Although best known for his 1848 novel Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray was not always a writer. After college and a brief stint studying law, he moved to Paris to try his hand as a painter. Gambling and unsuccessful business ventures decimated his inherited fortune, however, and Thackeray was forced to move to London, where he supported his new wife by becoming a journalist.
Despite a career change, Thackeray did not forget his artistic background. His collection at the Ransom Center contains a number of sketches, including proofs of illustrations for comic tales and quick drawings in the margins of his letters. The archive also houses a small journal from 1840 that Thackeray might have taken with him on his travels. Within its three-inch-tall covers are pencil sketches of sailors lounging on the deck of a boat, a woman bent over a writing desk, and a child’s cradle. Although some drawings are more finished than others, all display a steady hand and an eye for form.
Thackeray also illustrated several of his own novels. The spooky sketch pictured above is one such illustration, taken from his 1859 novel The Virginians: A Tale of the Last Century. As its name suggests, the book was set chiefly in colonial Virginia and follows the family of an English colonel, the title character from an earlier Thackeray novel The History of Henry Esmond. If these witches bear a resemblance to those from Macbeth, it might not be coincidence—in The Virginians, several characters attend a performance of the play.
For more sketches by Thackeray, as well as manuscripts of writings, drawings, and letters by and about this English author, explore his archive.
To complement The University of Texas at Austin’s new James Turrell piece The Color Inside opening on campus this week, a selection of books and artworks associated with Turrell are on view at the Harry Ransom Center in the third-floor Director’s Gallery. Several events are planned around campus today and tomorrow to celebrate the opening of the new Skyspace on the roof of the Student Activity Center.
Today at noon
Conversation with James Turrell
Friday, October 18, 12-1pm
Student Activity Center Ballroom
Artist James Turrell and Lynn Herbert, former senior curator of the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston, discuss The Color Inside, a Skyspace on the rooftop garden of the Student Activity Center at The University of Texas at Austin. Free and no reservations required; limited seating available.
Saturday, October 19, 2 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Tours of The Color Inside, the Blanton Museum of Art, and the Harry Ransom Center
Various locations on campus
The tour begins on the rooftop of the Student Activity Center with a music performance by a string quartet from the Butler School of Music inside the Skyspace. The tour will walk to the Blanton to view a large-scale aquatint by Turrell entitled First Light, Plate B1, which is on display through mid-December. The tour concludes at the Ransom Center with James Turrell: Deep Sky, an exhibition of seven aquatints created by Turrell in collaboration with the publisher Peter Blum Editions, on display through December 13. The tour will last between 60 and 90 minutes.
Saturday, October 19, 2 p.m., 3 p.m., and 4 p.m.
Inside the Skyspace, rooftop of the Student Activity Center
On opening day, Landmarks presents three unique performances of Lightscape, a new composition by University of Texas graduate student, assistant instructor, and award-winning composer Joel Love. Landmarks commissioned Love to create a composition inspired by The Color Inside. Lightscape will be performed by Butler School of Music students Yunji Lee, Chloe Park, Andrew Haduong, and Mic Vredenburgh. It will also stream live online.
Share your experience on social media with the #UTskyspace hashtag.
On October 15, a selection of books and artworks associated with artist James Turrell will go on view in the Ransom Center’s third-floor Director’s Gallery. Included in the display is Deep Sky, a suite of seven aquatints that Turrell executed with printer Peter Kneubühler, and that were published by Peter Blum Edition in 1985. The Ransom Center’s edition of Deep Sky is one of several portfolios in the Peter Blum Edition art collection, which showcases Blum’s collaborations with contemporary artists such as John Baldessari, Eric Fischl, and the collective General Idea.
Like many of the artists with whom Blum has worked, Turrell is not best known for his works on paper. Throughout his career, which has spanned half a century, Turrell has made a name for himself constructing spectacular installations that focus on light and space—or more specifically, the way the eye perceives different types of light in different spaces. This past summer, three major U.S. museums mounted simultaneous retrospectives of Turrell’s work, which includes illusionistic light projections and fully immersive spaces that bathe the viewer in colored light. For nearly 35 years, he has been working to transform Roden Crater, an extinct volcano in northern Arizona, into a series of rooms and tunnels that open onto vistas of the desert sky.
In addition to Roden Crater, Turrell has executed scores of site-specific installations all over the world. On The University of Texas at Austin campus, he recently completed a Skyspace entitled The Color Inside, which will open to the public on October 19 as part of the University’s Landmarks program. The work, like all of Turrell’s Skyspaces, is architectural—a structure built with its location in mind—and it is intended to facilitate a specific viewing experience of the sky above. At sunrise and sunset, a carefully programmed sequence of colored LED lights causes the eye to perceive the shifting colors of the sky as a series of dramatically different hues. Emerging from a Skyspace light sequence, a viewer is often more attuned to the surrounding environment—as if the mind, used to believing that the sky is blue without ever taking notice of its true color, has been recalibrated.
For an artist so invested in utilizing light and color as the materials of his art, it is somewhat surprising that the prints in Deep Sky are absent of color. The seven aquatints are meticulously printed, with velvety swaths of black ink and subtle variations of grey. But these prints, which represent seven views of Roden Crater, are explorations of space and scale and how they factor into one’s perception. The prints serve as experimental renderings; they are nearly abstract pictures of how a viewer might apprehend space at Roden Crater.
The catalog published to accompany Turrell’s recent retrospectives includes the artist’s description of a visit to a garden in Japan:
I noticed a small, low, triangular window, which provided another view of the garden. The view opening onto the same part of the garden as a larger window above, except the view was scaled down. The small rocks appeared as mountains, blades of grass became wooded hillsides and the bonsai looked like large trees. The microcosm had become a macrocosm, which perfectly echoed the motifs and forms of the larger view. I then realized that the garden should be viewed from numerous vantage points.
The Deep Sky prints are just a few examples of the numerous vantage points that Turrell has explored in his work with Roden Crater. Ultimately, there is no way to view the site all at once, but in the microcosms represented in these superbly printed aquatints, one can at least begin to understand the completeness of Turrell’s vision.
James Turrell: Deep Sky will be on view in the Director’s Gallery, on the third floor of the Ransom Center, until December 13. The Director’s Gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Although Anna Atkins and Anna Krachey share a first name, Krachey acknowledges a much deeper connection. A member of Austin-based artist collective Lakes Were Rivers, Krachey came across Atkins’s work in the Ransom Center’s collections. She noticed an exploration of light, layering, and space that was similar to her own photographic practice.
Such connections form the basis of the Ransom Center’s current exhibition, Contemporary Photographic Practice and the Archive. Created in collaboration with Lakes Were Rivers, the exhibition highlights members’ works that were influenced in some way by the Ransom Center. Approximately 50 new works are displayed alongside Ransom Center collection materials chosen by the artists. The pairings illustrate how archives and cultural collections stimulate new ideas and creative acts.
Atkins, born in 1799 in England, was an amateur botanist. She is known primarily for her thousands of cyanotypes, which often featured marine botanicals and other plants and objects. Peacock Feathers offers an example of the camera-less photographic technique—one that provided a new way of recording scientific specimens, different from the traditional letterpress method.
Krachey recognizes a similarity between Atkins’s choice of subject and her own process of identifying and selecting objects for photographs. She aims to reveal the unfamiliar in everyday objects by creating tension between the natural and the artificial. In her work Filament (2012), she plays with tactility, translucency, and composition, using analog rather than digital photographic methods to manipulate objects and create illusionistic space.
Both Filament and Peacock Feathers are on display through August 4. On this Thursday, July 18, the artists of Lakes Were Rivers will discuss their work at 7 p.m. in the galleries.
The atria on the first floor of the Ransom Center are surrounded by windows featuring etched reproductions of images from the collections. The windows offer visitors a hint of the cultural treasures to be discovered inside. From the Outside In is a series that highlights some of these images and their creators. Interact with all of the windows at From the Outside In: A Visitor’s Guide to the Windows
This portrait of the American writer Carson McCullers (1917–1967), painted by her friend Emanuel Romano (1897–1984), is one of a series of author portraits painted by Romano in the Harry Ransom Center collections, including pictures of Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, and T. S. Eliot, among many others.
Emanuel Glicenstein was born in Italy into a family of eminent sculptors and painters. He immigrated to the United States, settling in New York City, where he adopted the surname “Romano” to distinguish himself from his well-known artist father. Romano achieved prominence in New York as a painter, teacher, and lecturer. His portraits are rendered in an Expressionist style, employing strong colors and exaggerated lines to express emotions. Throughout his work, he was more interested in capturing emotive content than in creating solely realistic portrayals of his subjects.
When Romano was introduced to Carson McCullers in 1948 by mutual friend David McDowell, he must have sensed immediately an ideal subject for his Expressionist style. McCullers was a fragile, vulnerable woman with large, shining eyes. She had attempted suicide in March of that year, but over the summer she had rebounded to work on a theatrical adaptation of her novel The Member of the Wedding (a typescript of which can be seen in the north atrium window of the Ransom Center) and was now attending rehearsals. Romano discussed his first encounter with McCullers with her biographer Virginia Spencer Carr in The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers:
One morning McDowell came with a lady to my studio. She looked pale in her countenance; she had a body impairment and moved with great effort. She told me she had hemiplegia. Half of her body was paralyzed, but she tried courageously to hide her handicapped limbs. I was immediately attracted by the sensitivity of her personality and asked her to pose for a portrait, to which she immediately agreed. With pride she showed me the shirt she wore and the gray-green slacks—her man’s shirt, a dark blue plaid with emerald green stripes, had been a present from Tennessee Williams, from Milano. From time to time I would ask if she wanted to rest, but she would say, “No, I can sit some more.” But she wanted to have a cup of very hot coffee and a smoke. She smoked continuously… Usually she came in the morning and went to rehearsals of The Member of the Wedding in the afternoon.
After the opening of the play, which Romano attended, he created another oil painting as well as a series of drawings of McCullers.
This portrait is but one example of the Ransom Center’s collection of thousands of works of visual art, ranging from the fifteenth through the twentieth centuries. These include not only portraits of writers by Romano and other artists but also paintings and drawings created by a number of writers themselves, including the poet E. E. Cummings, novelists D. H. Lawrence and Henry Miller, and playwrights George Bernard Shaw and Tennessee Williams.
Ransom Center volunteer Katherine McGhee wrote this post.
Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird (1940), one of the Ransom Center’s most famous and frequently borrowed works of art, is on display through July 28.
Since 1990 the painting has been on almost continuous loan, featured in exhibitions in more than 25 museums in the United States and around the world in countries such as Australia, Canada, France, and Spain. View a map of where the painting has traveled in recent years.
The painting was most recently on view in the three-venue exhibition In Wonderland: The Surrealist Activities of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States, organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and exhibited subsequently at the Musée National des beaux-arts du Quebec in Quebec City and at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City. The painting travels next to The ARKEN Museum of Modern Art in Ishøj, Denmark, for the exhibition Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera, running from September 7, 2013 to January 5, 2014.
Kahlo (1907–1954) taught herself to paint after she was severely injured in a bus accident at the age of 18. For Kahlo, painting became an act of cathartic ritual, and her symbolic images portray a cycle of pain, death, and rebirth.
Kahlo’s affair in New York City with Hungarian-born photographer Nickolas Muray (1892–1965), which ended in 1939, and her divorce from artist Diego Rivera at the end of that same year left her heartbroken and lonely. But she produced some of her most powerful and compelling paintings and self-portraits during this time.
Muray purchased the self-portrait from Kahlo to help her during a difficult financial period. It is part of the Ransom Center’s Nickolas Muray collection of more than 100 works of modern Mexican art, which was acquired by the Center in 1966. The collection also includes Kahlo’s Still Life with Parrot and Fruit (1951) and the drawing Diego y Yo (1930).
View the video documentary “A World of Interest: Frida Kahlo’s Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird,” which highlights the painting’s return to the Ransom Center.
The Ransom Center is currently engaged in a one-year, grant-funded project to digitize, catalog, process and make the Frank Reaugh art collection available online, which will be the first complete collection of the Ransom Center’s new digital asset management system. The project is ongoing and is expected to be completed and available online to viewers by the fall.
The Frank Reaugh collection consists primarily of pastel landscapes on paper and board but also includes oil landscapes and portraits, charcoal sketches, and pen and ink drawings. Reaugh’s (1883–1937) favorite subject, the Texas Longhorn, is often featured within his untamed Texas landscapes. His work includes native subjects and locations ranging from the Texas Panhandle to the state’s western plains and mountainous regions and beyond the state border to New Mexico, Arizona, and Wyoming. Interest in Frank Reaugh has grown steadily over the years, as his contributions as an influential artist, arts educator, benefactor, naturalist, and inventor are being increasingly recognized by curators, collectors, and scholars. Access to the works has long been limited due to their delicate nature and to their sheer number and size.
Digitization of the framed and often fragile works is not simple. Many of the pastels have never before been removed from their original frames and mats, which were largely constructed by Reaugh himself. Thus far, the first half of the collection has been digitized, beginning with Reaugh’s distinctive small-format pastel landscapes. When the project is finished, researchers will not only have unprecedented access to the entire body of Reaugh’s work held by the Ransom Center but will also have the opportunity to peer beneath the frames.
During the process of removing these delicate pastels from their frames, there is often an unexpected surprise waiting beneath the window mat. Reaugh used his own technique to prepare the paper to hold the pastel media, and evidence of this applied fixative is easily visible in the margins of the paper support. A view of the margins of some of these pastels also reveals previously hidden inscriptions and areas where Reaugh tested his colors. One can see the well-delineated borders of his rectangular landscapes, which he sometimes stayed within, but more often allowed his strokes to extend beyond the intended space. Two pastels have even revealed outlined sketches on the reverse, offering insight into Reaugh’s preliminary drawing techniques. In addition to the works themselves, the framing materials and methods speak to Reaugh’s time on the cattle-trail, where it appears that he made use of whatever materials he had on hand.
Images of each artwork (including the fronts and backs, framed and unframed) will be available via the Ransom Center’s new digital asset management system in the fall. Funding for the Frank Reaugh project is made possible with support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Please click on the thumbnails below to view full-size images.
The definition of what constitutes an artist’s book varies significantly depending on the social or critical circle observing the book. Is it an artist’s book, a livre d’artiste, an artist’s illustrated book, bookart, pop art, or a fine press book? If one were to look up the term and read any of the numerous essays about it, there would certainly be canonical titles offered and artists’ names as well—Henri Matisse, Ed Ruscha, and even William Blake, to name a few. Seeing these three artists of vastly different periods, styles, and mediums is proof that a single definition would not suit all audiences. In the preface in Artists’ Books: a Critical Anthology and Sourcebook, Dick Higgins writes, “There is a myriad of possibilities concerning what the artist’s book can be; the danger is that we will think of it as just this and not that. A firm definition will, by its nature, serve only to exclude many artists’ books which one would want to include.”
Although the history of artists’ books is as vigorously debated as the definition, artists’ books truly began to proliferate in the 1960s and 1970s, in particular with the idea of the “democratic multiple”—well suited to the social and political climate of the times. Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations and George Brecht’s An Anthology of Chance Operations are just a couple of examples from this period housed at the Ransom Center. Though it may be difficult to define artists’ books, often times you will know one when you see it because they can be quite unique—like a work of art. Johanna Drucker in The Century of Artists’ Books offers one distinction as “books made as direct expressions of an artist’s point of view, with the artist involved in the conception, production, and execution of the work.” A few of the more “artful” examples in the Ransom Center collection include Clair Van Vliet’s Aura and Countercode archeo-logic by Timothy Ely. Some of the characteristics present can include plates or illustrations cut from wood, linoleum, stone, or even metal; the bindings can be made of leather, wood, metal, etc.; the paper can be handmade, stitched, rolled, cut, or folded; and there is no limit to shape, size, and sometimes even sequence. Some artists’ books are even designed to be shuffled like a deck of cards and read in any order.
Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. At the Ransom Center there are numerous examples of artists’ books, ranging from Henri Matisse’s famous Jazzto Henry Miller’s heartfelt Insomnia or the Devil at Largeto smaller press items like the collaboration of artist Steven Sorman with poet Lee Blessing in Lessons from the Russian. There are even a few gems in the collection that have until now escaped categorization as artists’ books. We are reviewing seminal bibliographies that address the evolving definitions of the genre and plan to revise and expand available resources to make the books in the collection more accessible. To search for artists’ books in the Ransom Center’s collections, access the UT Library Catalog: type in “artists’ books” (in quotation marks) and limit the results to the Harry Ransom Center. There is also a checklist of artists’ books available in the Ransom Center’s Reading and Viewing Rooms.
Lynne Maphies also contributed to this blog post.
Please click on thumbnails below to view larger images.
Sarah Sussman is a graduate student in the English Department at The University of Texas at Austin. Though currently writing about nineteenth-century American Spiritualism, she is interested in Surrealist art, children’s literature, and British literature as well.
Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel that stretches the imagination and playfully defies logic has been adapted by a number of artists throughout the years, but perhaps none have been so well-suited to put their own spin on the English author’s topsy-turvy adventure as Salvador Dalí. The surrealist artist’s galas might have rivaled the Mad Hatter’s tea parties, and his paradoxical identification of himself as a sane madman would have put him at home as one of Carroll’s whimsical characters.
Dalí’s illustrations for the novel come more than 100 years after its original printing with John Tenniel’s images. Although many will be familiar with Tenniel (a number of his images can be seen reproduced today on all sorts of Alice ephemera), the Dalí prints are far less common. Viewers will be struck by the artist’s intensely vivid, color-saturated heliogravure with woodblock prints. They offer a new way to read Alice’s Adventures, from a twentieth-century perspective only Dalí could provide—from an outlandishly sized, wide-eyed, dashing white rabbit, to dripping fluorescent mushrooms, to larger-than-life butterflies and, yes, even one of the artist’s signature melting clocks. It seems especially fitting that this portfolio is at The University of Texas at Austin, because Dali’s edition is highlighted entirely in burnt orange, from the portfolio’s burnt orange box, to its burnt orange typographical accents, to its featured frontispiece of Alice, looming large in frenetically etched orange lines, carrying a jump rope or a hoop against a cloud-scudded sky.
Published in New York by Maecenas Press–Random House in 1969, the portfolio-style book features 12 prints to correspond with each chapter of Carroll’s book and an original signed etching as the frontispiece. The Ransom Center’s copy is signed and one of 2,500 portfolios. Dalí’s rendition is a well-paired match for Carroll’s adventure and a lively part of the Ransom Center’s holdings.
Click on the thumbnails below to view larger images.
From the very beginning of printing, the Bible was regarded as the ultimate challenge. It presented printers and artists with the daunting task of creating an appropriate medium for communicating sacred text. They met this challenge with widely divergent methods. Some favored sharp, clean typography and traditional artistic approaches, placing as little as possible between the reader and the word. Others celebrated the text with elaborate typographical or artistic interpretations of biblical passages.
One such example of the latter is this large publication in which the text of Exodusis paired with 24 color lithographs by artist Marc Chagall (1887–1985). The prints show Chagall’s expert use of color and are representative of the lyrical, dream-like scenes for which the artist is known. The Story of Exodus represents a major focus of Chagall’s work, namely Judaic spirituality and Hasidism. One of the great lithographers of modern art, Chagall produced more than 1,000 original lithographs over the course of his career.