and pictures around December posts last year...



I finished gluing up the Ship of Fools today - I don't know about therapeutic,( see yesterday) it seemed to take an awful long time; 12 copies for sale and one for myself, trimming, folding and pasting together as a concertina book - a seemingly easy structure  but actually one the most tricky to get right.
The paper is Somerset Satin etching paper 250gsm and always seems to arrive with parallelogram sheets, they are never square at the corners to start with so it is doom to a concertina book at the best of times, and the wretched things always creep how ever careful you are ....but for all these reasons my books are never designed to be part of a perfectionist aesthetic and as I hand-paint the pages before I print the woodcuts, (previous painter that I am) , and vary the colour on the woodcuts quite freely too using several rollers on one block, each book is going to be slightly different anyway......







The day started late as the computer fan was making a racket last night and I got panicky and phoned technical support ( my daughter) who recommended buying some compressed air from Amazon ( it sounds as if it might be pretty essential), and then my bone-folder was lost under all the piles of cardboard etc, but I found I had an M&S little wooden disposable spoon for takeaways which worked brilliantly, and then all of a sudden it was inescapably lunchtime ( now I am holed up with my Beloved ) ...and there had to be a pause for food...



My studio doubles as the kitchen ( less so when I am on my own) so everything had to be moved down the table - you can see piles of cardboard for cartonera covers piled up on the presses and everywhere else in the distance.....
anyway - I didn't get out to the graveyard until about 6.30pm - nice and quiet then, though tho getting a bit chilly....but it was good to have the job finished so I can start afresh tomorrow....

I will try and post up a new book from the past year or so for a bit from now on , as though the visitors are scanning my stand, and say what is still available for sale;
meanwhile if you are interested in what I am doing currently , try starting at the post for 23rd March, Covid Art Diary starts here...
until you get back here again.....

The Night Garden theatre is still for sale, and the Ship of Fools books soon will be, once I have made the covers - I fancy making some quite elaborate and 3 dimensional ones as well as some cheaper simpler versions...and should have more time now! except that organising food deliveries takes so long..... The Rhyme of the Reddleman's Daughter is now out of print I fear except for the peepshow version - I must finish making the rest of those, and they will now come with a digital facsimile of the original book....
more tomorrow.....

Thursday, 2 April 2020

The Untenanted Room /Perceval and Holy Fools continued

To continue from yesterday - all these books , plus the Rhyme of the Reddleman's Daughter, (see image a couple of posts back), were about ecology and the planet really, with words by James Simpson - we are working on perhaps finding a way of including readings from them on our sites...- which have been occupying our thoughts for twenty years or so.....we will post links if we succeed...
and these ideas became much more explicit in my cartoneras and in The Ship of Fools particularly - looking at fires and flooding , now swiftly overtaken by pestilence!, hence Fool is Sick  now in the making...

You will notice that when the books are big I can cut the texts that James writes in wood too... always very therapeutic, a sort of slow book making and statement that these words, like all poetry, are worth taking time over.....



I am using the small playing cards to sort out ideas on a small scale while I begin to plan the practicalities of scale and size and format for a larger book - always extremely important for mood and atmosphere, and needing planning for which way the grain will go on the wood, what size is both economical for wood and paper and also for how it is read, how closely it is held in the hand or whether more distanced and didactic....
I used to work on 8x4 foot sheets of plywood which left everything wide open, I could put the paper on top  in any position and by hand burnishing not have to worry about the measurements until the last minute, but after becoming allergic to the glue (and formaldehyde) in packaging plywood I have to use Asian plywood explicitly designed for cutting - and it does come in rather boring (and small) A sizes....
I think the next book will probably mirror Ship of Fools and be a companion volume maybe...
I really must finish binding these tomorrow to clear the decks, and because at the weekend this blog will be advertised to Fine Press Book Association members on the virtual exhibition replacing the book fair we were supposed to be having last weekend....
this will also clear the press so I can print the small cuts I have done so far and see what I have - and alter accordingly....
Here are the cuts I finished over the last two days - the splinter is out so to speak....



The Magician has turned, after much internal debate, into a tree with hands which mimic the traditional gestures of a magician, now you see it now you don't, and there is rabbit but no hat; (I trust I have befuddled Google's algorithms again by asking for photos of dead rabbits hanging from trees to work from - I love keeping it on its toes, it can't quite get my number - tho it has started recommending me the book I wrote myself so it is not as clever as it thinks....)( you'd think it would notice my name?)
The Hermit - the seeker after truth maybe - and The Falconer ( Mercurial) have joined the tree people - for the time being anyway - and the Fool is tumbling out of The Tower and the tree.
I may cut some of these again and reverse the images, I have done a lot of excessive soul searching as to which way they should be facing, and in fact whether or not 'facing' is left to right or right to left and not straight ahead....and what if I am Chinese.... in which case time for the graveyard walk again....
and some therapeutic bookbinding tomorrow maybe....

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

April FOOLS day

I thought I should post earlier today and put up some images of my previous Holy Fools to mark the day - took me some time to find them as they began so long ago - when technology was cruder...
here is one of the original woodcut images of Perceval when I was first thinking of doing a book about him -whether influenced by Wagner's opera or not ) after having made the book Gawain - so going back to the beginning of the century I realise - 2001?....this was a large A2 size woodcut... I think he very originally carried a suitcase too.....



Which then eventually turned into this book done with James for publication by Agenda Editions - a set of black and grey woodcuts around A4 size done specifically for the publication...







the immediate above is the woodcut....

and then into a much bigger book on Khadi paper, A2 size folded into a book finished two years ago.......which was eventually still titled The Untenanted Room, after much discussion between poet and artist, and obviously based on the idea of the Wasteland, and in the large book with an opening image of ruin based on images from Syria.....








In between there was also this concertina book , that also turned into a carousel....




I might add to this later......

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Losing the Plot

Today was a Losing the Plot sort of day; normally I would then go and have a really long brisk walk, but I couldn't even get out to the graveyard for fresh air until after 5pm  as waiting in for essential food deliveries....
It started ok but once I start looking and reading about Tarot cards I go into imagination overload.
I routinely draw on tracing paper , it has such a nice surface, and then I can instantly reverse any reasonable ones onto the woodblock, or just let all the drawings fall on top of each other - a palimpsest of dreams...but always tending towards overload....
sometimes I agonise over actually which way round I prefer the images - usually i feel strongly the right psychological way round is best, but then the 'shock of the new' seeing them reversed sometimes makes me dither...
sometimes when I can't decide I cut them both ways - it can be quicker than dithering and I can try out other different things when cutting them too....


I did this image both ways for Ship of Fools and it was useful when I came to printing over newspaper images as sometimes one way round was definitely better than another.....
I did find it very annoying that the last batch of plywood turned out to be pink in the middle though...most disconcerting.

I studied the last woodcut I made last night first thing - The Hanged Man is also called sometimes Hanging Man in some packs; mine is definitely 'suspended' topically. is he caught up by his incipient bandages? My reading investigations told me that hanging from one foot was a punishment for debtors - climate debt for my Fool now maybe; or he could be hanging on the World Tree like Odin possibly - redemption by suffering; Odin tends to muscle in on my imagination frequently , must be my Viking genes....
I did loads of scribble drawings but not many focused enough to share even with you today;
it was more productive a day today perhaps in what I rejected in what could be seen.
I meandered around various enticing figures, Fortitude, Hermit, Wheel of Fortune and Magician....I am considering re-cutting  the image below smaller for my pack - as the High Priestess perhaps, she was based upon Isis


She was on the cover and title page of one of the books I did with James Simpson - see post for April 2017......I think she might belong in the forest....possibly....



A Tree Hermit looked as if he might join these already done trees, I really need to sort out the dogs a bit.....; he also follows on from a Diogenes like figure I used in The Man in the Moon - see post August 2013 ( was it really that long ago?....)



And if you can decipher it I was interested in a Falconer figure; I liked the idea of a tree of birds, (which I did before based on an old German woodcut) placed on a fabric on top of what might be a man or a tree or both - the falcon is up on the top left hand corner - on a branch or arm.....
I love watching birds of prey when we go out for walks, and I did a whole installation back a long while ago called The Falcon Bride - you can see it on my website archive carolyntrant.co.uk  and scroll down the left hand side til you see Falcon Bride Installation.....

By 5.30 I managed to escape from decisions and sat in the graveyard to sit and ponder life's big questions - like how long do you quarantine a TLS that came through the door, as a diversion, and was rewarded by seeing a green woodpecker at last  - I know where it hangs out and it cackles non-stop, teasing me - but this time it came straight for me at low-level before suddenly seeing me and deviating at the last moment; it retreated a bit and hung out on some gravestones so I could admire it; and came back again later - bliss; finally felt more at peace again......

I did manage to cut a new block - The Magician 


I'll tell you about him tomorrow....

Once I get these images out of my system it will feel like removing a splinter...
I ought to be binding the cartoneras and getting the cardboard covers off the printing press
then I will be able to see what I have actually got to play with next......

Monday, 30 March 2020

Tarot Trees

Today I felt drawn back to more small playing card images and checking out on Tarot images again - The Tower and The Hanged Man were calling to me for some reason. The small cards are such a lovely way of story-telling, asking to be shuffled and re-arranged to tell many different narratives....


(these are ones I did before - see post a year ago - they have nice backs too, very fiddly to make!)

Looking up The Tower I found an image of a male and female figure falling, and thought - should I have a Fool and Fool-ess in emancipated times, when 'man' no longer necessarily means humankind; my figures are supposed to be fairly androgynous , so tightly bound up... but hmmmm....

I did do some hanged women before, tho really they are just having a nice night out...

The Hanged Man traditionally represents a change of allegiance or point of view - very relevant now then after 10 years of 'austerity', and The Tower is a symbol of judgment, a wake up call by cosmic forces perhaps....
I could complete this trilogy with Fortitude in face of tribulation, traditionally a figure overcoming a lion - not many lions in the woods round here , though wild boar now roaming fearlessly in empty streets in towns and cities in Spain and Catalonia where my son lives he tells me...
The Wheel of Fortune would also be good - as it turns it is the great leveller in society, and The Hermit is usually shown with an hour glass, time again, the sands of time running out.....
The Fool is the 22nd card of the tarot but not numbered - like our packs with a Joker.

But I don't want to get to drawn into all this  - I mostly feel a strong visual connection for my Fool with Tower and Hanged Man - and possibly tomorrow The Magician - card of change and transformation, fecundity and dreams, and The Falconer, with a bird on his wrist, would be good images for my trees......
I remember writing about Elisabeth Bowen in my Women Artists book and she described how many more people had 'strange deep intense' dreams during the second world war....

Why am I so interested in Tarot ? I do feel some of these images are still locked deep within us as firmly as abc - they are tools to communicate with when thinking about the inexplicable....Digital storytelling has taken new turns but still relies on fantasy worlds with often recognisably old medieval tropes, and I have always loved ideas and imagery from the Middle Ages; perpetually on the cusp of new technologies they seem so like us, excitable but not yet world weary. Tarot cards possibly appeared first in Ferrara, one of my favourite Italian cities, but these were also based on remnants of Egyptian books of wisdom.
My 'tarot' cards no way adhere to any system in particular - printed over newspaper images I use the term to describe the effect of palimpsests on the brain, stimulating ideas and connections in that way that cards are used for divination almost, a framework for personal and collective imagination.



The card on the left is actually based on the Tarot Fool card so I did do a woman fool last time; she is teetering on a precipice with her little dog - I should have photo-ed the Waite pack image for comparison - and then I printed her against a bit of a painting with a wonderful hunting cat on it...The Fool in Tarot is related to Diana the Huntress with her hounds....I found this out today long after I had done the image....



Sometimes the image behind suggests something really interesting, Parliament sitting, a Leonardo drawing, sometimes I have just chosen them for their good colour....I think it is probably quite hard to focus on them in the right way on the screen.

Playing card size and format, (they need to fit nicely in the hand), appeals to me greatly; when painting in tempera I loved working on little gesso-ed blocks you could hold in your hand like icons, with deep box frames that drew you into the picture, leaving the world of galleries for example behind...

By the end of the day today I had designed two more cards and started cutting them...adapted from a Ship of Fools image and  a previous tarot card I did - I feel they will add more dimensions and edge to the tree/fool series forest; might do a couple more tomorrow....