Roman Roundup of Italian art/lit pubs I: Ericailcane & Svjetlan Junaković (Logos Edizioni)
Over the past year or two i've picked up some interesting books in Rome & around Italy from small presses & bookstores (here most small presses often have an associated bookstore or vice-versa). Over the coming months i'll try to get through this accumulating stack of books to highlight some of what's going on in the Italian small press/art book world.
Il Numero Delle Bestie by Ericailcane (Logos)
The first i learned of Ericailcane was while we were visiting Torino. Near the bus station somebody was painting these giant murals of sad chimps & mice. The artist was high up on a crane but i asked his buddies or some spectators on the ground «chi è?» & was told it was Ericailcane (or Erica il Cane). So the next time i saw one of his books (i think it was at the Più Libri Più Liberi book festival in Rome) i picked up his Il Numero delle Bestie book. The book contains exquisite drawings & engravings of subjects like: penguins with birthday cakes, shaving bears, rabbit undertakers, a rooster (foaming at the mouth) wearing a rooster finger puppet, chickens leaving eggs behind in movie theatre seats, a squirrel who burst his house by packing too many nuts into it, disappointed monkeys with fly-swatters, insect-riding bears, bible-eating rats, etc. Each image telling an absurdist story in itself.
Here's the book trailer which lets you flip through the whole thing:
And here's some of my favorite pieces:
back-stabbing bears sucking face
ice-skating donkey with a dragon-fly catching bear in his swampy stomach
Ritratti Famosi di Comuni Animali by Svjetlan Junaković
Another book i acquired more recently (from the wonderful Orlando & Ofelia bookstore in the Monti neighborhood of Rome) published by Logos edizioni (who also published Ericailcane's above book) is Ritratti famosi di comuni animali
by Svjetlan Junaković. It's another bestiary book of animals in anthropomorphic situations (seems to be the Logos shtick)—these animals striking more regal, Victorian/Renaissance age poses, some actual famous painted portraits redone with animals (i.e., the girl with the pearl earring redone as «the sheep with a blue turban»). A harem of geese playing cards, a greyhound lounging on a loveseat, frog doctors (dressed like quakers) operating on a human, a hippo in a Turkish bath, etc. Each image (painting) accompanied by a short caption telling a sort of story behind the image (in Italian).
Some of my favorites:
«Fenicottero»: madame Flamingo reading a book dedicated to herself
A rough translation of the text accompanying the above image is as follows:
To create, paint and try to be original and clever is always very difficult. It usually happens that the best results come unexpectedly! When our painter conceived this work, the work was not envisaged any differently from many others: it would bring a bit of money and maybe even a little satisfaction. It happened—happens to the great artists—that painting madame Flamingo would be his most intimate and all aimed at the heart of the model. By nature shy and awkward, he however managed to render the beauty of the curve of the neck, eye and beak of the animal. And that's not all—450 years before it's time, he launched the idea of conceptual art with a brilliant idea: in the book held by madame Flamingo he placed a dedication to beauty and the deep love he felt for her.
And another, not necessarily one of the better ones technically, but i'm always a sucker for goats:
And a rough translation of the accompanying text for this caravaggioesque goat:
Goat, who addresses the viewer with a look so sweet, once determined to have his portrait made and had a difficult choice. At that time (1660) in the Netherlands there were in fact quite a number of excellent artists! In the end, the choice went to the painter who was able to best manifest his personality, that of a calm but firm and intelligent animal. Thanks to the clever use of chiaroscuro to bring out the most of the essence of the character, the artist managed to create a true masterpiece. There is a curiosity related to the painting: being lost for years, it was long been believed that goats had never had their portraits made. When this one reappeared in 1896 in an auction in London, the injustice done to all the goats was canceled for ever.
And finally this one, which speaks for itself so i'm not translating the text (if you can't read the hand-written note he's holding, it says «Menu 1793» & the first item on the menu is chicken:
Red Maze by Stanley Donwood
This book or artist is not Italian (actually published by Schunck* in The Netherlands & available on Amazon) but i got my copy at this great bookstore/gallery in Rome called Mondo Bizzarro, where Mr. Donwood had an exhibit last year. Pretty much everything Stanley Donwood has done has been for Radiohead album art & periphery paraphernalia (in fact the book shares a copyright with Dr. Tchock, a.k.a. Thom Yorke). This book documents the trials & outtakes, thought processes & random musings & creative texts that go into Donwood's art. In keeping with the anthropomorphic theme of this post, here's two animal treatments from the book:
Goat Goodwin 6 (2009)
Avert Your Eyes (1999)
In addition to being a great artist, Donwood is a pretty good writer. Not just in chronicling his artistic processes & the texts he often integrates into his visual works, but he also writes words for the sake of words. He used to in fact post some of his fictions on his Slowly Downward site, but alas they don't seem to be there any longer, or at least not all in one place—though he's collected 41 of them into this book called Household Worms & i have another little booklet of his called Wage Packet. Here's a text he included in an appendix of Red Maze called Failed Notice:
Nothing much grew around the village any more. Both of the shops had been closed for ages, with net curtains hung in the display windows, barely concealing the dusty emptiness of the redundant shelves, the avalanche of unopened junk mail below the letter boxes, and the ghosts which left no footsteps on the dirty linoleum floors. Faded typescript taped to the inside of the door of one shop explained the falling-off of trade, the lowered profit margins, the forlorn blame laid at the automatic doors of the out-of-town supermarket thirteen miles away. I read this notice many times, as if one day it would explain more. There was no such explanation on the door of our house, though perhaps there should have been. Things had been going awry between us for some time. We had difficulty in understanding one another, somehow; as if we spoke different languages, and our interpreter had more lucrative work elsewhere. We moved around each other in something approximating silence, in a wan ballet that owed more to exclusion zones than elegance or grace. Often it seemed as if we were the only inhabitants of the village. On my aimless perambulations I would see no-one at all. No dogs, no cats. I saw only birds; crows circling high overhead in the white sky, calling out in the air, laughing, or perhaps crying. Their nests were knotted cancers high in the tallest trees. I watched them as they wrote indecipherable messages against the clouds. Not for me. No messages. I went home, and our front door was heavy as lead.