A Toute Epreuve and Cortege

The term “Le Livre D’Artiste” means the book of the artist but in this case the artist is not just restricted to just the visual illustration of the book but also the text and publishing of the book. Two books that particularly stood out were  A Toute Epreuve written by Paul Eluard and illustrated by Joan Miro and Cortege written by Pierre Lecuire with collages by Andre Lanskpy.

A Toute Epreuve’s illustrations are youthfully arranged colorful shapes, some show off their wood grain while others have a flat finish. The writing in the book is minimal compared to the page area devoted to the wood blocks. Some pages neglect to have text but those with text use the illustrations as a frame. The bright shapes help to loosen the text by having it showcased in chucks rather than a steady stream of prose. This allows for the illustrations to hold and dictate the location of the text which encourages the reader to focus on the location of the text within the image. This creates a new experience for the reader instead of knowing where to focus before turning the page, the reader has to navigate their eye through the image to focus on the text location. From my observations, this seems like an important distinction in the le livre d’artistes where the art is the focus while the text is its embellishment.

20131011_111602[1]A Toute Epreuve

Cortege offers a very different and slightly segregated text with image approach compared to  A Toute Epreuve. The bright and bold collages demand to be looked at instead of incorporating the text the two part of the book fight for the attention of the reader. The text is a large full font which stretches the wide pages to the point of barely leaving a margin. The illustration creates a vibrant visual counterpart to the blocked page of text but allows for little integration or connection between the two. Although, this is a le livre d’artiste it refuses to be seen as much of a collaboration as the former book but rather parallel entities. This suggest a less successful relationship between the artist, writer and the publisher because instead of creating a solid piece the artist and writer just seem like small embellishments to one another’s work.

20131011_111303[1] Cortege

To me A Toute Epreuve is the best example from Book Set 4 of what the le livre d’artiste movement was – having text by a writer become more than written art by transforming it into a piece of visual art with the addition of an artist’s illustration all collaborated by a publisher.

20131011_111634[1]A Toute Epreuve

Jazz vs. Cortege

The focus of Jazz is its images. Matisse writes the text in order to enhance the visual elements by providing a break or pause in visual stimulation through the simplicity of the textual pages. Because the creation of the text revolves around the images, it appears as the secondary element of the book. The visual hierarchy and interplay between text and images creates a more relaxed viewing experience as you are given time to take in each print. The contrast between the boldness of their color and the cleanness of Matisse’s handwriting emphasizes the drama of the images. While the images of Jazz take precedence over the text—appearing more visually engaging and having been constructed prior to the text—the words of Matisse still possess meaning and play an important role within the book as a whole.

Despite the secondary nature of the text, it still reflects intentions of Matisse to create a cohesive interaction between text and visual. The act of handwriting creates a more personal connection to the artist. The casual cursive is simple, but still aesthetically pleasing. The words themselves hold relevance within the book as Matisse reflects on the construction of the images and the visual and textual relationship he has created.

The influence of Jazz on Lecuire is evident in Cortege. Between the two books I found Jazz to be the more aesthetically pleasing. The relationship between text and image in Matisse’s book is subtle and understated as the pages of words allow you to breathe. Cortege follows a similar style by juxtaposing pages of text with full pages of images; however, Lecuire creates a more visually demanding interplay. Unlike the casual curves of Matisse’s handwritten script, the typographic text in Cortege is thick and loud, filling each page. Similarly, the images are full of colors that collide together. Cortege has a greater intensity that mirrors Lecuire’s intense ideas about how he wanted his materials to be published. While there is a staggering of importance between the images and words of Jazz, the poetry and images in Cortege fight for dominance. Both elements are loud and attention grabbing as Lecuire aims to maintain some visual equality between his poetry and Lanskoy’s images. While Matisse would have viewed the text he wrote for Jazz as support for his images, Lecuire may have believed the reverse for Cortege as he hoped to supplement his poetry with the images.

Le Livre d’Artiste: Abstract Illustration and Text

From an early age, I was familiar with one of Matisse’s prints from Jazz, “La Chute d’Icare” (The Fall of Icarus). It hung there, framed, in the blue-wallpapered dining room of one of my parent’s friends. I was always intrigued by its dynamic presence. As a child, I only saw a human shadow, bursts of yellow with a blue sky. After learning more about Le Livere D’Artiste, I can understand this print in a new way.  Book Set 4, Matisse’s Jazz (1945) intrigued me. I had never seen the entire book of prints before. The rigid lines, highly saturated colors, the fluid text, all combined with cutouts, make for an elaborate and interesting artist’s book. Matisse’s handwritten cursive text is married with the images. They’re complimentary to one another, and the words become part of the expression of art. Turn on some Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, or Dizzy Gillespie, and you’ll notice that Matisse’s colors and shapes convey the very essence of jazz music with a particular visual rhythm. There is a decorative relationship between text and image, and has particular significance because it was Matisse’s own writing.


I was also fascinated by À Toute Épreuve (1958), with text by the French Poet Paul Éluard and original woodblock illustrations by Spanish surrealist, Joan Miró. Carefully placed and arranged, the illustrations and text have a strong visual interaction. It’s alive and engaging, but also a little chaotic. The playful colors are illustrations allude to children’s drawing, but with extreme technical effort by the illustrator. Miró, solicited by the publisher Cramer, cut more than 230 woodblocks over eleven years to complete the project. Miró used traditional woodcut, as well as a technique called collotype, which combines natural and manufactured materials, creating texture to the abstract shapes. Early on in the project, Miró said,

“…I have made some trials which have allowed me to see what it was to make a book and not merely to illustrate it. Illustration is always a secondary matter. The important thing is that a book have all the dignity of a sculpture carved in marble.”

d5272532lBoth books discussed are exemplary of the Livre d’Artiste movement. Both also share an intriguing relationship between text and abstract illustration. While one was written and illustrated by the same artist, Cramer’s text combines an acclaimed artist’s interpretation of a well-known poet’s text, and marries the two together. Both have very different feels to them, but they balance the text in their own distinct way.


Orchestration in Image (Book Set 4)

I admit I’m naturally inclined toward the traditionally illustrative styles of Fables, a lovely livre d’artiste with sumptious woodcuts by Marc Chagall. I say naturally inclined because that is the sort of illustration I myself enjoy making: it can be visually distinct and stylistically unique, and Fables is certainly both of these, but it is also fairly literal.



The narrative bends it around its knee. It is a visual aide, an important crutch to be sure, but also one that can plausibly be dispensed with. Fables is a masterwork in its own right, one could argue, and in no need of visual supplement. Looking at writings done specifically for the livre d’artiste, however, one sees an entirely different pattern.




One of abstraction. I use an example from Jazz by Henri Matisse here, because in this case, the pictures were created before the writing, a far rarer occurrence than the opposite. The result — and this is a phenomenon that I noticed in class and will investigate here — is a visual noise. Bereft of literal interpretation, bereft of clear, uncomplicated connection between text and picture, the audience turns to the metaphor of a song, a symphony. I noticed this language used in class. Take Jazz as a starting point. The writing in that case is huge and handwritten, scrawled, really. Looping and gentle and light, it’s fairly easy viewing, and certainly provides intense contrast with the thick, juicy gouache that coats the visual pages. And there it was said in class: it’s almost like a blast of noise, somebody said; it’s so much louder than the writing, we observed; the term ‘visual cacophony’ was thrown about somewhere. The title ‘Jazz’ is appropriate; it draws to mind improvisation, robust and free — and these are things the writing and the art have in common.

Or take A Toute Epreuve, another classic. Whereas Jazz draws thick lines between text and image, A Toute Epreuve muddles them together to form a soft, bouncy, spotty sort of tune — a melody that draws its greatest strengths from its judiciousness, its use of the silent space. Its two components, literary and visual, tangle amongst themselves and fall apart again, weave across and behind and before one another to form something akin to a bright, quivering whistle, or an elastic piano tune, or maybe both. The visuals couldn’t make less sense to a Frenchless observer, and there are points where they resemble a baffling batch of squiggles — at least to my narrative-mired illustrative eye. But there is more than one way to represent narrative.


A Toute Epreuve

Narrative is rhythmic, after all. Even strings of poems, as was the case with A Toute Epreuve, are set in a particular order, a strategic dipping and climaxing of passion and punch. A text with no rhythm is merely an orchestra warming up. Any genius that springs from it can only ever be accidental.

My favorite example, which I’ve saved for last, is Le Chef-D’oeuvre Inconnu, illustrated by Picasso. Apparently, the famous artist grew fascinated by the source material — and it shows, for the work is the most interesting combination of image and word.


Shown here is a section of Picasso’s lengthy foreword. The idea of a foreword being made entirely of image is a fascinating one in its own right, but the pertinent detail here is the build of image up to the words. The deceptively simplistic line-and-dot sketches begin small and grow in size and complexity until they become more akin to what you see above — until they sprawl over entire pages, until they become a vast and intricate labyrinth of black-and-white, and until they terminate suddenly where the story begins. The obviously intentional buildup reminds me strongly of the overture of a musical — a choir of erratic violins hissing up an alien introduction to the strange story about to take place.

This foreword, more than anything else, made me realize the rhythmic and orchestral potentials of accompanying illustrations. I hope I see other illustrated artist books that take advantage of this avenue just as passionately.



Investigating the European Livre d’Artiste

miro 2Please choose the two books from this book set that you found most intriguing.  How would you describe the relationship between text and image in each book?  How does your experience of the imagery affect your experience of the text (or vice versa)?  Do you think one or both books embody a successful collaboration between author, artist and publisher?

(There are facsimile editions of Jazz (with English translation) and A Toute Epreuve in the locked case at Hillyer Art Library).