Books That Trees Would Be Proud Of

Western Bank Library
- , 2015

Tickets: Free
Phone: 0114 222 7296

Fine press and pamphlet treasures dug out from the library's rare books store. Our review...

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There is an air of snobbery surrounding the idea of the illustrated novel or poem. An overhanging sense that to draw what you read is inherently childish. Books That Trees Would Be Proud Of flips that assumption on its head, showing how the craft of visual artistry can heighten the reading experience.

Focussing on the relationship between art, poetry and literature, and less so on genre or era, Books That Trees Would Be Proud Of is an exhibition of some of the finest pieces from The University Of Sheffield's private and small press collection. The exhibition, which is currently on display in Western Bank Library, brings together pieces from revered private presses Circle Press, Talfourd Press and Tetrad Press with works from new and innovative publishers, exploring visual expressions of works as disparate as Shakespeare and O'Hara.

With accompanying essays from the likes of Sheffield poet Alan Halsey, graphic designer Nick Bax and School of English academics, the exhibition takes the less-trodden path of examining the ways in which literature is represented outside of language, where – as eloquently put in the accompanying piece to Raoul Dufy's Mallarmé illustrations – "the page, not the line, becomes the arena for text-making".

Various artists in the exhibition approach the unenviable task of visually representing the characters of Shakespeare. Ronald King's screen image Witch from a 1970 Circle Press edition of Macbeth is the most shocking; an unconventional piece of abstract, almost pop art-esque suggestion, it's miles away from our Halloween costume conceptions of witchiness.

There are examples of the contemporary, such as Sam Winston's Made Up True Story from 2005, which looks at themes of storytelling and fairytales in a counterintuitive way, through a hand cut collage-of-words.

The exhibition complicates the ever-moving distinction between artistic content and the page on which it sits; an act in which all the pieces in Books That Trees Would Be Proud Of seem to delight.

Image: from the opening pages of William Morris's 'A note on his aim in founding the Kelmscott Press', printed at the press, 1898. View slideshow for full image and more. All images courtesy of The University of Sheffield.

Written by Lucy Holt; March 18, 2015