Archive for category Publisher: Roads

Lucy Williams

Lucy Williams’ work is very specific. She produces collages (which she calls “reliefs”) inspired by modern architecture – building profiles as well as some interior spaces. Some of these give, possibly deliberately, the impression of architects’ concept drawings, but the inclusion of more realistic environments – sparse, but believable – adds a sense of serenity that is at odds with the often Brutalist nature of her subject. Where the concept drawing would include people to give a token sense of scale and humanity, they are completely missing from Williams’ pieces and this somehow seems give a greater sense of their place in a real world than does the technical vision. There is no doubt that they are works of art and not mere representations of form.

In this surprisingly mesmerising book, the works are placed alongside period photographs of buildings, some of which no longer exist, that inspired the works illustrated.

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Reservoir: sketchbooks and selected works || Alice Maher

I’ve remarked previously that looking at an artist’s sketchbook is a view into their most intimate thoughts and not unlike rummaging through their underwear drawer. It’s not something you’d do uninvited and, even then, it can feel more than a little uncomfortable. As Alice herself says, “Sketchbooks are freewheeling workshops of the mind”. Sketches are not finished works, maybe not even fully-formed ideas but rather a stream-of-consciousness that reveals, often deliberately, the artist’s state of mind and innermost thoughts. Kept for private use, this is fine, desirable even, as it allows those same emotions to be picked up again when it comes to more formal work. When the viewer is allowed in, though, it becomes an unweeded garden.

Whitney Chadwick, an art historian specialising in surrealism, contemporary art and gender issues, says as much rather more succinctly in her introduction, while at the same time expanding on the themes of the book and drawing a parable between form – the graphic line – and function and content. Alice says that a sketchbook is “a process of letting ideas flow back and forth … a vortex out of which comes the beginning of an artwork.”

I suspect that this book is going to mean a lot more to you if you’re more familiar with Alice Maher’s work than I am. You may then be able to see the germs that became major works, and how themes have developed. As such, it would be a glossary on an oeuvre rather than a piece in its own right – which is rather as it should be. However, as a standalone, what it lacks more than anything else is a commentary. The introductions are useful, informative even, but they’re short and pretty much say the same things as you can say about any sketchbook without even looking at it. What you don’t get is any very clear idea of what the ideas and themes are that are being explored There are some handwritten philosophical musings, though these are not the easiest read, especially on a heavily-coloured background and don’t, so far as I can tell, relate to the drawings, being rather an occasional verbal- rather than visualisation.

I’m conscious of missing something here and if you want to tell me that’s the main body of Alice’s work, I wouldn’t disagree. It does, I feel, limit the appeal of the book. If you know the corpus and this illuminates it for you, then it would be one of the most valuable books you own. Equally, though, it could tell you nothing at all, other than that the artist works raw material up into finished pieces. I simply don’t know the answer to than one.

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What is Art? || Leo Tolstoy

So, when he wasn’t busy writing War and Peace (other Russian blockbusters are available), Leo Tolstoy had opinions. His one on Shakespeare wasn’t entirely complimentary.

This comes as part of a series called Designer Classics from Roads, a small publisher I confess I wasn’t previously aware of. It turns out that our Leo was quite a thinker and wrestled with the question in the title for, it says here, 15 years. A lot of things come into it, not least religion, “All history shows that the progress of humanity is accomplished not otherwise than under the guidance of religion.” I rather feel a PhD thesis, a weighty tome and possibly a TV series in the offing there. He’s not afraid of the big stuff!

As well as this, which I’ve picked pretty much at random, Tolstoy deals with that nature of taste, value and, indeed, the nature of a cultured class. This latter does rather put him in the context of his place and time; I think today we’d be rather more dismissive. Doubtless there was a chattering class in nineteenth century Russia and, if there was, they’d have chattered in French, which probably tells you everything you need to know.

I’m not going to suggest that this is an entertaining read, not because it isn’t, but because it would be to do its author and its re-publication a disservice. It is, however, an intriguing and thought-provoking one and, to quote Laurence Sterne in a quite deliberately different context, one of the best of its kind.

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