06 November 2011

Catalogue Review: Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings

Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings. (London: The Mayor Gallery, 2011), 63 pages. ISBN: 978-0-9558367-8-7. Illustrated. Hardcover, no dust wrapper, as issued.

The catalogue for the exhibit of "Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings" is a gem. The bold red cover is of a quintessential Plathian nature, and is reminiscent of the exhibition catalogue for Karen V. Kukil and Stephen Enniss' "No Other Appetite": Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and the Blood Jet of Poetry (Grolier Club, 2005). Published in a limited edition to 1,000 copies, the full color scans throughout are bound to delight Plath's readers (scholars, fans: we are all in this together).

The introduction by Frieda Hughes was largely published in a slightly different format in both her Vogue UK ("Drawings from the Past," November 2011, pp 103-104) and Observer ("Lines of Beauty," 22 October 2011, p 22) articles.  It is a cool, factual, point-to-point introduction that lacks an emotional connection to the work it precedes. This might stem from the fact that the exhibit was a business transaction for her; she needn't attempt to sell her readers because the work will sell (and has sold) itself.  After all, Sylvia Plath said it best herself:

"There is a charge

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
For the hearing of my heart--
It really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
For a word or a touch
Or a bit of blood

Or a piece of my hair or my clothes."

Although the plates within the catalogue are divided into sections (Drawings from England, Drawings from France, Drawings from Spain, Drawings from the U.S.A.), this is not rendered in the books table of contents. Rather, the list of plates are just that, a list, which is difficult to read. This mash-up of titles was likely done to conserve space, but in an exhibition catalogue of artwork, the design and aesthetics of the book layout should trump cheapness every once in awhile. Add the extra page, charge an extra quid. The book concludes with a brief biography (really a timeline, date of Plath & Hughes' wedding is incorrect) and an even more brief bibliography of works by Plath.

The font & formatting throughout looks inconsistent and as a result is somewhat distracting. The pagination ends on page 59 with the last plate, though the text carries on for four more pages through page 63. Weirdly, the table of contents lists the plates as going to page 55, though they in fact go through page 59. The drawing of Ted Hughes, withdrawn from the sale according to Michael Glover (Independent review, 4 November 2011), does not appear in the catalogue though it was featured at least twice: in Frieda Hughes' article "Lines of Beauty," and the article by Beth Roberts ("Sylvia Plath Drawings at the Mayor Gallery," The Telegraph, 25 October 2011), so that a full overview of the exhibit as it was originally planned can be seen.

Plath did at least three sketches of Ted Hughes. In October 2005, one was put up for auction and sold for £27,600 (then $49,000) to the National Portrait Gallery in London. Another sketch of Ted Hughes by Plath appears in Eye Rhymes, p. 104, though its location is not explicitly identified in the text, it must be at either Emory, Indiana, or Smith. One must wonder, as we always seem to do with things about Sylvia Plath: what else is there...

All that taken into consideration & most likely disregarded, one will and should buy this book for the illustrations and the illustrations only. At only £10 (with shipping to America will run you about $26), I would have paid double. As the drawings were for sale and nearly all have been sold at this point in time, the catalogue will be the only enduring way in which these creations by Plath can be seen as a whole. As these were not available through the archives that contributed largely to the book Eye Rhymes (ed. Connors and Bayley, 2007, and sadly now out of print), the drawings by Sylvia Plath in the catalogue add a richer dimension to our understanding of Sylvia Plath as Artist. At a disadvantage having not seen the exhibit in person (if someone would like to buy me a round-trip to London, please email me), the catalogue is a successful surrogate, and I highly recommend buying a copy, or two.


J.J. said...

I cannot figure out how to order this book! Is there a good link?

Peter K Steinberg said...

J.J. - you're right, it isn't easy to figure out. I think if you send an email to info@mayorgallery.com (which is on their contact page) that this would be the best way to obtain a copy of the catalogue.


Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Peter, I would be happy to buy you a round-trip ticket to London, if you would just do the same for me. :-)

Melanie Smith said...

Catalogue received, what a nice addition. The pictures collected like this really is lovely.

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