The Amherst College Libraries have a strong collection of artists’ books, some in Special Collections and many more in Frost. When combined with collections at Smith, Hampshire, and UMass, the Pioneer Valley is home to rich resources for those studying all forms of the book arts.
Last September we were delighted to listen to French book artist Didier Mutel’s engaging and entertaining presentation about his work. Mutel has been creating books and prints that mix storytelling and art for more than twenty years. He is enthusiastic about teaching the printmaker’s art, to keep it alive for generations to come. After a brief history of his atelier, he walked us through the creation process of two of his works. The first is known as The Out Side and is made up of 29 parts which fit together like puzzle pieces. The parts are all different sizes, each within its own slip case. Mutel used Horla, an 1887 science fiction short story by Guy de Maupassant, as his starting point and inspiration, but The Out Side transcends that story. It touches on concepts as varied as the conflict in the Middle East and uses multiple mediums, including aquatint, etching, drypoint, and collage. One copy of this work is in the Mortimer Rare Book Room at Smith.
The other work is an edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The creation and production of Mutel’s version took three years. “Jekyll & Hyde embodies the change/dissolution of the title character in the text. As Mr. Hyde takes over, words grow, distort, and overpower the narrative. Eventually, the letters on the page fall away and leave the reader with no thread to hold.”¹ Copperplate engravings like the one to the right accompany the text.
Mutel’s most recent work was just added to the Amherst collection last month. It is an homage to Newton’s Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica. Aquatints that evoke the night sky are printed on concrete. As Mutel explains it: “The concept of the book is to create an original combination of all these elements, physical and poetic, traditional and contemporary. The use of concrete, a heavy material, substantiates the principal of universal gravitation, a notion that, itself, becomes poetic and represents the fundamental idea of this book. The tactile elements, from galuchat to concrete, give rise to a desire to touch and stroke the object, metaphorically representing Newton’s laws of motion (mutual attraction), here represented in tangible form.”
If you missed Mutel’s visit, here is a wonderful video to watch as a consolation prize. If you think a printmaking demonstration doesn’t sound very exciting, that’s just because you’ve never seen one that involves fire, explosives, and Sid Vicious.
¹Timothy Young, “If it is Beautiful, it is Useful: A Few Words for Didier Mutel and His Unheeded Manifesto,” in Acide Brut Manifesto, by Didier Mutel (Berkeley, Calif.: Codex Foundation, 2011), 5.