Mission, B.C. Barbarian Press, 2013. Folio, 39 x 27.5 cm. Cased in quarter green cloth, with printed paper label to the spine, and green and white patterned paper covered boards, repeating Brett’s wood engraved monogram; rust endpapers, top edges cut, others uncut. A fine copy. The texts were set in Joanna type, with Fry’s Ornamented used for display, and printed in green and black on Zerkall Cream laid paper. The wood engravings, of which there are 134, were printed from the blocks on Zerkall White Smooth paper. One of 175 copies, of which this is one of 120 unnumbered Standard state copies. Item #121
When Simon Brett illustrates a book, he is a chorus guiding the reader toward understanding. He is both a perceptive & sympathetic commentator & an artist setting the story to glorious visual music. His insights inhabit the texts he illustrates, and whether reading an unfamiliar text such as Michael Justin Davis’s suite of poems To the Cross, or a more familiar one like Jane Eyre or Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Simon’s illustrations show the words brought forward into understanding and mutual humanity. In fact, what distinguishes Simon Brett from other illustrators is the extraordinary grasp of human frailty, greatness, and purpose which he demonstrates at every page.
… As in a string quartet or a sonnet, the essential texture and gesture and line in Simon’s work allows every nuance of expression and effect, combines the purest formal balance with extreme flexibility of display, shows the interplay of shadows to reveal the things which cast them - and does all these things on an utterly human scale. His work has complexity, rich ambiguity, and extraordinary beauty, but always ends in clarity. Finally, one simply sees what is and listens to the stories.”
CRISPIN ELSTED, from the Publisher’s Foreword.
“We see thanks to light. And in artistic representation we show light through darkness. The whiteness of paper reads as light by the application of darker marks. Since my life began amidst the the encrusted darkness of soot-laden stone in the City of London after the Second World War, it is not surprising I became a wood engraver; for the process of engraving is the opposite, the letting of light into the pre-existing darkness of the uncut block. Printing it imposes darkness back onto the light, black ink onto white paper as usual. Engravings are made of darkness: of ink on paper, darkness controlling light; from wood, from the tools used, and from the mind and heart of the artist.
Good engraving (Ruskin also said) decorates a surface. I have always preferred an explanatory, ‘painterly’ surface to a perfectionist, calligrapher’s one; yet the surface is all one has. Good engraving decorates a surface. Errors not only destroy the form of the story, they mess up the pattern of the surface as well, the rhythm of strokes that translate the movements of the mind. The engravings that ‘come off’ without such blunders, without the mismatches between content and surface that threaten every moment of an artist’s life, without incompatibilities of gestural direction and evoked form that cannot be resolved… those are the ones to give thanks for.”
“‘to conceive [a subject] with that distinctness which is no longer reflection but feeling - an idea wrought back to the directness of sense, like the solidity of objects…’.
That aspiration more or less sums up my experience as an engraver and my relation with the craft. The two sides of artistic ‘vision’, the visual and the visionary, should combine flawlessly.”
Simon Brett, from the Introduction.