This piece was written as a Foreword for “Anima”, the printed edition of the third of Virginia Peck’s handpainted journals, which was published on December 3, 2010.
Reception 17:00 – 19:30 at Gallery 1581, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, 1581 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA 02446. Telephone: +1 (617) 277-3915.
Once, in a car boot sale, I found an old novel. Its cover was mostly torn away revealing a title page with a handwritten dedication, slowly dissolving in an English drizzle-mist: a wretched sight to anyone who loves books. All books are valuable. There is always something interesting about them. If not the text it might be an engraving, or the type, or the old advertisements you sometimes find before the endpapers.
I picked up this damp, unloved novel and found to my astonishment that it was one of my own. The blue blurring lines had been written for a friend. Such humbling moments are no doubt good for us, but not too often. I still have that book. I’m looking at it as I write this, and thinking that such a miserable tome could have no kinder fate than to be picked up, not by its author, but by a stranger, a passerby with a rare and restless genius, who would give it new life as a ravishing work of art.
You’ll gather I’m a fan. I admire – no, love – nay, adore – Virginia Peck’s hand-painted Journals, but I don’t believe a word of her story.
Virginia says that one day, finding a discarded copy of Natural Light, a novel by Ethel Gorham, she was seized by the idea that she would take it home and use it as a sketchbook. Virginia had not read the novel, and was not interested in trying to make images out of what was written on the page. Rather she would begin workinging by instinct, almost with eyes closed, waiting for what would come, and when shapes appeared in the paint, in the layers of colour and the brushstrokes, she would work with them, and let them become whatever wanted to emerge.
Her first Journal quickly filled with marvellous images. A blue lady stares out at us with startled eyes. What is she seeing? Driftwood sculptures are heaped together, a ring of them, like dancers, or a wood-henge washed in by the tide. Bacchantes abandon themselves to dance watched by a pair of still Pharoah hounds. A pensive youth, looking a lot like Raphael’s portrait of Agnolo Doni huddles next to an exotic tribal face. What is going on here?
I first saw these pictures as small images, neat rectangles on a web page. Even then they filled me with excitement. Inside were wonderful things, fizzing with life and energy, and so exhilarating to paint that Virginia found herself unable to wait for the pages to dry, and had to start working in a second book.
Journal II (John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman) seems more reflective, but is no less brilliant. A mad tiger lifts its head and cries defiance, there’s an excellent frog and a zebra caught in a maelstrom of colour. Most of the pages are given to dancing couples and pairs of heads. Two nudes rest against a wall. I could swear that the one on the right is pointing a gun but her hand is empty.