Sharing his Bookshelf with us this week is collage artist Mark Lazenby. Prolific in both design and art contexts, Mark works with a huge range of narrative and abstract material, undoubtedly pulling from the wise words of others to help realise such idiosyncratically communicative pieces. Read on for his top five literary touchstones, ranging from Basquiat to Hesse.
John Cheim: Basquiat Drawings, published 1990 by Bulfinch Press
I first discovered Basquiat when I was 16 and had just started art college, it was a really vibrant time to be free of school and exploring what I love. I saw his work in a newspaper and was desperate to see more. So I put in a request to college library for them to purchase a copy of this book only to be told that they would only bring in books on artists that would have “lasting significance”! So I made a trip to Zwemmers in London with my paper round money and bought it myself. I love his drawings and their poetic random stream of words and images made while he watched TV and listened to music. They really pulse full of energy and life and they changed the way I thought about and created drawings myself: I really got into life drawing mainly the spaces left between limbs and the things said by others in the classes.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Letters and Papers from Prison
This book was given to me by my granddad (or lent to me and I’ve still got it – if your reading this granddad just ask and it’s yours!) This was the first autobiographical book that really blew me away. Bonhoeffer was a young German theologian and pastor who was imprisoned by the Nazis for his part in the “Officers’ Plot” to blow up a train that Hitler was traveling on. He was executed two weeks before the prison was liberated in 1945. These letters and poems to friends and family that were smuggled out of prison show what an amazingly courageous and compassionate man he was. Always humble, human, acutely aware of his frailty and need of God, always loving, always aware of others (fellow prisoners and guards alike) and the need to love, be loved, to forgive and be forgiven. This book impacted my life hugely.
Lindsay Blair: Joseph Cornell’s Vision of Spiritual Order
I can’t remember when I first saw Cornell’s beautiful enigmatic work; it was the collages rather than the boxes that I really connected with and his ability to expose/hide deep and everyday elements of himself within. He is a real hero of mine. This book and another, Theater of the Mind, are based on his writings, scrapbooks and dossiers which include entries about eating a piece of apple pie in a New York diner, the walk home, the beautiful waitress who had served him, as well as real in depth insights into his work.
They are fascinating glimpses into this incredibly private, sensitive man who never left New York but traveled extensively in his mind and his makings. He lived in the constructed, contained world of his basement surrounded by the things that gave him freedom and happiness. “By wrenching things from their naturalistic form and forging them together with anomalous surroundings, by stripping away conventional perspectives on things Cornell made nature come to life and instilled in it new energy. In borrowing things from apparently dissimilar worlds a charge is created, the meetings of opposites becomes a source for a new chemistry.” He and his work were truly the meetings of apparently dissimilar worlds.
Oscar Wilde: The Nightingale and the Rose (from The Happy Prince and other tales)
I don’t have too much to say about this heartbreakingly beautiful, tragic short story by Oscar Wilde – you’ll just have to read it! It is in the vein of The Happy Prince and is again about self-sacrifice, devotion and the value of life. I love Tom Waits and this story for me sits perfectly with the song The Briar and the Rose, I’ve no idea if they are actually connected but they fit together beautifully.
Hermann Hesse: Narcissus and Goldmund
This is one of my favourite books and it tells brilliantly the story of two friends with opposite characters the different paths of their lives and life’s work. Narcissus’ life is that of a priest and thinker and Goldmund’s is a wanderer and artist, but although they are contrasting they are united in their friendship. For me this book speaks of the duality we all have within ourselves, we exist somewhere between the two, the sacred and the profane, Narcissus and Goldmund, moments of profound clarity and beauty amongst everyday red herrings. This is a passage from the book I love, talking about Goldmund and his work: “What remained were the few figures he had once made in his workshop, especially his St John, and this picture book, this unreal world inside his head, this beautiful, aching image world of memories. Would he succeed in saving a few scraps of this inner world and making it visible to others?”
This is what I want to do in my work; make the invisible visible and create worlds from the fragments. The internal becoming external in the act of creating an artwork and imbuing pieces of paper with feelings and energy.