Friday, October 24, 2014

The Wives of Bath

A woodcut of a woman in travel clothes on horseback, holding a rosary.The Wife of Bath is arguably the most enduringly provocative character created by Chaucer.  A serial monogamist who has outlived four of her husbands (and is working on her fifth), she describes herself in the prologue to the Canterbury Tales as being well-versed in the arts of love, especially those practiced in the bedroom. Later, when the Wife of Bath tells her tale about courtly love, she references a fable in which a lion and man examine a painting of a man killing a lion. The lion asks, "Who painted the lion?" suggesting that if a lion had done the job, the outcome would have been much different.

A detailed illustration of a crowd of pilgrims on horseback. In the center is a well-dressed, smiling woman with a drink and a very low-cut gown.With that in mind, we decided to take a look and see how the Wife of Bath herself has been depicted by various men at various times (as well as obviously being the creation of a man from the start). Displayed here are three artists' renderings. The first is a woodcut from the 1542 edition of Chaucer's Workes; the second, an engraving by William Blake in 1810; and the third by Blake's rival engraver Thomas Stothard from 1817. Each of them provides a different interpretation of the Wife of Bath, be it a typical (if somewhat austere-looking) woman of means from the medieval period, a bawdy and drunken profligate, or a flirtatious high-brow lady. All of these images display an aspect of the Wife of Bath, but we would argue that none of them truly encapsulates her essence.

A detailed illustration of a young woman on horseback, smiling at the sky. Around her are male pilgrims on horseback, all lowering at her to varying degrees. To form your own opinion in person, come in and examine these images of Alysoun yourself. To see the Blake, ask for Iconography 1596; the Stothard, Iconography 1661; and the 1542 edition, Hickmott 101.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


So what exactly is a Gabberjabb? When you flip through Walter Hamady’s Gabberjabb No. 6, you encounter a multi-layered, surrealist autobiography that walks a tightrope between sense and nonsense. Hamady’s art epitomizes the virtues of letterpress printing and book design while simultaneously poking fun at assumptions about the structure and function of books. In Gabberjabb No. 6 (its lengthier official title is Neopostmodrinism or Dieser Rasen ist kein Hundeklo or Gabberjabb Number 6), Hamady seeks to expand the book form by disturbing codified reading conventions and exploring the nuances of typography through continuously footnoted poetry and prose.

A page from the artist's book "Gabberjabb," printed on green paper.In Gabberjabb No. 6, Hamady calls attention to the structural elements of book form that are normally taken for granted by readers, such as title pages, indices, footnotes, signatures, margins and gutters, and makes them the centerpiece of the book.

A particularly memorable play on book form in Gabberjabb No. 6 consists of a series of page gutters adorned with anatomical drawings of intestines. Hamady draws attention to an empty section of the page that most people never see because of centuries of reading conventions that have conditioned us to focus on the text block in the center of the page and disregard the empty space surrounding it. For Hamady, the gutter or “guts” of an open book is the center of the picture plane and should be considered a significant structural element of the book.

An open section of "Gabberjabb," in which both pages are mostly blank but the gutter is lined with a detailed illustration of human organs inside a torso.

Through his ingenious and abstract play on book structure, Hamady warns against the kind of reductive reading that focuses on the book’s content at the expense of its form. The self-conscious manipulation of standardized rules regulating book form is intended to increase the readers’ awareness that such conventions exist and influence the construction of meaning. In many ways, this book can be considered a meta-critique on conventional understandings of “bookness”; it seeks to challenge our traditional notions of book form by reevaluating how form works in conjunction with content to convey meaning.

A page of text in variable, blocky letters.A page bearing an angled block of text and an image of eye.

To see Gabberjabb No. 6, ask for Presses P4187hne. Gabberjabb No. 6 is part of an eight volume series called Interminable Gabberjabbs and volumes 5-8 are available at Rauner as well, along with over twenty other artists’ books by Hamady.