I have long had a vague feeling that I should read Proust. I notice Swann's Way on the bookshelf and wonder what I'm missing out on. But I also gathered that reading Proust would be a long, slow slog. And so I had not read Proust...until this past month when I was asked to develop visuals for a book on Proust. The author of this project, Dr. Barry, is a long-time acquaintance. Dr. Barry has followed my work for a number of years. We had an immediate connection given that as a psychiatrist Dr. Barry has a deep understanding of the concepts that drive my art: consciousness, memory, the autobiographical self, embodied cognition.
I read Swann's Way over the winter break. It's a long read. It took a while to get comfortable with the rhythm. And there are sections that drag. But, there's plenty of pure magic. Proust creates a shimmering work of art with words. He gives linguistic form to the fleeting sensations and impressions of consciousness, reconstructing long term memories into layered visual metaphors. There are numerous reflections on creativity and the creative process. And his narrative is deeply informed by visual experience. He is attuned to light and dark, shadows and contrast. Color and form in the natural world are noticed, as are textures and surfaces of the built world. Proust notices sunlight weaving threads of golden silk, ribbons of moonlight splintering across the surface of water, the shifting visual images of sunlit stained glass windows.
The art pieces will offer visual metaphors to connect with both literal images and concepts about which Dr. Barry will write in each section. It is an interesting challenge to think about how art images will read as static photographs on a page. I proposed a 2-page layout for each section. On one page, an introductory quotation by Proust will be accompanied by 2-3 instagram-style images of the literal object or image associated with the quotation. The photographs are to be gestural, abstracted glimpses that evoke the literal imagery. For the glass pieces, I wanted to create a series that was conceptually and visually coherent; for the 8-10 art images to make sense across the sections of the book. I developed a collaged composition that gives me flexibility to weave together the various visual elements that will recur across the pieces.
The central motif of the constructive nature of memory is represented in a mechanical or structural form of circles and half-circles.The concept of synaptic transmission and signaling is reduced down to its essence with straight lines of glass stringer and pops of gold. Abstracted text elements point to the written form of Proust's art. It also connects to the mediation of memory by language. Recall and reconstruction of memories is dependent on the symbolic code of language. Abstracted foliage elements point to Proust's passion for the organic world; the flourishing gardens and vines and blossoms serve as an extended visual metaphor for the creative process throughout the text. Other elements are introduced section-by-section.
First up: old books.