Thursday 29 December 2011

'One large stage set...'

Among my most prized presents this Christmas were a bottle of 12-year-old Craigellachie (dangerously drinkable at 46%) and a book that I didn't even know existed - Edward Bawden's London (V&A Publishing, 2011). This handsome volume explores Bawden's life and work through his many depictions of London life and London locations. The life story throws up a few surprises - I didn't know, for example, that Bawden was on board the Laconia when it was torpedoed. Saved from drowning, he was adrift on an open boat for five days before being picked up by the Vichy cruiser La Gloire and interned in Morocco. The biggest surprise, though, was to learn that - far from being the genial, carefree, cheery character that his works suggest - Bawden (the product of a severely Methodistical upbringing) was a shy, socially awkward man who shunned company and preferred to shut himself away and work. His close friend Eric Ravilious - they met on their first day at the Royal College of Art and 'clicked' instantly - was the outgoing, gregarious one. It was as if Bawden somehow 'caught' Ravilious's good cheer and, unable to express it personally, expressed it in his art. He found his style early, and 'was to spend the next 66 years expanding and refining his technique, but never wavering in his belief that the world was one large stage set populated by slightly mad people whose antics continued to surprise not only himself but also the innocent birds, cats, ants and bees who had to share it with them'. So his very detachment from the world was also the source of his comic vision.
Beautifully produced and packed with good reproductions of linocuts, lithographs, engravings, drawings and much else, this is a book that every Bawden lover should seek out. It is also one of those volumes that you simply have to have in your hands (it even has pictorial boards, showing the Tower of London, under the dust jacket) - any electronic version would be a feeble simulacrum. Perhaps this is how the book (as codex) will survive in the age of the ebook - as a thing of beauty. Perhaps the coming of the electronic book will trigger a new golden age of book design... A pity the great Edward Bawden isn't still around to contribute to it.

1 comment:

  1. Yes I'm sure about the emerging 'golden design' of books -and the re-emergence of the short story, as positives, following the growth of the e-book. I feel very excited about it all. Things can only get better! This looks a wonderful read too, and sensuous with it.