Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Vanishing Map

This week Amor de Dias are 'editing' the online version of the USA's Magnet Magazine, which means writing 6 or 7 pieces each about some of our favourite things. One of mine is about Ida Ekblad, a Norwegian painter and sculptor, and Julian Hyde, a writer and artist. What links them is a belief in walking and looking, gathering lost objects together and re-presenting them, whether as sculpture, photos or narrative accounts.

Box containing 'Book of Days' and ephemera, Julian Hyde, 2009

Julian's work has been a major inspiration to me over the years. I see him as one of a peculiar breed of English writer-artists who experience something transfixing in the landscape: sometimes beautiful, sometimes unbearable; I'm thinking of painters Samuel Palmer, John and Myfanwy Piper, Paul Nash and the Brotherhood of Ruralists; maybe the tragic poet John Clare. In his work, visions of the woods combine with the liminal spaces where road meets forest,  the edges of private estates, car wrecks in forgotten B-roads.

The Books of Days in paperback form

Julian has most recently written two Books of Days, each detailing a year in his life. I've contributed drawings to illustrate both, along with his own photographs; the second, darker volume, 'The Ecology of Memory' details a crisis of confidence and a slow recovery through the rhythms of nature and friendship. The books are based in Windermere in the Lake District, beauty spot and home of Wordsworth. He finds meaning in walking, looping through the woods and lakes. He sometimes extends these walks into cordoned-off areas, getting up before dawn to witness and photograph the derelict and abandoned places that the authorities have marked off-limits to the public. I think to have a genuine sense of place you need to be aware of these kind of spaces on the margins and refuse to be hemmed in by footpaths and fences. It reminds me of John Clare, and his dismay at the 19th century Acts of Inclosure, which closed off tracts of common land to local people, essentially forcing them out of their own landscape. As I know from my own walks down the Lea Valley by the London Olympic site, this still happens today, and it's every bit as undemocratic and shameless.

Julian collects his impressions in beautiful books of photos and text, lovingly bound, sometimes mounted in Joseph Cornell-style boxes surrounded by the leaves and ephemera that inspired him. They describe a kind of archaeology of the abandoned, objects observed day by day as the year moves on, as well as catalogues of his own emotions and political observations, and not least, unforgettably vivid and real portraits of the people and places around him. His small town world is genuinely and convincingly described, a true testament to a life lived in England in 2011, with all its beautiful and depressing minutinae, and all its fetishistic details.

Page 7, 'The Ecology of Memory'

Incidentally, and much less importantly, 'The Ecology of Memory' also contains a CD with a classical guitar piece by me, called 'The Secret Commonwealth'. Julian’s books are labours of love and, as such, aren’t produced in large numbers. In fact, I don't even know if they are for sale, or whether he just sends them to me and a group of like-minded people. He has no web presence, except this Flickr page, which he can be contacted through. He's one of the very few genuine artists I know.

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