Illustrating the impossible.
I started illustrating Finnegans Wake in 2009 because no one convinced me not to.
I first read it after dropping out of university, perhaps to prove to myself that I wasn’t an idiot, but also because I just couldn’t imagine what it would be like to read it. After I finished, I knew I’d have to read it again, because I still couldn’t imagine it.
James Joyce’s last work is a densely structured dream narrative. In place of normal storytelling and normal English, it uses a unique dream language in which stories, sentences, words, and styles run together in a bewildering stream. I try to recreate that stylistic playfulness in pictures, combining visual motifs in a series of illustrative and graphic styles that I’ve stolen from every corner of visual culture, from medieval manuscripts to comic books.
Dubliners, Joyce’s first book, is a superficially conventional collection of fifteen vignettes of Dublin life. But it’s not Merchant Ivory: it’s a subtly modern book that already contains all the ideas that Joyce would carry into his later experimental fiction. Each story is structured as a satirical allegory with moral and philosophical significance.
So when de Selby Press asked me to illustrate the book for a new edition, I wanted to rescue it from the nostalgia industry that has taken hold of it. I approached it in the same way as I did Finnegans Wake, focusing not on the stories, but on the ideas that lay behind them.
The de Selby edition of Dubliners will published in September 2014.