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Pinning Down: A Conversation with Catrin Morgan

June 5, 2013 | by

Air dies elsewhere, graphite on paper, 10cm x 10cm

Air dies elsewhere, graphite on paper, 10 cm x 10 cm.

Catrin Morgan has a history of sticking pins through words. (Check out her ongoing project, Pinning, which was installed at the Bromley House Library.) Maybe this is her real attraction to Ben Marcus’s The Age of Wire and String, which she just illustrated for Granta’s new edition: finally, a book with text she can’t easily pin down. In graphite drawings, Morgan builds disassembled—or, nonrationally assembled—architectural objects, maps, and containers, many of which seem to act as entry points to systems with unfamiliar parameters. The illustrations define and rely on their own language, complementing the language of The Age of Wire and String nicely, self-contained discourses with overlapping vocabularies.

Your designs for The Age of Wire and String are almost all diagrams, fanciful maps or systems that have some kind of chronological or other organizational logic. Can you explain how the content and structure of the book informed your decisions here?

It seemed to me that by attempting to illustrate The Age of Wire and String directly, by illustrating very faithfully the images suggested by the text, I would close it down. What I love about The Age of Wire and String is the space it opens up in my imagination and I didn’t want my images to take that space away from new readers. In the end, the images I created aimed to respond to the tone and construction of the text and to behave in a similar way. The text subverts our expectations of familiar patterns of language, and so I created images that appear familiar but in fact are always doing something that belies their appearance, so what appears to be a map is in fact composed of sleeping figures, and a circuit diagram is based on the floor plans of a building. The images also reference directly illustrations from manuals and encyclopedias, as I felt like the deadpan tone of this kind of illustration suited perfectly the tone of the novel.

The set of illustrations I ended up with are a representation of the world that The Age of Wire and String projects within my mind, and some of them were created without planning exactly where they would go in the text. When placing them I looked for shared co-ordinates between an image and a piece of text, so that the image and text spoke to, but did not explain each other.

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“The Rat Is a Hero”: In the Studio with Emily Mayer

April 23, 2012 | by

Children are posing near Damien Hirst’s large intestine. A young couple is engaged in a shoulder rub, the recipient with a bracing hand on what may be the sigmoid colon. Upstairs, caterers put flowers on round tables, and cameramen survey Tate-goers ignoring For the Love of God encased below in a black box. In the gift shop, The Incomplete Truth anamorphic cup and saucer is on sale for £2.50.

Between the Tate and Emily Mayer’s Norfolk studio is a gap of British countryside that from a train car feels like an hour-and-a-half stretch of live cows. I sit down and immediately hear that Emily hates instant coffee and loves rats. The Norfolk Wildlife Trust celebrates the area’s presence of weasels and more unusual species, but Emily prefers dogs to Chinese water deer. She has several dogs, some animate, some either frozen or cast in resin.

“The electricity board are coming at 8 A.M. tomorrow to cut trees,” she had written in an e-mail the night before, “and our power will be off all day. I do have a generator in our woodland cabin, so maybe I could drag that in.” It turns out that the water is out with the power, and the phones don’t work. We still manage to have coffee.

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Maira Kalman

May 16, 2011 | by

Photograph by Thessaly La Force.

Maira Kalman lives surrounded by chairs both life-size and miniature. Her studio is two floors below her West Village apartment, and it's filled with such objects as hair tufts from her beloved (and now late) dog Pete, puppets from the 1930s, and hats adorned with feathers from friends and admirers. I dropped in to chat about Maira’s first retrospective at the Jewish Museum and heard, among other things, about her love for Thomas Jefferson—unlike Abraham Lincoln, he’s apparently “not boyfriend material”—and her studio moss collection.

When I left college, I decided I wasn’t going to write anymore. I started out writing fiction, and I thought I would be a writer—it was something that I just always assumed when I was a little kid. I had a teacher who told me I was a good writer, and I loved writing. Then it became tormented, as it often does when you hit your teens. So I thought, I have to lighten up a little bit. And it was the age of New Wave and punk, and there was a whole new era of illustration going on. So, I started to draw.

Kalman’s desk, where she paints. Photograph by Thessaly La Force.

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