The Edinburgh International Book Festival’s 2023 theme ‘The Joy of Words’ looks at celebrating the written word with visual artists David Shrigley and Jeremy Deller, and acclaimed poet Michael Pedersen, all participating in a variety of events in its 40 Years programme. Jeremy in It’s Time to Lose Control will reflect on his art biography, reading from his book, Art is Magic. Expect catty jokes, poems and a deep dive into playful art from Michael and David throughout their event, Living in Colour.
All spoke with SNACK about how the visual and written art forms play with each other, culminating in a more nuanced and yet wider, liberating form of expression.
You are all attending the Edinburgh International Book Festival this August, how do you feel your event personally feeds into the festival’s theme, ‘The Joy of Words’?
Michael Pedersen: Nicely, appropriately, busy is in the belly of it. I think there is a joy in seeing names [of people] who are more prominent in art or music or other artistic fields come together with writers and build something with a literary core, which brings in a unique audience but isn’t necessarily something that is doing the rounds at the Book Festival. They’re unique occasions. They’re there for one night only.
David Shrigley: It’s just interesting to have a conversation with somebody who does something different and also has a different pathway into expressing themselves and different experiences.
Jeremy Deller: Writing the book was one of the least joyous things that I’ve had to do in my life because I’m not a writer, really. But there’s a joy in the work; I’d like to think it’s a humorous book as well.
And Michael, you are talking about your new book, The Cat Prince & Other Poems, which is just out?
Michael: Yeah, it’s full of those small, nuanced themes like love, life and grief. There’s a lot about the humiliation of youth and our hopefully hilarious manner, which has a sort of gooey beating heart at the centre of it.
And though some of you are not on the book festival circuit per se, storytelling is what you are all doing: driving narrative and adding joy by different means. I am keen to understand your take on the relationship between art, colour, poetry and prose?
David: There is a slippage between words and pictures, and I’ll seek to make images that don’t illustrate the words and words that don’t describe the picture. I also like concrete poetry, that kind of poetry that’s about the way the words are positioned on the page. And words as pictures, pictures as words, perhaps. That’s my thing.
Jeremy: A lot of my work has text in it anyway. I like when work has a sort of humour in it about serious subjects; it’s a very good way to keep people interested in or introduce people to your work. I’m not a text artist as such, but I do text pictures a lot.
Michael: For me, it’s great to be doing an event with David, as his images have always been almost purified versions of bigger stories. There’s almost a suspiciously juvenile element to some of the literature on the wordplay and the visuals that are put behind it, but the longer you invest in the image, the bigger it becomes, the more layers it has, and the intelligent conflict between the visuals and the words spirals out. The narrative grows as the image deepens as well, and there’s just such an invitation to project your own life into it so quickly.
And David, as you mentioned you work with words also, how do you feel the words aid and work with your playful visuals?
David: I was really interested in comic books. I just liked the graphic devices like speech bubbles, in a slightly abstract, deconstructed way, and the way that the text was presented within the image. I liked the way that you could tell a story in that fashion. And I think that what I’ve always sought to do is tell stories in as economical a fashion as I can. It’s an ongoing experiment where it’s what you don’t say that’s more important.
And Michael, having worked with many artists before for book covers, how do you feel the art and illustration work with your words?
Michael: It’s just about using the page and seeing the book as an aesthetic medium. I think most of my forms are quite contained in terms of concrete poetry; they tend to walk across the page rather than explode. But I definitely see a rhythm in how the paper’s used. Every slash of the pen and the ink on those illustrations has justified its reason to be there. It’s fulfilling quite a vital purpose. There’s no superfluous detail.
And how does it feel to be attending the special 40 Year celebration of the festival? What compelled you to get involved in this event?
Jeremy: Any opportunity to come up and do something in Scotland is always welcome. With a very close attachment to Scotland, I jumped on the opportunity, because I’ve known about the festival for years.
David: I was so steeped in visual art culture in Glasgow that I don’t really talk to that many writers, and I don’t go into their world where they have all their conversations about their book deals and whatnot, and about the things they really like, and the things they don’t like. And that’s interesting for me because, as a literary person, I’m a punter.
David Shrigley Photo Credit: Craig Gibson