Andreja Brulc's Blog

Illustration: The Nonexistent Knight / Book Cover / Italo Calvino

Posted in Books, Illustrations by andrejabrulc on 30/03/2014

IC_neobstojeci vitez_jacketThis paper cut-out illustration was made for the book cover of the Slovene translation of The Nonexistent Knight (Il cavaliere inesistente), written by the Italian author Italo Calvino (1959) and published by Beletrina (2014). The novel – together with The Cloven Viscount (Il visconte dimezzato) (1952) and The Baron in the Trees (Il barone rampante) (1957) – forms a ‘heraldic trilogy’ titled as Our Ancestors (I nostri antenati) (1960). The Nonexistent Knight is an allegorical fantasy novel – the theme explores the questions of identity, integration with society, and virtues through the adventures of a medieval knight called Agilulf.

The source for the plot

The plot of the narrative is strengthened by the material drawn from the medieval literary cycle known as the Matter of France. The cycle developed from the Old French chansons de geste [‘songs of heroic deeds’] – a medieval narrative, a type of epic poetry that flourished between the 11th and 15th centuries and that celebrated the legendary heroic deeds, such as The Song of Roland (La Chanson de Roland). The Song of Roland is the oldest surviving major work of French literature (Oxford manuscript, mid 12 century), which, together with the Spanish Poem of the Cid (Cantar de Mio Cid) (1195–1207), represents the most outstanding example of the chanson de geste. The cycle, also called the Carolingian cycle, is a body of literature and legendary material associated with the history of France during the time of Charlemagne – a Christian King of France (from 768) and the first Holy Roman Emperor (800–814) – and his twelve fictional paladins (12 Peers). The cycle praises their ‘heroic deeds’ accomplished through various military campaigns against the Moorish invasion of the Christian Carolingian Empire from the Muslim Spain (Umayyad Moors of Al-Andalus), particularly recalling historical events such as the Battle of Roncevaux Pass (778) in the buffer zone of Marca Hispanica. The plot also references the Renaissance epic poem of Ludovico Ariosto‘s Orlando Furioso (1516).

IC_neobstojeci vitez

The theme of the narrative

The story, which relativises different ways of existence in the world through a network of intertextual citations and inimitable wit, is set into the imaginary Middle Ages, but the imaginary world is not far from the reality of modern man. Agilulf is one of the twelve paladins in the military service of Charlemagne out of his ‘goodwill and faith for the holy cause’. As a knight, he exemplifies virtues of chivalry, piety and faithfulness through his heroic deeds – he thus serves as a role model to those (e.g. Rambaldo) who aspire to knighthood and as an object of envy to those paladins unable to surpass his excellence. The narrative represents him as a righteous, perfectionist, faithful and pious knight – his only problem is that he exists as an empty suit of white armour. Inside his empty armour, which is always shiny and immaculate on the outside as seen by the others, is an echoing voice that reverberates through the metal. But the knight cannot exist without his armour (i.e. his identity) – if he removes the armour, he is no longer a paladin, while the other knights can remove their armour, because in fact they are not ‘true’ paladins. Towards the end of the story, in order to destroy Agilulfo, the other paladins deny his deeds – unable to fight the forced oblivion, Agilulfo, therefore, vanishes leaving only his armour. After he is vanished, his shiny armour, now appropriated by Ramboldo, turns to be opaque and dirty. His servant Gurdulù, on the other hand, is a complete contrast to his master. He does exist, but his is unaware of his existence – his identity, depicted in most bizarre forms and in chaotic situations, is overgrown with everything that he sees, feels and experiences from the outside world.

The identity of Agilulfo, therefore, exists only as the fulfilment of the rules and protocols of knighthood. It has been argued that such a theme set in an imaginary medieval world is exploited as a metaphor that is strongly connected to modern conditions – according to Margareth Hagen, Agilulf has been described as “the symbol of the ‘robotized’ man, who performs bureaucratic acts with near-absolute unconsciousness” [‘La seduzione del cavaliere inesistente’ in Romansk Forum 2002, 16:875–885]. The romance satirises Agilulf as the ideal man yet nonexistent – as the reader progresses through the story, one realises that most of the story is being made up by Sister Theodora, who, as a nun, is writing the story and drawing the map of the knight’s adventures as her own penance tucked away in a monastery. In the end, she understands that such a perfect knight could only exist in one’s imagination.

Making of the illustration

My illustration concentrates on two elements only: the knight and the imaginary landscape. My main source of inspiration, bearing in mind the adventures of the knight in the landscape, was drawn on the famous Italian medieval wall painting in Sienna – a huge fresco of the equestrian Portrait of Guidoricco da Fogliano, painted by Simone Martini in 1330 in the Sala del Mappamondo of the Palazzo Pubblico, as part of the fresco cycle called ‘Castelli’ commemorating the castles conquered by the Republic of Sienna. While reading Calvino, I could not resist but create an imaginary parallel of his knight to Martini’s condottiere. The fresco of this professional military leader, shown in profile in order to emphasise ‘the ideal image’ of the sitter as was the norm in Italian portraiture at the time, celebrates his conquest of the castles of Montemassi and Sassoforte in 1328 in the service of the commune.

Simone Martini_Guidaricco de Foliagno

The description of Agilulf’s armour – anachronistic to the time of Charlemagne as the white armour, a form of plate armour, was fully developed only by 1420 and was popular among the late Medieval and Renaissance knights – constantly recurs throughout the narrative as soon as the knight comes on the scene. I used an old engraving showing a Renaissance knight on horse, which perfectly fits with the description. Just like the condottiere, Agilulf is a well-composed perfect knight of excellence strolling calmly through the landscape, full of self-confidence and with no obstructions from the outside world. The most outstanding detail of his armour that impressed me most is the plume on top of his helmet described as: ‘the plume made of feathers, from who knows which Oriental rooster, which changes to all colours of the rainbow’! Whether or not one would read this statement as politically incorrect, I took it literally. But rather than making the plume turn into 7 colours of the rainbow, I turned the top of the knight’s lance into the flag of typography – the author and title – using the font Memoriam that flamboyantly emphasises the idea of the flag as if moving in the wind and making some letters change into the 7 colours of the rainbow.

Granada_Book of Navigation_Piri Reis_1521-1525With regard to the imaginary landscape, it seems obvious that the background colour of the landscape, and the shapes of hills and architecture, in my illustration resemble the stylised treatment of the landscape in the Sienese fresco. But my visual thinking developed further from the fresco that shows the landscape from the frontal view. In order to emphasise the map drawing of Sister Theodora, I imagined that the landscape must be seen from the bird’s-eye view – a flat world as depicted in the mappa mundi of the Middle Ages. My inspiration for the landscape topography, therefore, in many ways resembles the detail of Granada, a fragment from the first pre-modern world map of 1513, compiled by the Ottoman admiral and cartographer Piri Reis and published in his Book of Navigation (Kitab-ı Bahriye) (1521–25).

However, at this point of the process, I remembered my old visual diary from the trip to Rajasthan (India) in 2004 and various doodles of the landscape of Jaipur, topped with hill forts and walls marked by battlements (a parapet with crenellation) (photos below). So, instead of placing the knight in a detailed but imaginary landscape of medieval Europe, the concertina with a paper cut-out silhouette of the Jaipur hills became the final source for my illustration showing the bare but imaginary landscape – an ideal setting for the perfect but nonexistant knight. It is, however, likely that Martini’s treatment of landscape subconsciously sprang to mind during my adventures in Rajasthan!

Indian Sketchbook_Jaipur Forts_2004

015_Jaigarh_View of Jaipur hills

013_Amber Fort_Surrounding Hills

020_Jaigarh_View of Jaipur hills

 

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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

Statement

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.

Beletrina book cover designs / Sep & Oct 2012 & February 2013

Posted in Books by andrejabrulc on 09/02/2013

Beletrina book cover designs / September 2012

Posted in Books by andrejabrulc on 13/09/2012

Beletrina book cover designs / July 2012

Posted in Books by andrejabrulc on 12/07/2012

Beletrina book cover designs / June 2012

Posted in Books by andrejabrulc on 06/06/2012

Beletrina book cover designs / March 2012

Posted in Books by andrejabrulc on 05/03/2012

Beletrina book cover designs / November 2011

Posted in Books by andrejabrulc on 11/11/2011

Beletrina book cover designs / May 2011

Posted in Books by andrejabrulc on 29/05/2011

Book Covers for Beletrina: Private View and Literary Event

Posted in Exhibitions by andrejabrulc on 05/10/2010

A literary event took place at the Dreamspace Gallery in London on 4 October 2010 in conjunction with the exhibition opening of book covers and illustrations by Andreja Brulc. The covers were created since 2007 for Beletrina, a major literary imprint of the Slovene publisher Beletrina Academic Press.

Readings were held by a writer and film director Goran Vojnović, the author of the region’s bestselling novel in 2009, entitled Čefurji Raus! (trans. Southern Scum Go Home), and an essayist and poet Aleš Šteger, the recipient of numerous prestigious awards and scholarships, whose work has been translated into more than a dozen languages. DSC_0066

The project, sponsored by the government of the Republic of Slovenia, presented the publisher’s prolific literary activities for the first time in London through the display of selected book covers showing the unique relationship with their principal designer and illustrator.

For reportage of the exhibition by Matjaž Ambrožič for the RTV Slovenia’s programme on culture, Studio City (Knigga), broadcasted on 11 Oct 2010, click here (starts 39:07).

For more photos click Flicker.

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