Artist and writer Sarah Gillett tells us why she went one step further with her dissertation and chose an Artisan Book for her beautiful work.
I studied MA Printmaking at the Royal College of Art in London. The great thing about the course is that we all came from different backgrounds – like fashion, architecture, illustration, painting, sculpture, performance, film – so the conversations and exchanges were fantastic. My idea of printmaking really relates to storytelling – you and I might tell the same story to friends, but we’d tell it differently, and it would alter slightly each time it was passed on and retold until it didn’t matter what was real, misremembered or made-up, because the image of the story resonates beyond the original.
Taking storytelling as a framework, my dissertation evolved into a set of essays about landscape, philosophy, history and experience.
If you saw my flat you’d understand! I’m a collector – graphic novels, fossils, old photographs, Victorian plates, carvings, paperweights, driftwood. I could never be a minimalist; I’m a maximalist through and through. Many of the images in the book are my own photographs of objects in my collection, and the layout was a way of collaging together the connections between things, just as I might arrange the real objects at home.
The main challenge for me was designing the image pages, which I did by printing and cutting out lots of my images at different sizes and sticking them together as collaged pages. I was so lucky to be working with Francis at Artisan Books, and my designer Alfonso Iacurci at Cultureshock Media, as both totally got what I was trying to do.
For me it was the perfect way to express my aesthetic sensibility. I also wanted to create an ‘object’ rather than a set of words on paper.
As soon as Francis showed me the cloth colours I couldn’t take my eyes off Colville. It’s such a deep void colour that fits perfectly with my sea obsession.
A lot of my ideas at the time stemmed from the colour blue. My dissertation was structured around the thought that blue ‘holds’ things, from stars and planes to whales and sirens. There is the sky, there is the sea and there are our own bodies and experiences.
‘More than any other colour, I understand Blue as a place. It is a vessel for our memory places: the long-ago light of summer beach holidays coloured blue and gold; skating on a lake on an echoing Christmas day; tearing up ferns to build dens in the bluebell wood; night swimming in Silent Lake, Ontario, the water as thick and black as the moonless night sky above. Blue floods the page and seeps under lines.’ Chapter 1, Vessels
I didn’t want to have an image on the cover as I wanted the book to be a mysterious object and the title is visual – Seashells, silk sails and the parabolic etching of the night sky
At first I thought I might go for a natural emboss, but Francis advised me on the transparent blocking. He was absolutely right and I love the way that the title looks like water or ice.
I just wanted the book to look beautiful, and it does. Francis showed me some papers and other books so I could get a feel for how my book would turn out and I think the hand binding really does make a difference to the overall effect of the book. The book production was as much a creative process as the writing so it was worth taking time over. It’s nice to think that the book’s been made by people who care about what they are making.
I had worked with Francis in the past, and when I started thinking about producing a book I remembered him. He’s been an art printer for a long time, well before digital printing, so he really understands about colour, paper and working with artists. I couldn’t think of anyone I would trust more.
It’s perfect. I don’t know what else to say. Everyone has commented on how beautiful the book is. It has a tactile quality in the colour and the cloth that draws people to it.
It’s important to make the dissertation your own thing and that’s what working with Artisan Books allowed me to do. It’s so much work and so stressful that it’s really worth pushing yourself to make something that transforms what you’re written into an expression of joy, or rage, or misery, beyond the words on the page.
I think it’s really important to keep in contact with artists you find inspirational so there are a few projects on the horizon that I’m really excited about. In a few weeks I have a creative retreat planned with Amy Pettifer and Jessica Harby, both brilliant women who constantly surprise me. Later in the year I’m part of a group of 2015 RCA alumna putting together a show in response to As Above So Below, an Allenheads Contemporary Art programme. And I’m hoping to take Amy Gear up on her offer of a residency in the Shetlands.
Right now I’m collaging onto old postcards as a way of drawing alternative pasts / futures. I have over 70 so far, so maybe there’s another book in the making. To keep up with the writing I’m working on a couple of performative lectures based on the essays in my dissertation and linked to the idea of ‘falling’.
I’ve also just set up an experimental Instagram project for ‘pop-up’ exhibitions of work that only exist in Instagram. At some point I will get round to photographing my collection of curiosities on there as well as my terrariums. I have a lot I want to do.
At the RCA the dissertation is considered in its entirety – the overall presentation and how this fits with the ideas explored is very important to the overall mark. For me, the dissertation was an artistic body of work, so I’ll probably carry on recycling the ideas and structures within it for a long time yet.
Sarah’s book was shortlisted for the Intellect Publishing Award, 2015 and she was awarded a Distinction from the Royal College of Art (MA Printmaking), 2015. Thank you to Sarah for taking the time to share her work with us, we would love to think our book played its part in her achievements and wish her every success in her ongoing plans and career.
Find out more about Sarah’s work here
Sarah’s first Instagram exhibition will go online on 1 May 2016 @gillettgallery
Commission Sarah here