Andrew Paul Wood – 16 June, 2020
This is a beautifully produced book with hardboard covers and an elegant design by Central Otago-based Gary Stewart, who deserves a lot of credit for bringing the whole thing together and making it work. Naturally, with all these extremely talented and successful people involved, the standard is very high.
Euan Macleod and Lloyd Jones
Images: Euan Macleod
Text: Lloyd Jones
Design: The Gas Project
Massey University Press 2020
Massey University Press describes the Lloyd Jones and Euan Macleod collaboration High Wire as “the first of a series of picture books written and made for grownups and designed to showcase leading New Zealand writers and artists working together in a collaborative and dynamic way”.
This immediately annoys me, as the idea that ‘picture books’ are for children is positively archaic in the first place, and given the enormous international successes of author Jones and artist Macleod independently, one can must inevitably enter into the book with a degree of cynicism about what it’s meant to achieve artistically. Jones is perhaps best known for his 2007 novel Mr Pip which won the Commonwealth Writers award and was shortlisted for the Mann Booker. Macleod is a painter of high renown on both sides of the Tasman and won the Archibald Prize for Portraiture in 1999.
That said, it is a beautifully produced book with hardboard covers and an elegant design by Central Otago-based Gary Stewart, who deserves a lot of credit for bringing the whole thing together and making it work. Naturally, with all these extremely talented and successful people involved, the standard is very high.
Whether it meets their own individual standards of excellence might be another matter, but in any sort of collaborative effort there is going to be negotiations, accommodations and so forth. It is, however, very much a project well within the respective stylistic wheelhouses of both contributors, so don’t expect any wild experimentation or novelty. This is a celebration of a friendship more than it is trying to synergistically push any artistic boundaries.
As the text makes clear, Jones initiated the project and his text leads it. Macleod is responding to the spirit of the thing, though it doesn’t appear that he’s consciously illustrating the text. Rather, it’s a metaphorical interpretation of the vibe of the thing. Jones, in a broader meditation on bridges, begins with a vignette of sorts, a response to the famous tightrope crossing between the twin towers of the old World Trade Centre by Philippe Petit (this is pre-9/11, remember) in 1971. This is the start of a meandering essay-cum-prose poem that considers the artistic act through the metaphors of the tightrope and the bridge, which Jones avoids letting flounder in well-tilled cliché by spicing it up with strong images, anecdotes and his good sharp prose.
The accompanying drawings by Macleod really make this book, while the sparser ones are revelatory in what they tell us about the artist’s approach to painting—the cloudy human figures he is best known for, built up from looping, expressionistic scribbles. The effect is not unlike the very loose, almost abstract effects one finds in some Gustave Doré engravings in another such curious collaboration, the 1869 London: A Pilgrimage created with the Victorian journalist Blanchard Jerrold.
Together Jones and Macleod have created a mysterious, moody and rather unusual book, and thanks to Massey University Press, a genre normally associated with luxury boutique printings in short runs of collectors’ editions can be made widely available to the broader public to enjoy. It is the perfect gift for fans of either creator.
Andrew Paul Wood