With our “Words & Pictures” book club starting up again next week, I thought I’d highlight just some of the rather exciting art and fiction books I’ve spotted coming over the next few months.
First up in January is “Bacon in Moscow” (Cheerio Publishing) by James Birch – a fabulous memoir of setting up an exhibition of Francis Bacon’s paintings in Moscow in 1988 – as with everything at the tail end of the USSR, its success was more by luck than judgement. From the Colony Room in London to the Artists Union of Russia, the young curator finds himself in the mix of all sorts of intriguing characters including a KGB officer, a glamorous young fashion designer, and of course Francis Bacon himself!
March brings “Edith and Kim”, the new novel by Charlotte Philby (The Borough Press) and, half-way through a proof copy, I can say it is absolutely brilliant! The Kim of the title is Kim Philby; the Edith is Edith Suschitsky, better known as Edith Tudor-Hart who until now I had only thought was a rather wonderful photographer but, as the archival research that underpins the novel reveals, Edith worked secretly for the Communist Party. Indeed it was Edith who introduced Kim Philby to his Soviet handler. Charlotte Philby brings all the suspense of such a dangerous and difficult life to the fore, from the Bauhaus to the Isokon building – and, as a reader, one finds oneself looking at the world through very different eyes.
“Letters to Gwen John” by the artist Celia Paul looks equally as fascinating:
Letters to Gwen John is Paul’s imagined correspondence with Gwen John, whose life and work have loomed so large in hers. These intimate, passionate, haunting letters allow Paul to reach across eras, to weigh up the sacrifices she has made, and to explore the rich possibilities of a life apart. With illuminating insights into the life and work of Gwen John, Letters to Gwen John is a unique form of memoir and conversation, and an unforgettable insight into a life devoted to making art.
Coming in April, the publishers (Jonathan Cape) say the book will include more than fifty artworks, reproduced in colour, by both Gwen John and Celia Paul.
“Firebird (A Bloomsbury Love Story)” is Susan Sellers’ new novel (to be published by Edward Everard Root in May). With the backdrop of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes on the one hand and the Bloomsbury Group on the other, we are in 1921 when the ballet star Lydia Lopokova meets economist Maynard Keynes: “Vividly recreating Lydia’s journey from Tsarist St Petersburg to Jazz Age London via the Paris of Picasso, this richly imagined novel celebrates the love story of two of the twentieth century’s most dazzling original figures” – I can’t wait!
May 2022 also sees the publication of Frances Spalding’s “The Real and the Romantic: English Art Between Two World Wars” (Thames & Hudson) – A fresh look at a period of English art that has surged in interest and popularity in recent years, authored by one of Britain’s leading art historians and critics – which will bring a thrill to everyone who comes to our Art, Books & Culture Group discussions each month as Frances explores how the modernism of abstraction and Surrealism interweaves with British tradition and the Romantic spirit of place.
I can’t resist also adding in a novel from last year which will come out in paperback in June and which I think is absolutely tremendous: Michele Roberts’s “Cut Out” (Sandstone Press). It tells the tale of Denis – whose mother kept a highly significant secret from him – and Clemence who, now elderly, remembers the time she worked with Matisse. The story cuts between the two characters and past and present time-frames – eventually unfolding to reveal the secret – as, in-between, Michele Roberts positions word-pictures based on photographs taken of the elderly Matisse as he made his now famous cut-outs. What’s especially extraordinary is how, without missing a beat or making it feel forced, Roberts subtly uses language and description to conjure almost unconsciously so many of Matisse’s paintings in the mind’s eye.
It’s going to be a great year for us arty-booky folk methinks!