Thursday, July 05, 2012


The journey from London via Birmingham takes four hours and forty-two minutes and surprisingly, considering the recent appalling weather and railway woes in general, the train arrived in Aberystwyth precisely on time. 

A short taxi ride to the seafront plunged me instantly into the ambiance of an earlier century which I could feel but not describe, embedded in the colours of sea, sky, slate, iron and the uniquely luminous green green grass of Wales.

My bed and breakfast was situated at the far end of the windswept, mostly deserted promenade facing the black sand beach and fiercely foaming sea.

Mary Husted and her husband Andrew Vincent were staying in a hotel nearby and we went for a very tasty dinner at a Spanish delicatessen-restaurant which they had discovered. Walking back afterwards we were treated to a spectacular sunset, unlike any I've ever seen. Unfortunately I didn't think of turning on the movie option in my camera and missed recording the iridescent splashes of blue gradually morphing into geometric patterns and perfectly horizontal golden lines. 

The opening of the exhibition was the next afternoon. It's a long walk uphill so I went with Mary and Andrew in their car and had my first sight of the National Library of Wales which occupies a stunning position high above the town. 

In contrast to its forbidding institutional exterior, the Library's interior is warm and welcoming, full of history and surprises. At the top of a grand staircase is the entrance to Open Books. You are greeted by three very different works cascading vertically from the top of a tall glass case: Frank Vigneron's Le Songe Creux 274 , GW Bot's Australglyph Book: Night and Day and David Gould's Exquisite Corpses. I'm not going to attempt a review of this excellent exhibition but it deserves, and I hope will get, the attention of the best critical minds/eyes wherever they may be, in the art world and beyond.

All the works and details about the artists are in the catalogue, the whole of which is viewable online.

A big disappointment for me was that Clive Hicks-Jenkins couldn't be at the opening and was away the whole weekend. I was so looking forward to a real-life encounter with the man behind the fabulous ArtLog and to seeing his work which I greatly admire. We have never met but know of each other via our websites and through mutual friends Frances and Nicolas McDowall with whose Old Stile Press we have both published books. It was Clive who introduced me via the internet to Mary Husted and my presence in this exhibition is thanks to him, to Mary and, needless to say but I'll say it, to my own...ahem...undeniable talent. 

The front of My Life stands unfolded on a red plinth inside a four-tiered case. Floating on a glass shelf above is Ou Da Wei's Mountainous Leisure while Alan Salisbury's trompe l'oeil Pears on a Table recline below and at ground levelTULU Girls by Sue Williams cavort in a circle: three strongly individualistic works whose company I am very happy to be in. 

On the other side of the case, the reverse of My Life is fully unfolded: the red of the plinth serendipitously matches the reds in my images. Above is Maggie James' Peripheral Spaces, another work I'm glad to be close to. 

Clive Hicks-Jenkins' bold and inventive Alphabet Primer draws you into its folkloric universe. 

Mary Husted's Episodes are glimpses into a rich inner landscape, giving you just enough information to dream your own story. 

After the introductory speches, we gathered for drinks in a conference room. Mary Husted is in the centre with Jaimie Thomas (in red cardigan) the Library's Exhibitions Officer. Behind them in profile is Mary's husband Andrew. There will be official pictures of the exhibition, no doubt better than mine, and those of us who were present at the opening were photographed as a group - I'll post them when available.

Artists' books are notoriously tricky to exhibit. Ideally they should be shown as sculpture - upright and free of enclosure in an invigilated gallery. But this is generally a practical impossibility and curators have a very difficult task trying to achieve maximum exposure for each unorthodox object within given constraints of space, lighting and available glass cases. In a group show such as this one, with quite a large number of concertina books, Mary Husted has done and is doing a wonderfully enthusiastic, committed and caring curatorial job and I trust she will succeed in her aim to tour this terrific exhibition far and wide.
Meanwhile it is beautifully at home within the magnificent National Library of Wales and you have until September 22nd to walk, run, ride or fly to see it. 

Below are some more reasons why I was very glad to visit Aberystwyth.

 What's left of the 13th century Aberystwyth Castle.


I don't know this stone-caped gentleman's name but he was obviously a distinguished professor since he is immortalised in front of the Old College on the seafront. What do you think the book is that's he's holding? 

In my hotel room, before going to the station to catch my train back to London.

I'll also be posting a movie as soon as I've edited it.


Dominic Rivron said...

From here it looks like that glass case sets it off nicely! The whole thing looks well curated and if I get down to Wales (I go once or twice a year) I'll definitely drop in to see it!

I now have two exhibitions I'd really like to see - this and Grayson Perry's murals (which are in London). I'll have to improve on my recent form: I missed Burra in Chichester and The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Dominic, yes the exhibition is excellent (and not just because My Life is in it!) and I do hope you'll go. Please let me know if you do. I'm afraid that, although it's a splendid venue, its isolation means that not many people will see it.

You should see the Munch exhibition in London too - I've just been and will write my impressions.