Designer and illustrator Allen Crawford has just released a beautifully illustrated and hand-lettered book version of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” an iconic poem included in the collection, Leaves of Grass. Inspired by his friend Matt Kish who illustrated each page of Moby Dick, Crawford completed this project over the course of 1 year in his basement. Crawford didn’t plan his illustrations for the poem he calls “an expression of primal joy”; he improvised each one by letting Whitman’s own words speak through him to create a tangible, visceral, and immediate visual interpretation of Whitman’s classic poem in keeping with the author’s sensibility. From Philadelphia, where Whitman spent his last decades, Crawford is intimately familiar with the settings and places Whitman describes in his work – this connection partly fuels Crawford’s affinity for the author’s writing. Because of Leaves of Grass’ status as a sacred American text that is inspired by Biblical verse, Crawford feels that a transcription of “Song of Myself” through illustrations and hand-lettering is fitting.
In his book’s introduction, Crawford writes, “I try to treat the poem as almost a landscape, in the sense that I’m exploring this unknown territory and I’m taking field notes from the mind of Whitman. He treats ‘Song of Myself’ as this broad, epic sweeping poem where he’s trying to include everything about American life he’s experienced. So it is a kind of landscape, a kind of world. It is a kind of continent in itself. And as you’re travelling through it, you have different impressions, your style will change, the type will change, sometimes the type will take the fore and you’ll get a very pictorial sort of a interpretation, or a symbolic one. Sometimes the image doesn’t necessarily jive, and isn’t depicting something that’s actually in the poem. I’m trying to provide a parallel narrative to Whitman’s in visual form.”
A long-time fan of Ralph Steadman, I still encounter works of his that have somehow missed my radar. Published in 1995, a special edition of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” (currently out of print) features 100 full-color and half-tone illustrations by the artist. Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings was able to find a copy of this rare edition, citing quotations from Orwell’s “The Freedom of the Press,” the proposed but unpublished preface to the original “Animal Farm” that accompanies Steadman’s raw and gritty illustrations.
Steadman has long been known as a Gonzo artist, a reputation due in large part to his long partnership with Hunter S. Thompson, but has also illustrated other books in his signature inkblot style including, “Alice in Wonderland,”“Treasure Island,” and most recently, “Fahrenheit 451,” in addition to drawing everything from political caricatures to wine and beer labels. NPR notes that he’s even written an opera libretto.
Of his fluid style, Steadman says, “You don’t pencil in anything; you just start going and see where it leads you. It’s an adventure, a little journey. Every drawing is a kind of journey. There’s an organic quality that is quite potent, you know. You surprise yourself, and that’s quite nice.”
A documentary about Steadman narrated by Johnny Depp, titled “For No Good Reason,” is set to release later this year. The film’s director, Charlie Paul, says, “I was concerned that Ralph’s art would be the man and that I’d end up trying to make a film with someone who had this kind of aggressive attitude towards the world. But Ralph is such a lovely, warm and generous man, and yet he goes to his table and creates these pieces of art which are dangerous and, to be perfectly honest, quite upsetting sometimes.” ( via brain pickings and npr)
With funny fake titles that satirize the real thing, Harland Miller paints a colorful collection of paperbacks which function as a shrine for predictable literary personalities from Waugh to Hemingway . . . and he doesn’t stop there. He also gets personal, implicating his own self-titles into the mix, adding a whole other autobiographical subtext that is both playfully light and familiarly bold.
As part of our ongoing partnership with In The Make, Beautiful/Decay is sharing a studio visit with artist Marci Washington. See the full studio visit and interview with Marci and other West Coast artists at www.inthemake.com.
We visited Marci in her backyard studio in Berkeley. It sits just behind her home, a kind of garage/storage space that got converted into a cottage. It’s comfortable and functional, with an open feel to it. Marci is full of gusto— she talks with her hands, takes on all kinds of facial expressions, and she’s funny as hell. She enthusiastically moved through our conversations, at turns awkward and eloquent, but always unguarded and real. We talked about a lot of things, but her affinity for the landscape of the English moorlands, particularly within the context of Romantic Literature, really struck me. Those rolling, uncultivated hills covered in low-growing grass, shrouded under heavy fog and moody skies have wholly captured Marci’s imagination. And it makes sense that they have— much of what interests Marci is mirrored in that rugged, desolate scenery. In various Romantic and Gothic works of literature, the moorlands often represent mystery, mysticism, liberation, turmoil, and passion; they frequently echo the psychological state of the characters, and reveal their greatest desires and fears. Marci’s current work references not just the physical landscape of the moors, but also speaks to themes found in a lot of this kind of literature, and the universal emotions that are evoked—all those feelings and ideas that run wild with mystery, awe, darkness, terror and beauty. I think Marci is after a particular kind of mood that toes the line between terrifying and thrilling, creating a response that’s simultaneously overwhelming and invigorating. All of this plays into her sensibilities as an artist, but also as a person: her love of Edward Gorey and his eerie illustrated books, her unflinching need to feel everything very deeply, her leanings towards the bizarre and unique, and her fondness for the not-entirely-explained. It’s pretty damn amazing that come November Marci will be showing work in England, not far from the wild and lonely moors that have taken up so much of her imagination.