Andreja Brulc's Blog

Beletrina ’36 Top’ Book Covers / 2007–2011

Posted in Books by andrejabrulc on 06/10/2013

A selection of ’36 top’ book covers made in March 2012 for my ‘artist-in-residence’ application in Oaxaca, Mexico. The book covers were produced during my first five years of the Beletrina contract (2007–2011). My statement for this selection made in the application is below.

1 part_2007-2011 2 part_2007-2011


The largest body of work I have produced, often involving crafts in the context of contemporary art and design, consists of designs and illustrations for book covers for Beletrina, a major literary imprint of the Slovene publisher Beletrina Academic Press.

In Nov 2006, having just finished my professional studies at the London University of the Arts, I won a public competition in Slovenia to become principal cover designer and illustrator for the imprint, and after nearly six years in this role I will have created from my London home around 200 book covers. The publisher, subsidised by public and private funds, has gained its reputation primarily by introducing prominent works of contemporary national and world literature to Slovene readers, including Mexican authors such as Octavio Paz and Sergio Pitol. The publisher’s goal is to set standards for a new publishing philosophy which, in addition to focusing on non commercial titles and giving priority to inventiveness, freshness and directness, respects authors and invests a considerable effort in the promotion of their work. Their philosophy and my close-knit relationship with the publisher has helped me to develop a highly individual and recognisable style and branding for the imprint over the last nearly six years.

The branding is defined by a central stripe of a single colour with separate but unified design elements above and below. The artwork encompasses the entire jacket. The whole collection is uniform in style, but at the same time, each book is visually distinct as each requires a different response in method and technique depending on the content of the book. I am a passionate reader, so all the books are read before I get to visual thinking in the sketchbook, creating artwork and finalising the book for print!

Designs involve mixed media including photography, drawing and silhouette, montage and collage (cut and paste techniques), the use of typography, organic and man-made textures and patterns, textile, threads and so on. The illustrations in particular often use traditional craft techniques such as hand printing, stitching and patchwork, embroidery, knitting and crocheting, and industrial materials such as sandpaper and scrim tape. I also apply traditional techniques to unusual materials and use new techniques with traditional materials. I experiment with different possibilities in which images are juxtaposed in a tense relationship to one another and blended together through mixed media, thus creating different realities and perceptions through the interplay of natural forms, narrations and emotions. The choice of using the traditional crafts as a subversive technique is primarily in order to respond to the content of the book but at the same time to explore and challenge certain traditional ideas ad taboos, expressed in that content, that are deeply rooted in our society, such as cultural, political, social and geographical situations.

Illustration: The Life of ‘the Painter’ and the Death of ‘the Girl’ / Margriet de Moor

Posted in Books, Craft, Illustrations by andrejabrulc on 21/04/2013

In the days leading up to the opening of the Rijksmuseum, I was working solidly for five days on this embroidery, collaged with a patchwork, as my response to the book The Painter and the Girl (De schilder en het meisje) by the Dutch writer Margriet de Moor. It does seem rather morbid to have wasted so much time on this time-consuming technique for a subject as gloomy as it appears on the embroidery, but as the story is closely inspired by at least two historical records – visual and textual – I decided to respond to them as part of my process as closely as I could! At least time and place of the story gave me the opportunity of having my first go at using a satin stitch. But before I return to the making, I will first set its context against the story (the book has not yet been translated into English) describing the fate of two main protagonists – the life of ‘the painter’ and the death of ‘the girl’.


Time and Place: The context for two parallel worlds

Rembrandt_Met_DP800559As the title of the book may suggest, the author uses one of the greatest masters of the 17th century Dutch painting as her main protagonist in much the same way as Tracy Chevalier uses Vermeer for her historical novel Girl with a Pearl Earring. In fact, when I started reading the book, I thought I was entering into the world of the same historical narrative, but the reader soon discovers that the story is in fact placed in Amsterdam instead of Delft, the city of Vermeer. It, therefore, becomes obvious after a few pages into reading that the historical narrative of the male protagonist, although the name of ‘the painter’ is never clearly spelt out, is inspired by ‘a particular part’ in the life of the greatest master of Amsterdam and indeed the highlight of the museum, Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669). But while Chevalier’s female protagonist comes directly from the Vermeer household of servants, de Moor’s ‘painter’ never meets ‘the girl’ in her life. Her identity is, however, soon revealed as Elsje Christiaens – the subject of two Rembrandt’s drawings, now kept in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, showing The Girl Hanging on a Gibbet, who was identified as Elsje by I.H. van Eaghen in 1969 (see cat. no. 138, Rembrandt’s Women (exhib. cat.), Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2001, p. 238).

De Moor first sets the background for her story – a description of Amsterdam as a symbol of the Golden Age in all aspects of life. The city is flourishing due to trade and particularly due to Dutch naval supremacy and is commissioning art and architecture. As a result of its prosperity, Amsterdam becomes a magnet for artists and travellers from all corners of the world. The town hall (now Royal Palace) on the Dam – an architectural wonder and a symbol of Dutch democracy – is opened in 1655. It is also the palace of justice, where criminals, locked in its dungeons, are given the final verdict by the city councillors.

The story has a precise date – 1 May 1664. The narrative of both protagonists is set into two parallel worlds: both worlds evolve as flashbacks, which in turn lead up to the specific date. But it is the town hall that brings their fate – the life of ‘the painter’ and the death of ‘the girl’ – together.

The painter and the town hall

Rembrandt_van_Rijn_-_Self-Portrait_-_Google_Art_Project_WikimediaOn the one hand, we follow the story of ‘the painter’. In 1664 Rembrandt (Self-Portrait, right, from 1659, National Gallery of Washington) was an old man of 58 left with two children – Titus and Cornelia, the first from his marriage with Saskia and the second from his illegitimate liaison with Hendrickje (ex-housemaid). Saskia died soon after giving birth to their son Titus in 1642. In her will, Rembrandt was given full possession of her property and any benefits from it unless he remarried or died, which would have had a profound effect on his finances, so this must have made his decision never to marry again, including Hendrickje, who died in 1663.

A few years before, Rembrandt was commissioned a large oil painting, The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis (1661-62), by the city council of the town hall. The painting, now in Stockholm’s National Museum, was returned to him, just before the death of Hendrickje, probably due to a lack of decorum required for a history painting. It seems likely that he was never paid for it – when we meet ‘the painter’ in the story, he is in terrible financial difficulties, probably because by then his style may no longer be in demand  – and when the canvas is returned to him, he cuts it into pieces in order to sell them individually. Also, his household items are confiscated by the city officials in order to raise money to pay off his debts. So, his relationship with the town hall is by no means on friendly terms! At the beginning of the story, on the morning of 1 May 1664, ‘the painter’ even avoids following the flow of people going to the Dam to see the execution of ‘the girl’. ‘The painter’ bears witness to hanging in Leiden but never to strangulation. The full account of the execution is only narrated to him by his son towards the end of the book.

VolewijckIn the final chapter, in the afternoon of the execution, ‘the painter’ sets out with his bag containing art materials in order to meet Elsje ‘in her death’. By then her body is already transferred and displayed on a gibbet on the headland of the Volewijck (now the northern part of Amsterdam) – the public execution field as seen in the print on the left by Anthonie van Borssum (1644), where the criminals were publicly hung and their bodies left to the crows and ravens.

The girl and the town hall

On the other hand, we follow the story of Elsje Christiaens, an 18-year-old girl from Jutland (Denmark), whose past and her journey to Amsterdam is created by the author. Elsje – after her older sister suddenly disappears with her sailor but leaves secretly behind five golden coins for her younger sibling – decides to set on her adventure to Amsterdam as she sees the city as the promised land. She arrives at Amsterdam in April 1664. Her dream turns into a nightmare. Rather than finding a job as a maid, she is driven by unconditional love for her sister trying to find her in the city. She fails. Perhaps her sister is already consumed by the bubonic plague that ravages the city. The money runs out quickly. The story from now on follows the historical account closely (see W. L. Strauss, M. van Muelen (eds.), The Rembrandt Documents, New York 1979, 1664/1). On the 27th April the landlady hits Elsje with a broom as ‘the girl’ is unable to pay her rent (in the story the landlady even forces ‘the girl’ into prostitution), but Elsje decides to take revenge on the landlady and kills her with an axe. As Elsje is being chased out of the inn, she jumps into the Damrak, from where she gets pulled out and saved from drowning. She is locked in the dungeons of the town hall. She shows no remorse during her trail. She meets the verdict for her crime and is sentenced on 1 May 1664. According to the historical record, it is stated that the executioner is to strike her on the head ‘several times with the same axe with which she killed the woman’ (in the book the execution is by strangulation). Furthermore, it is ordered that her body is then ‘brought to Volwyck and fastened to a pole with an axe above her head, to decay in the air and to be devoured by birds’. Both drawings from the MET show Elsje with the axe dangling down next to her left shoulder and with her skirt tied with a rope to spare her from further humiliation in death.

The Making of the Embroidery: The Presence of the Artist and the Absence of the Sitter

As the threads of the two parallel worlds lead to a culminating point – the meeting of ‘the painter’ of ‘his sitter’ in death – it would, therefore, seem obvious that the illustration required a response to Rembrandt’s drawing as a starting point.

I decided to use the technique of embroidery on canvas in order to replicate the drawing as a kind of ‘painting in stitch’. This old technique reminds me of the woven effect reminiscent of tapestries – Dutch tapestries of the 17th century were considered of the highest quality in Europe, with Amsterdam and Delft being the main production centres. Also, Rembrandt was certainly interested in fancifully embroidered ‘antique’ costumes – whether he actually kept them or painted them from his imagination or even used Old Master prints as a source of his inspiration – as it is evident from some of the female costumes depicted in his historical paintings showing women wearing heavily embroidered textiles. As Marieke de Winkel points out, according to the list of his possessions from 1656 (see ibid., The Rembrandt Documents, 1656/12), Rembrandt did not own a large collection of old costumes, but he kept rather ‘a quantity of ancient textiles of diverse colours’, acquired for his study of patterns and colours, and of the fall of drapery (‘Some Interpretations of the Dress of Rembrandt’s Women Re-evaluated’, in Rembrandt’s Women, pp. 61–63). Using the satin stitch as a preference for my piece, I was not only able to outline the figure of ‘the girl’ and fill the shapes of her clothing using threads varying in colour – red for the dress, purple for the overcoat, browns for the boots made of reindeer skin – as described in the book, but also to follow the folds of her dress using threads varying in lengths, thus reinforcing the idea of light and shadow in the fall of the drapery.

It is not known whether Rembrandt, like ‘the painter’ in de Moor’s story, did actually draw Elsje from life – her lifeless body is heavily isolated from any surrounding background of the Volewijck. Also, the two MET drawings on Japanese paper are considered very rare drawings by Rembrandt recording a particular event. However, it does seem that Rembrandt was acquainted with the surrounding area as he did a landscape drawing of the Bend in the Diemerdijk looking towards Nieuwendam around 1649–50. As de Moor’s description of the execution field is very close to the print by van Borssum – ‘the painter’ has to take a boat to reach the place surrounded by water and reeds – I decided to recreate the world around ‘the girl’ in much the same way. I created a patchwork using three different kinds of fabrics representing the headland (brown) surrounded by the sea (two blues). Various reeds were then stitched onto the patchwork, with the crow flying out of the reeds in the direction of ‘the girl’. In other words, I imagined the world for the embroidery as it is (was perhaps) seen through the eyes of ‘the painter’ (Rembrandt) – ‘the on-looker’ – of ‘the girl’ (Elsje Christiaens) in her death as ‘his absent sitter’.

Illustration: On the Swing / Book Cover / Italo Calvino

Posted in Books, Craft, Illustrations by andrejabrulc on 20/09/2010

IC_Baron na drevesu_Jacket_FrameThis stitched embroidery, titled as On the Swing (2010), is a part of a larger illustration made for the book The Baron in the Trees (Il barone rampante) written by the Italian author Italo Calvino. The author creates a fantasy world immersed in history, philosophy and politics at the time of Voltaire. Described as conte philosophique and a metaphor for independence, the book tells us the adventures of a boy called Cosimo who, as next in line for the title of Baron, resists the authority of his parents when 12 years old – he refuses to eat a dinner of snails prepared by his sadistic sister Batista and rejects his comfortable aristocratic childhood by climbing up a tree adjacent to the dining room. He spends the rest of his life inhabiting an arboreal kingdom. The story is narrated by his younger brother Biagio. Set in Liguria near the French Riviera, the two brothers belong to the 18th-century nobility, whose family estate is located in the vast forest landscape of Ombrosa. Cosimo discovers that the more he distances himself from others to see them from a new point of view, the more he can help the society. His love for a young woman named Viola, the daughter of the Marquis next door, in a feud with the Cosimo’s family, changes the course of the lives of everyone: Cosimo, Viola, Biagio, and the community of Ombrosa.

The cover illustration – which combines mixed media by collaging photography, distressed paper and historical textures, print-making and outlined stitching – reflects the direct meaning of the book and its setting. It depicts the most memorable scene in which Viola, while sitting on her swing holding an apple, is taken by surprise at her first vision of the sudden appearance of Cosimo on the tree. She drops the apple and her shoe. The swing is set near the wall that physically divides the two estates, here reinforced by the stripe across the cover, and surrounded by the white magnolia, mulberry and oak trees. The scene is further set against the silhouette of the veduta of Ombrosa. The use of the two 18-century paintings by Watteau and Fragonard as a source for outlining the characters’ silhouettes using the traditional craft of stitching has two purposes: on the one hand, it is intended to reinforce the historical setting through the traditional forms (the tradition of the nobility), while, on the other hand, by subverting the painting’s context through the use of stitching and placing it into a different context, the idea of creating a new meaning is evoked showing the ‘new’ world (rebellious child breaking from the tradition).Marquisa on the Swing

Illustration: Love is in the Air / Book Cover / Jani Virk

Posted in Books, Craft, Illustrations by andrejabrulc on 15/10/2009

Small Format 217x516_TypeThis illustration, titled as Love is in the Air (2009), directly responds to the title of the book Ljubezen v zraku written by the Slovene author Jani Virk. The author addresses the complexity of human behaviour in a constant search for true love. The main protagonist is a divorced middle-aged man: a single parent, a music teacher, a fan of the music band Santana and of the writer the Márquis de Sade, a prisoner of his own personal ‘disorders’ and dualities. On the other hand, his daughter Ula is to him the only light in his life. His attempts in searching for the fulfilment of love are shown to us as countless incidents of his staggering from one relationship to the other. At the end of the story, we even find him in Mexico, in Tequila (as seen in the stitched agave plant at the back), but all these attempts appear to be in vain, uncertain and elusive.

The illustration is, therefore, playing on the traditional air-borne fertility symbols of “birds and bees”. The methods of traditional crafts, such as stitching and patchwork, digitally photomontaged, are thus used as subversive techniques to address the taboo issues in the theme of sexual reproduction.Birds and Bees

Illustration: The Pig / Book Cover / Lucija Stepančič

Posted in Books, Craft, Illustrations by andrejabrulc on 01/07/2009

LS_Prasec pa tak_Jacket.qxdThis illustration, titled as The Pig (2008), was made for the collection of five short love stories Prasec pa tak written by the Slovene writer Lucija Stepančič. The author dissects the modern human psyche in a tragicomic way and evokes the power of emotion already forgotten. The illustration reflects the title – the word ‘prasec’ (a male pig, a term used in Slovene in much the same way as the English word ‘bastard’) is an insulting word from the female perspective to describe the “macho” type in an oppressive, male-female relationship. Though the illustration presents us a very kind and likeable piglet, it is used to manipulate the viewer through the image into exploring the possibility of art to comment on the language in a particular socio-cultural and geographic context.

The artwork for this cover focuses on one of the stories in which a Slovene woman accidentally overhears a conversation in her own language on the street of Venice from the open window of her hotel room. A male stranger lies to a male cousin of his divorced wife, whom he has just met by chance. The complexity of contemporary male-female relationships in our society, in which the criteria for moral values are often blurred or even questioned and above all require the need for re-evaluation, is expressed through the use of the traditional technique of stitched embroidery. The embroidery of the pig is set in a strong contrast with the photo below. Normality becomes absurd, absurd normality.


Illustration: Simona / Book Cover / Michel Houellebecq

Posted in Books, Craft, Illustrations by andrejabrulc on 01/05/2009

Print Layout 1This embroidery, titled as Simona (2007), is a part of the illustration made for the book The Possibility of an Island by the controversial French author Michel Houellebecq. The illustration closely reflects the narrative of the book, which centres on a cloning cult, preoccupied with a genetic modification and ever-lasting human love without pain and emotion, with a strong belief that the human race can be saved from ageing, physical and psychological suffering and dying, through the creation of a new and better one. The main protagonist, Daniel, is a successful misanthrope stand-up comedian, whose “success”, built on politically incorrect jokes about racism, paedophilia and torture, is measured with a luxury villa in Spain and a full bank account. He lives in a hysterical society of unlimited sexual freedom, where there is no space for the ugly, the poor and the weak, or for the old and the dying. He is bored with his hedonist lifestyle, but he cannot escape from it. After his two unsuccessful love affairs – with one woman, who does not like sex, and with the other, who does not like love – he seemingly finds immortal earthly pleasures in the sect that believes in advanced extra-terrestrials. Simona

The illustration focuses on the story, told through Daniel (No. 1), a dog and a woman, which is interwoven with commentaries from two clones, Nos. 24 and 25, two thousand years from now. The two clones live in a time – identified by unemotional background (sandpaper) – when the human species is struggling to survive in the face of climate change and nuclear war. Advanced technology and biological science are counterposed by the use of traditional materials and techniques – silhouetting, stitching and sandpaper. The three Daniels are identified by typographical numbers, while the silhouetting of the clones as seemingly identical male figures was to emphasis the genetic modification – the effect achieved by spraying the template of a figure on the sandpaper and then replicating it digitally. I intended to make them seem the same and visually receding from the foreground into the distance as if progressing through time and space.

Spraying the figure on the abrasive surface of the sandpaper, the material used in decorative crafts, such as for smoothing the wood, was to reinforce a paradox: future genetic modification of human cell, which, on the one hand, is still very much controversial on moral grounds, while, on the other hand, it is a result of the inevitable technological advancement pushing its boundaries, and in particular showing a global competition in science between the dominant countries of the developed world. Another tension is demonstrated by the traditional stitching used to outline the fragility of the female in the social order of the book, thus making her more human than her male counterpart, juxtaposed by the image of the dog. In the novel, one feels that love between the woman and the man is equated with human love for the pet, shown here by the use of photography as only the dog seems to be real, perhaps a symbol of true love.

Print Layout 1

Illustration: Neighbours / Book Cover / Pascal Bruckner

Posted in Books, Craft, Illustrations by andrejabrulc on 01/04/2009

Print Layout 1This illustration, titled as Neighbours (2007), was made for the book L’amour du Prochain (The Paradox of Love) written by the French author Pascal Bruckner. It shows a response to the novel, which talks about the disillusioned generation of ex-students of 1968, who under the slogan ‘Let’s be Realists, Let’s Demand the Impossible’ attempted to change the foundations of capitalism of the western society but failed. Today, the ex-rebels from the barricades of Sorbonne are very successful businessmen, directors of global corporations, important politicians and diplomats, all of them the most eminent representatives of the very same state apparatus against which they fought 40 years ago.

The illustration shows the moment in which the main protagonist, Sebastian, finds himself with two method in a rented flat, with the view of Paris and butterflies flying in through the open French door. Sebastian realises at his 30th birthday party that his success can make him a prisoner of his own self if he remains a conformist to traditional moral values. So, he decides to substitute his economic success and monotonous family life to become a male prostitute, who, with religious fervour, enlivens the life of bored and sexually deprived homemakers. What begins in happiness transforms gradually into a nightmare. Bruckner depicts a dangerous current of decaying bourgeois society: a desire to break away from everyday routine and a belief that one can make a normal life outside tradition, ignoring taboos.

The use of handicrafts as a subversive technique in this piece highlights the double life – and the reversed role in sexual behaviour – of the main character through the use of the methods and materials (stitched embroidery and lace) signifying the transformation of moral values from tradition to transgression. In our widespread imagination, prostitution is more commonly associated with women. The prostitution of heterosexual men is, on the other hand, somewhat “hidden” in our society but, in contrast to any other form of prostitution, it has to some extent been glorified in literature and movies, as described by the French euphemistic term “gigolo“, as a handsome type, who escorts rich and unattractive widows, such as Richard Gere’s character in American Gigolo (1980).

Promiscuity in sexual behaviour is still part of a taboo in more traditional, if not even in progressive, cultures. By exposing in the illustration the essential parts of the body as a fetish – covered in lace and textile – I intended to emphasise the most common stereotypical, or even “macho”, perception of parts of the body associated with sexuality. At the same time by making facial parts ambiguous and thus stripping the individuality from each character, the illustration further raises a concerned issue that such relationships, as depicted in the novel, can still be an individual traumatic experience.


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