On the 23rd June I spent a very pleasant and informative Sunday in the company of Joyce enthusiasts gathered at the prestigious Ashmolean Museum in Oxford for ‘Joyce and Illustration’. The day was organised by Dr. Finn Fordham and Dr. Cleo Hanaway. Finn is a resident of Oxford, literary scholar and author of Lots of Fun at ‘Finnegans Wake’ and editor of the Oxford World Classics edition of Finnegans Wake. Cleo is a Joyce scholar with a particular interest in Joyce and early cinema. At their invitation Paris-based graphic designer and Wake Illustrator, Stephen Crowe and myself talked about our respective approaches to imagining and imaging Finnegans Wake, showed some of our work and encouraged participants to have a go at drawing from the well of the Wake themselves.
This free event, generously funded by the Royal Holloway University of London, began in appropriate humour with the assembly of arrived participants in front of the death mask of Oliver Cromwell (tip) in the ‘Exploring the Past’ room at the museum. Introductions made this became the departure point for a conducted tour of selected exhibits punctuated with wonderfully energetic readings from the Wake by Dr. Fordham. With the aid of what he referred to as his “Wake-tinted spectacles” and the mediation of the text he wove an enlightening web of connections between the disparate artefacts on display.
The readings concentrated, naturally, on the visit to the museyroom (FW 7.36 – 10.24) – the subject of last month’s blog – and went on to the letter and its recovery (FW 107.8 – 107.35 and 110.22 – 112.2). The museum’s Egyptian collection was used to good effect in illustrating the numerous references found in Finnegans Wake to The Egyptian Book of The Dead (e.g. FW 24.03 – 26.24). Finally and most lyrically, images of Anna Livia were conjured through readings of ‘The touloosies’ (FW 531.13 – 18) and ‘Anna Livia’s toilette’ (206.29 – 207.20) in a room lined with impressionist and post-impressionist paintings.
Over the course of a kind of indoor picnic, London-based Irish poet Racker Donelly entertained our gathering with animated renditions of Joyce-related poetry, song, anecdote and story. It was spellbinding. I could have listened to him all day. Seek him out and if you get an opportunity to hear him recite don’t miss it.
Post picnic it was my turn to talk about my work. I’ve been making Illustrative images from Finnegans Wake, on and off, since 1995 so I presented an edited run down of different methods I have used and some of the key ideas and motivations behind them. This was brought up top date with an attempted explanation of the reading/drawing notational technique that I’m currently exploring as a personal reading of the Wake.
Stephen Crowe explained that his approach to illustrating the Wake is very much driven by the humour with which the book is saturated and by the opportunity it provides for exploring different visual styles. His work is decisively graphic and hard-edged, communicating a clear personal take on the aspect of the text depicted, which is usually quoted as caption text or within the composition of each illustration. Having been aware of his work for some time it was an overdue pleasure to meet Stephen and discuss our respective views of the Wake. I look forward to having further conversations with him.
Our presentations prompted many questions and amiable discussion who received and reaffirmed the interest that exists in the visuality of Joycean text and validating what can often feel to be an isolating, quixotic venture in attempting to picture it. Above all I think the event served to make reading the book more imaginable and a little more accessible for some whilst also providing an opportunity to collectively celebrate for those already intoxicated by the Wake. Attendees were also, very generously, each given a free copy of the OUP edition Finnegans Wake.
Here are some visual impressions of FW p.10 and 11. We have exited the Museyroom we are introduced to that marvellous woman/bird who recovers the mysterious letter from the midden heap and treated to a glimpse of her dwellings.
For more information about:
Dr. Finn Fordham