This project calls for the creation of an artist’s book about something which elapses over time. I have chosen to use the project to continue to create a body of work about travelling up and down the M40. My objective is to create something which is, of itself, a pleasing artefact but which also conveys a mood and story of repeated, relentless travel.
As a background to this, I have considered how, or indeed whether, other artists have portrayed motorways or road travel. I guess most don’t find it an attractive subject because I haven’t been able to identify many works. The printmaker, Gail Brodholt, uses transport as her subject, principally the Underground, but she also draws some roads. She writes and interesting and informative blog, and I remember reading with interest her detail account of making a print of the A102, breaking out the layers, making colour decisions etc. I now understand her choice of very wide landscape support fr the subject. However, her prints convey a rather nostalgic view of travel but don’t express the actual movement.
Ed Ruscha gets closer to the feeling of grey relentlessness of travel with his monochome photographs of fuel stations, compiled into a book, ’26 Gasoline Stations’ (1963). Whilst no movement is suggested in the photographs, it is implied by the act of piling up the images.
A fellow student has brought the woodcuts of Christiane Baumgartner to my attention. I assume that she uses photographic references which she transfers to woodcuts with subtle cutting for tone control. The limited monochrome tones combined with the woodcut technique give these prints a dreamy lack of detail and hard edges but also a rather gritty reality. Her other prints which use the sweep of a road, lack that slight remove from reality.
The first step towards my book was to take numerous photographs pf the motorway and analysis the curves. This was a different approach to drawing instinctively whilst travelling. The book would have to be made remotely and I wanted the curves to be founded in fact rather that making them up from memory or my previous drawings. The curves were analysed in paper after page in my sketchbook.
Kilometre markers often appeared in my shots, and I recorded these as I considered including them in the book, perhaps in an index?
Following on from my earlier book work, I wanted to explore ways of piling up the curves. The first approach I tried was to cut some curves into cartridge paper and then experiment with binding each page into a book.
With each curve cut out, the shapes of the curves pile up, creating new intersects as the pages are turned. However, each individual curve is rather disguised.
The pieces removed were interesting shapes and I considered if these could also be employed. However, the very delicate points barely survived my manipulations. This also exposes any slight defect in the cut of the curves.
The white paper, whilst simple and strong, is perhaps a bit dull. I thought about combining the windows or cut out shapes with another paper which implied movement by using captured motion of media in water, either gouache, or ink marbling.
I think that the curves cut from ink marbled paper works best. The monochrome references the grey tarmac but there is a suggestion of movement. The marbling is large enough and subtle enough to not be pretty, indeed barely look like marbling at all.
Another alternative is to use actual images of the motorway, but, like the marbling, in such a way that the original image is almost lost. This was when I started cutting up my earlier work using combined photographs as a support.
These shapes, with drawn additions and in-obvious digital details are much more interesting as well as being better founded in the reality of my movement on the motorway.
I also considered various book forms, concertina, sewn binding, different shaped pages or pages joined at different points. I liked the idea of hexagonal pages, joined at faces so that they unfolded into a pathway. However, this won’t work with my curves and is perhaps a bit too reminiscent of a board game or Tantrix. I fixed upon a concertina book in landscape form because it references the strip maps produced in the 17th century.
Next, I experimented with papers for the substance of the book and selected a coloured pastel paper with substance and presence. New combined photographs were printed on wash and mounted on white paper before cutting. This gives the colours a liveliness, rather like a glaze in painting as the light is actually reflect off the white paper through the tissue.
A3 sheets of paper were cut and assembled into a 16 page landscape concertina book with the hinges at the bottom of the page so that the journey unfolds in the appropriate direction of travel.
The book needs to be presented to the user in the right orientation and also protected, so I have designed a slip case with a ribbon to put the book out. Rather than buy commercial ribbon, I wanted to make my own based on the subject. I have chosen to use an arrow from road makings (also shows where to pull!) and made this up in some waste cloth and interfacing. I can hide the other end inside the slip case but also considered a decorative end referencing a motorway sign.
The coloured tab is an off-cut of ‘road’ attached to fabric with acrylic medium and stitched. The scale is perhaps a bit big visually, but the size is practical both to sew and to use.
I like the ‘paper-fabric’. The digital image has now almost entirely disappeared and the material is easy to sew. I could make a slip case of this material, over-locking the edges and then sewing the faces together by hand. It would have substance but not be rigid. The edges are over-sewn for strength and to allow the pieces to be connected by stitching without the stitches ripping out.
Outside of slip case , machine sew as far as possible, ready for handsewing
The slip case was completed with hand sewing, disguised as much as possible in the over-sewn edges. The fabric has the handle of thin leather.
I have decided not to add a ‘road sign’ to the pull ribbon as the case is now visually complex. The arrow has been simply stitched to the underside, but, since the stitching will show, I have chosen to allow the tape to show too.
A cover was added to the book to give context and to signpost the right way up to open the book and the outside pages glued together to give strength and rigidity.
The completed book, 16cm x 10cm x 2cm, 14 pages:
This work brings together my ongoing dialogue with a motorway and my experiments with artists’ books and is a culmination of a body of work. As you turn the pages, you see the changing profile of the road as if travelling along the motorway. The shapes have been chosen based on the real experience but also for their visual variety and use combined digital images of the motorway altered by bleach, crayon and pen. The internal pages of the book are complex in their layers of creation over time but visually simple.
The slip case continues this idea, using the altered images from the motorway. However, whilst I enjoy the completeness of that idea, the execution as not crisp and professional as the earlier slip case which I made from card. It doesn’t sit well with the crispness of the pages of the book. Small threads and edges of paper are exposed and look slightly scruffy. The hand sewing is very poor due to arthritis. As you pull the ribbon, the book does not slide out smoothly as it would have in card.
I regret the decision to glue the two outer pages of the book down. I think that adding card covers would have given the book more presence. These could have been finished with more altered images. Giving the book, in its case to other people, they extract the book so that it is presented portrait in their hand and then open it to the blank side. To avoid this I should have made the slip case with the opening on a short side, although this makes extracting and replacing the book harder. I hoped adding text to the cover would aid orientation but it did not work, and I would have preferred to have no text and be less explicit.
I wanted to make something which was different and a development of my earlier books, but the simple, crisp card covers and slip case would have worked better.