There’s been quite a few recent visual art books released that are worth taking a look at from a study of a classic American painter to a survey of an important figure in the history of collage.
“Swing Time: Reginald Marsh and Thirties New York” (New York Historical Society), edited by Barbara Haskell, is a study of the artist whose works came to define a classic period in the history of New York, the 1920s and 1930s.
It is the first large-scale survey of his work to be exhibited and published in more than three decades. Collecting more than 60 paintings and works on paper, the catalog focuses on Marsh’s attempts to portray the gritty realities of big city life in a tumultuous time in the city’s history.
The paintings literally bristle with energy. His portrayals of a range of characters — vaudeville performers, bums on the bowery, burlesque queens, women in their finery parading on bustling city street and riders jammed together in subway cars — were drawn from his explorations of the city. These explorations were made literally on foot as well as by spying out the details of the crowded streets with binocular from the window of his studio.
Marsh’s work is represented in the collections of major American art museums including the Whitney Museum in New York and this volume provides an in depth overview of an American original.
Collage is one of the most important developments in the history of art and perhaps the defining technique of 20th century art.
“Jess: O! Tricky Cad & Other Jessoterica” (Siglio Press), edited by Michael Duncan, is survey of works created by one of the masters of the twentieth century collage aesthetic.
Jess’ works drew heavily upon myth, narrative and appropriation long before that term was current in the art world. His pieces juxtapose materials from diverse sources from “Dick Tracy” cartoon strips and antiquated scientific journals to bubblegum trading cards.
The “tricky cad” refers to his series of works in which he reconstructed Chester Gould’s well-known Sunday funnies character into a series of more than surreal mystery plays. Other works range from pasted-up word poems and collages populated with mythological figures to artists’ books, again before that term entered the lexicon of the art world.
Most, if not all, of Jess’ works were published in small limited editions or obscure and hard to find literary journals. Siglio Press is to be congratulated for bringing the works of this important artist to the attention of a wider audience. By drawing on a wide range of original materials and putting them together in new contexts, Jess re-assembles the obvious to give us new possibilities for what things might mean.
Kirk Robertson covers the Churchill Arts Council scene.