Stories of a great flood are universal and can be found throughout history. This piece of work was initially inspired by a drawing of the ark made years ago when my son was young. It has always been among my favourite drawings with it's unselfconscious, confident simple outlines. It set me on a path wondering about what a 'modern' ark might incorporate. My initial thoughts moved to the Seed Banks at Kew, and Svarlbard, which have been set up to preserve the worlds seed diversity in the event of a disaster.
I then came across an article reporting that due to unusually high winter temperatures the ice had melted causing a flood in the Svarlbard Seed Bank. A stark reminder of the erratic weather patterns which are constantly making headlines. As the new millennium unfolds we are facing real uncertainties of sea level rise and retreating coast lines.
So what is an ark?
"Ark: a place offering protection and safety".
Using this definition as a starting point, I have sought to bring together elements of our shared human histories, by using images and text to weave 'conversations' across the past, present and future. The potential and scope for creating an artist book representing the ark, while inspiring, is enormous. I therefore needed to give myself some boundaries and create a focus. Returning to the widely known story re the ark, I chose to reference the biblical story of rains falling for forty days and forty nights. This provides a structure of a total of eighty pages which are then contained within a substantial box.
Using contemporary voices from from Resurgence Magazine as the base from which other voices are drawn, forms another structure for the work. Drawings tracing our history from the first rock drawings, combine with other significant objects to create a narrative where each page references the collective wisdom preserved in numerous cultures through the ages. This wisdom continues to speak to us today. Also included are a few more childhood drawings made at the turn of the millennium which symbolise the voice of the future.
These eighty pages are held between Lunaria annua (otherwise known as honesty seeds). Their inclusion at the beginning and end of the book serve as a reminder of our need for honesty and the 'hard truths' facing us in dealing with these challenges. They are equally a symbol of hope and renewal.
The work will be on show at Turn the Page, Artist Book Fair, Norwich in May.
Artbookart artists - including myself, Lola Swain, Karen Apps, Gwen Simpson, Sally Chinea, Jane Woollatt and guest artist Louise Swain have had enormous pleasure in bringing together a group show - Beyond the Page. The centre point around which the show revolves includes various book works and artist books inspired by the wonderful book Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson.
From one starting point, a variety of work has been produced - all unique and different as each of us found a sentence or a character to respond too. The show runs from 15th -21st March at Emma Bell's Gallery 70, Leigh on Sea.
Here's a glimpse...
(More info about my own work can be found here and about Artbookart artists here)
Work by Chris Ruston
“All of us bound together, tidal, moondrawn, past present and future, in the break of a wave”.
I have thoroughly enjoyed spending time with this beautifully written book by Jeanette Winterson Having reread the book several times, something new is revealed with each revisit. Each time there have been new discoveries, new understandings and new thoughts. It is a story full of mystery and enchantment. Attempts to define the story do not do it justice. It evades direct interpretation. It’s attraction is this elusive, part glimpsed, weaving of individual stories. It allows plenty of space for the readers own imagination to interact with the text. My challenge has been to find a way to respond visually to this language. I wanted to create an artist book which captures something of the ‘atmosphere’ of the story but did not want it to become too literal.
A number of sentences particularly resonated with my own experiences and thoughts, so I decided to use these as ‘jumping off’ points. After several false starts, I finally settled on a series of four books using two different structures. I generally make more than one as I find this prevents me from becoming tight or too precious.
Each is book is a unique work - while some similarities exist between them, the drawn marks and text vary in each. The chosen structures, like the story, are not linear. Jeanette Winterson likes to challenge traditional methods of writing, describing her stories forming a spiral, where the characters link backwards and forwards across different times and spaces.
"Salts My home town. A sea flung, rock bitten, sand edged, shell of a town. Oh and a lighthouse."
With this structure, the book unwraps to reveal a number of sewn signatures. The cover extends beyond the internal pages, which further reveals two seahorses enclosing the centre pages of the book. The viewer is given a range of options in how to proceed. They can open the double page spread starting with the centre pages, or turn to the front as in traditionally bound books. The arrangement of pages is such that the content can be 'read' in a variety of ways.
Times Lost Hero
" Nothing can be forgotten. Nothing can be lost. The Universe itself is one vast memory system. Look back and you will find the beginnings of the world."
As the book opens a small seahorse rises from the centre of the book. In Lighthousekeeping, Babel Dark finds one of these fragile fossilised creatures while exploring a dark crevice in the rocks. Regarded as a talisman, he keeps it in his pocket referring to it as 'times lost hero' Using a double map fold structure, the seahorse emerges into the light from rock-like pages. It's delicacy in contrast to the weight and permanence of stone.
The book cover utilises an envelope fold, creating pockets for two further books - one dark, the other light. They capture the sense of dark and light elements running through Jeanette Wintersons story. Watery marks form the 'language' in these pamphlets. One is static, dark like the interior of a cave, the other full of movement and light. Letters disperse and float throughout these pages suggestive of the stories being carried around the world by the flashes from the lighthouse.
Detail - a page from artist book responding to the novel Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson. At the start of the book, the orphaned child Silver, leaves Salts to live with Pew in the lighthouse. They travel in what is described as a mackerel boat.
"Times lost hero" rises from the centre of the book. A pop up book structure which consists of a double map fold.
I am fortunate to walk along the seafront each day and continue to be fascinated and inspired by the shifting light and textures revealed at low tide.
High tide and a gentle breeze creates subtle marks across the surface of the water. Blue tones
fade to grey on the horizon, but on other days when the wind blows, it becomes a muddy brown as estuary floor is stirred up.
The Winter light over the past few weeks has been beautiful. Silvery tones, and stunning contrasts have been a pleasure to witness. Each day brings something different.
This next few months will be a busy time with plans for a number of events. The first being an exhibition with Artbookart at Gallery 70, Leigh on Sea, followed by two Artist Book Fairs in April and then May. Needless to say I am busy "pulling threads" together and completing work. I am hoping to incorporate some of the marbling techniques and drawings into various book structures.
Beyond the Page exhibition will feature work inspired by Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson. It is a beautifully written book which conjures a host of images and possibilities. Narrowing down my ideas and finding a particular focus - while enjoyable, has taken more time than I expected. However there's nothing like a deadline to stop the procrastinating and crack on!
Each of us in Artbookart will be making an artist book so it will be interesting to see the various interpretations come together.
First sketch ideas.
I have decided to make the book three dimensional by using a map fold.
The seahorse talisman is referred to as 'the lost hero of time" and will rise up through the centre of the book.
There always seems to many ideas and not enough time to follow all the threads that new skills and techniques generate! Having been familiar with using ink as a drawing medium,I have been thinking about how the process of suminagashi, and marbling might be incorporated into my existing practice.
Last Autumn I decided to take up the challenge of 'Inktober' (work can be viewed on instagram). The challenge was to produce an ink drawing everyday for the month. This exercise produced a number of drawings - some I consider complete others as 'beginnings'. I decided to experiment by combining the Suminagashi process over the initial marks. I was excited by the combination and feel it has further potential. The Suminagashi marks add a delicate layer of transparent lines. Finally, some of the drawings had a final layer of graphite marks added to make them complete. Definitely something to explore further!
Combining a layer of Suminagashi
Ink drawing, suminagashi, graphite drawing.
Having experimented with Suminagashi, I wanted to learn more about the traditional methods of marbling. Having evolved through the Middle Ages, marbling was once so highly prized artists would jealously guard their processes and designs. My father initially trained as a bookbinder, so I grew up with some the books he had restored. There was always something magical about opening those old books with their beautiful marbled endpapers. I owe my love of art and books to him.
While Suminagashi is a fairly straightforward process and can be easily set up in a studio or kitchen, marbling with carrageenan moss is a more involved process. Size is required to be added to the water to hold the gouache on the surface. There are more variables that can affect the outcome. For the process to be successful the correct balance is essential - for example the temperature can have an influence, as can the hardness of the water used.
However when all is in balance the results can be extremely satisfying. I quickly became absorbed by two particular patterns - the vein and the stone pattern.
Suminagashi is the ancient Japanese process of floating ink on water. Patterns are created by gently manipulating the ink, using the breath, or a single hair to create swirling marks. Paper is then placed on the surface of the water thereby transferring the design. Suminagashi was first recorded in the twelfth century. The process appears simple, producing some fabulous marks but like any art form, there are always those skilled artists who can raise it to another level. These are my first attempts!
The process of Suminagashi produces a calm and serene feeling - it is not a process that likes be hurried. It feels very in tune with the spirit of Buddhism - slowing things down and encouraging you to "be in the moment". It is a wonderful process of mark making and one which I will certainly be exploring further.