Less an art book than a travelogue/diary and historical exploration of an at the time still largely mysterious region, FROM THE BLACK SEA THROUGH PERSIA AND INDIA is an 1890s scholarly work (done during a time of an earlier Afghanistan War)on that area between the lands of Nubia and Asia that today we call the Middle East, by one of the preeminent artists of the 19th century, Edwin Lord Weeks.
I first became aware of his glorious oil paintings when visiting the Richmond Art Museum a couple years back. His HOUR OF PRAYER painting in person, is simply massive in scale, and cannot truly be appreciated except in person (when you stand in front and beneath the painting, it’s like you could walk into it), carrying as it does not just the seminal strokes of a realist at the height of his powers, but the weight of history and a moment of time, and region, and culture (all of which is under threat of going away) preserved here; hauntingly captured.
I have since seen several other Edwin Lord Weeks paintings in person, Weeks was a very prolific artist, and another standout is INTERIOR OF THE MOSQUE AT CORDOVA.
While not as large as HOUR OF PRAYER it is a gorgeous painting at any size, unlike HOUR OF PRAYER where pictures on the web don’t do it justice. Part of what makes HOUR OF PRAYER the award winner that it was, is the play of yourself against its vast spaces. There is an alchemy that happens when you see that picture in person, that is not reproducible on your computer screen. INTERIOR OF THE MOSQUE AT CORDOVA, in contrast, is a far more repeatable image. What you see on the web or in a book, is a good approximation of what you’ll see in person.
Along with Virgil Finlay, Robert Duncanson, and Zdzislaw Beksinski; Edwin Lord Weeks quickly became one of those IT artists for me. A massive artistic talent whose work was largely unknown, or under appreciated to this day, and definitely still largely unheralded/uncollected in a comprehensive tome. He became an artist I set out to find books by and about.
Today’s selection is one of those books.
“With the permission from the War Department to visit Central Asia came an urgent telegram from the American legation at St. Petersburg, advising us not to go on account of the cholera which, after devastating Meshed, had left Persia and invaded the Russian provinces. We were then leaving for Constantinople by the Camboge, and finding that she would not proceed to Batoum, by reason of quarantine we were again forced to change our route. This time we elected to follow the old caravan from Trebizond on the Black Sea, to Tabreez, through the mountains of Kurdistan, that country of indefinite boundaries.
In short, there was no other route left open to us; we must either turn back, or, setting our face forward, head straight for the Persian frontier, five hundred miles away, and we decided to go on.”
—-Lord Edwin Weeks, from the preface to FROM THE BLACK SEA THROUGH PERSIA AND INDIA.
Being in the public domain there are numerous variations of this work online. The quality is all a bit less than stellar, as largely it looks to be photocopies of photocopies, and the pencil drawings/sketches that accompanies the words, all a bit muted… still there is enough there to get the brilliance, and you can flip to any page, read a paragraph and be entranced by Weeks’ evident love and romance for the region.
So until a proper tome dedicated to Lord Edwin Weeks is done, for reasons both historical and cultural this 462 page book, to any fan of the work of Weeks, is a must own.
Get your copy here:
This was a relatively easy list to decide on. My 3 favorite artbook purchases of 2011 were:
3. Zdzislaw Beksinski- I’m putting this on the list even though this isn’t a 2011 publication. Finally managed to pick up this 1992 English Language House Arkady (love that name) printing of BEKSINSKI.
1. REBUS- My number one artbook of 2011 comes from Chronicle Books, and is the drop dead gorgeous James Jean’s
REBUS. Having had this for a month I do not get tired of flipping though those stunning red gilded pages. The book is a work of art just in terms of design, even before you get to the art within, which is masterful, and beautiful, and disturbing. Just simply gorgeous. Trust me, If you at all have an interest in artbooks, you need to own this one. Highest recommendation.
There you go. Come back next installment as I start looking at 2012 artbooks to put on your must buy list! Price your copies by clicking on the links below:
“In the medieval tradition, Beksinski seems to believe art to be a forewarning about the fragility of the flesh– whatever pleasures we know are doomed to perish– thus, his paintings manage to evoke at once the process of decay and the ongoing struggle for life. They hold within them a secret poetry, stained with blood and rust.” –director Guillermo Del Toro
I’ve been singing the praise of Zdzislaw Beksinski since 1998 when Morpheus International introduced his art to those outside Poland by publishing THE FANTASTIC ART OF BEKSINSKI.
Twelve years later and Beksinski’s work is more well known to the point where there are films and filmmakers singing his praises, bands doing albums to him, and additional art books produced about him. Sad that this increased exposure couldn’t arrive while he was still alive.
However, that injustice aside, I’m glad the art books and product are, in the wake of his demise, finding an audience. The work of Beksinski deserves to… persist.
One recent art book is BEKSINSKI 1 by publisher Bosz Art. A 2009 printing, which I only recently received. Having loved THE FANTASTIC ART OF BEKSINSKI, (it remains 12 years later, and hundreds of art books later, my essential art book) I had constantly been on the search for more art books by this “master of the aftermath”, and BEKSINSKI 1 fit the bill nicely.
It’s a bit more substantial of a book than Morpheus’ THE FANTASTIC ART OF BEKSINSKI. BEKSINSKI 1 is about the same height as THE FANTASTIC ART OF BEKSINSKI (which is 12″ by 9.6″) while being over an inch thicker, and sporting about 100 more pages.
There’s a very nice forward, both in Polish and English, by Wieslaw Banach, that is quite eloquent and slightly poetic. Beyond those few pages the rest of the books is given over to just a broad selection, listed chronologically, of Beksinski’s art.
The strength of this tome is its size allows it to include a lot of art not in THE FANTASTIC ART OF BEKSINSKI, some of it quite arresting. The weakness of this tome however is most of the tome is given to his post 1990 work, which is in a different less beautiful/fantastic realist style than his earlier work. It gets quite repetitive actually.
A 2nd failing is while the paper stock is thick, it is a dull, matte finish that does not show off the art of Beksinski as well as the Morpheus tome.
The glossy Morpheus paper, really captures the brightness and vibrancy of Beksinski’s colors, it makes the art come alive. An illusion that is lost in the dull matte finish of the Bosz Tome. Also with the inclusion of quotes interspersed, quite thematically, throughout the entirety of the book, as well as framing the art against, mostly haunting dark colors, THE FANTASIC ART OF BEKSINSKI is just a far superior designed book.
So I don’t regret spending the money to acquire BEKSINSKI 1, it’s a nice expansion to the world of Beksinski, but Morpheus International’s 12 year old tome, THE FANTASTIC ART OF BEKSINSKI remains the definitive book on the last great surrealist.
Final Grades: A+ for THE FANTASTIC ART OF BEKSINSKI B+ for BEKSINSKI 1.