Visiting the Artlog, as well as seeing the marvel of Clive's own work, one can be led along avenues of exploration of more exciting, original and talented visual artists than you can shake a stick at, and getting involved with this project has already brought me into contact with quite a few of them. I don't have to even be in their league, just be willing to be sent their work, sort through it and present it at the Artlog in the fullness of time. Shellie Byatt, whose idea Alphabet Soup was, is also involved with the curating, so I've got some serious back-up.
The idea of the exhibition is to create alphabet pictures, including lettering, you know as in 'A is for apple' or similar. No need to complete a whole alphabet, but we reckoned a minimum of about five letters of your choice. If we get a lot, which we might, we might just take a selection but will happily provide links to where further work might be seen on-line. The other stipulation, to create a harmonious feel to the final exhibition and to offer a bit of a challenge, especially to artists who love to colour, is that it should be in black and white (and shades of grey between, of course) but each picture should contain one other colour, perhaps as an accent, so for example if 'E is for Eve', she might be holding a red apple.
The deadline is the end of November, with a view to presenting it in the week or so leading to Christmas. A long way off yet, it may seem, but giving time to develop ideas without rushing busy people too much. And it's open to all, not just professional artists, so please feel free to join in. Submissions and enquiries to be sent to me at lucy-dot-kmptn-at-gmail-dot-com. No rush to send stuff in, but it's nice too know who and how many might be involved. Again, the exhibition will be at Clive Hicks-Jenkins Artlog (not here at Box Elder). The call for submissions is here.
And suddenly there are alphabets everywhere. Wondering about the possibilities of something fruit and vegetable or otherwise food based, I went to my copy of Larousse Gastronomique, which was handed on to me very generously by an older friend who said she no longer wanted it, and this particular, English, edition dates from the year of my birth, 1961 (it first came out in 1938).
Moules marinières - in terracotta on a blue chequered table cloth with a nice glass of wine, what could be better? - adorn the frontispiece, but I also found, which I had never noticed before, that each alphabetical section has a delightful illuminated letter heading, in black and white. Here's a selection:
It's fun identifying the elements: 'A' is easy, apples of course, and also apricots, artichokes, asparagus, but what is the quarter-circle in 'B', along with the beans, blackberries, and presumably bread, or brioche? I suppose it's a piece of beef. 'E' for eggs is beautifully simple, but is that odd-shaped thing in 'G' Gruyère cheese or what? It took me a while to work out that the circle under the herrings in 'H' was a selection of hors d'oeuvres...
The other book I looked out was this one.
This was under the Christmas tree for me the year I turned six, or perhaps seven. We had had an exceptional (we didn't travel abroad much as a family) holiday in France and Switzerland, and I had expressed a wish to learn French. I remember its cloth bound spine with the red capital letters of the title visible outside of the wrapping paper - it's a big book and perhaps there wasn't enough paper or something.
It was a very special book, still is. The quality of the paper, print and binding is very good, and it's all colour, which not many books were then. I can't imagine it was available in the small town where I grew up at the time and was probably bought in London.
again it's fun to try to work out what the pictures show -since they don't always feature in the chapters themselves; the fish, which I thought might be a bony anchois, (anchovy) is I think in fact illustrating les arêtes de poisson, fish bones ( and checking the spelling of that, I find that the same word is used for the beard of barley, an etymological connection nicely shown by the picture.
The green thing in the bottom left of 'B' defeats me,
as does the red bit of origami in 'C'.
Each word used in a sentence, here are a couple of the more lugubriously amusing ones (most of them are nicer)
This apple is bad. [You bet, look at that worm in it!]
Roland is a bad playmate. [ Not only does he kick his mate in the fesses but he carries a catapult, wears patched trousere and his cap the wrong way round, le petit voyou! ]
I have cut myself, my blood flows. [ Never mind, it can water the furrows. If it's impure anyway.]
Then there are lovely full page illustrations of different categories:
Veg and fruit - for an English provincial child of the 60s, raised on Mrs Beaton rather than Larousse Gastronomique, not only the French words but the very existence of celeriac, endives, aubergines and quinces would have been a mystery.
Fish: now Larrousse G says a cod is cabillaud, which is what we buy them as now; morue is salt-cod. Aiglefin (haddock) is more usually now églefin. Fish translations continue to exercise me.
I love this illustration of geographical features.
Here's the page for 'K'; I can remember my mother telling me there was no K in the French alphabet. Alas she was not always right (just annoyingly often). Indeed, one of the Gallic concepts most detested by red-blooded English traders seeking metric-martyrdom begins with a 'K', that's to say the kilogram!
I would like to say that the book inspired an early epiphany and long standing love affair with the French language which has stayed with me always, but I'm afraid it didn't. In fact it was originally published in France for French children of school age as a 'playtime book', a fun adjunct to learning to read and write their own language (this was in 1963, pre-1968, rather stodgy pedagogic times...). I was no infant prodigy, and without access to spoken French, barely having learned to read and write in English, I found it frustrating and closed to me, and knowing it was a special, precious book added to rather than overcoming this. I was momentarily impressed with its size and colour, but frankly, at that age I liked naturalistic pictures, preferably of animals - another board-back picture book I had at a similar age, containing photos and called 'Animals Everywhere' I devoured endlessly. Quaint little French children behaving correctly in incomprehensible language didn't really do it for me.
The book was passed on at some point, and I assumed it was lost, if I thought of it at all. Then a few years ago, while visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Mayenne, I was browsing their bookshelves and found it again. It was very worn and battered and had been sadly abused and much scribbled on, it had presumably been given to my niece (she who now makes me laugh more than anyone but who was something of a petit voyou herself when she was small ) to play with. But they had kept it, and were happy to see it returned to me. Now I enjoy it very much, and though some of the language is a bit old-fashioned, I find it quite helpful for some areas of vocabulary and construction.
What made me look at it with regard to the Alphabet Soup challenge were the alphabet letter forms on the endpapers, which I can remember fascinating me.
(Apologies for the poor photo quality of these images; the books were both rather too big and cumbersome to scan, and the light wasn't great when I took the photos, but they give an idea.)