The launch of the Kindle got me thinking about all the things an e-reader can never be. You can't inscribe it to a loved one or press flowers between it's pages. It can never be an object, loved and cherished and passed from person to person, with any history. Your children cannot draw upon the pages and fill it with precious memories. Illustrations look terrible on it, especially art, which needs a grand scale. For these reasons and many more, help me celebrate the real thing: dusty old books!
Wednesday, 27 January 2010
This dusty old book, by Reginald Arkell, is a touching and wistful story about an aging gardener during a time of change and his relationship with old Mrs Chatteris. Lady Chatterley's gardener he is not, but the book is charming and touching with little bits of old fashioned wisdom scattered around the pages.
What really makes it desirable (and is the reason I spotted it) is the illustrations by John Minton, one of my favourite artists, and one whose life is every bit as poignant as any story.
His distinctive line graced many post-war books; notably he illustrated Elizabeth David's cookery books. He belongs to the great era of British artists, to the tradition of Eric Ravillious and Edward Bawden, the golden age when Radio Times comissioned real artists and they casually gave them little gems to print. Minton was born in 1917 and in the second World War was a conscientious objector. Prone to depression (and alcohol) he died of a drugs overdose at a tragically young age. One can only imagine what he might have gone on to achieve.
The bucolic scenes of rural happiness have a nervous edge to the line work. In hindsight one could almost image a troubled hand made the pictures. And yet I always felt he drew with such confidence and purpose. Certainly his approach (carried on by many subsequent book illustrators in the 1960s) was a huge influence on my work. It also looks back, I think, to an earlier age of British art, for in Minton I can see a worthy heir to Samuel Palmer, which is about the highest tribute I could pay the man.