REVIEW BY JOHN GIBBS
Green Apple Books, San Francisco
One of the beauties of A Picture is Always a Book: Further Writings from Book of Ruth is that it's primarily a book about process. I picked it up not knowing what in the world to expect, yet found myself completely entrenched—in the best sense—within Robert Seydel's complex thought processes. It could be a result of the mercurial text itself, as it strays from prose to poetry in an instant. Or the superimposed doodles and drawings Seydel himself made upon the pages themselves—made just so they interact with the text physically. Or some strange combination of both. And the effect is two-fold. You read the book, then you see the book, each reading lending new information to what the other reading lacked, or perhaps could not suggest on its own. Once or twice through the text and you will not be able to separate image from word as a symbiotic relationship develops.
The reproductions of the writings are gorgeous. A lesser production may have settled for black-and-white images or perhaps less images printed in a smaller book. However, bursting color enhances each of the seventy-two "journal pages" included within this book (written and drawn as if by Seydel’s alter ego Ruth Greisman). The world encapsulated within these pages, Ruth's world, is fragmentary. Her commentary and observations comes just on the heels of her actual experiences—and we, as readers, experience both almost simultaneously. Take, for instance, this opening from one page (p. 61): "I. I will go outside, remembering dogs & picnics. Dust is so long it makes mtns on the streets.” The hesitancy at the outset quickly turns action, which morphs into nostalgia, which then turns into surreal metaphor. The rapidity here is breathtaking, and it slows a reader's comprehension speed down, so that we reread passages multiple times to sink completely into Ruth's world, one where the everyday collides with the absurd.
In the interview included as a kind of post-script to the work, Seydel states that his "goal was to found a way to make visual art into a form of literature." We see realist images, such as the "one HORSE, a great massive creature," upon the typewritten page. But we also see suggestive images—more so even—shapes, lines, and symbols that frame or color the text: an ominous red hand with a black hole in it beneath text that reads, "my art is a damaged thing, / of damaged things made." In moments such as these, we readers must go the extra mile to make ends meet between the two. Yet that extra mile is the reason I read, and continue to re-read A Picture is Always a Book.
A Picture Is Always a Book: Further Writings from Book of Ruth is co-published by Siglio Press and Smith College Libraries, and distributed to the trade by D.A.P./Artbook.com. The book accompanies the exhibition "Robert Seydel: The Eye in Matter" that debuted at the Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College in 2014 and travels to the Queens Museum of Art in July - October 2015.
$36 HB 112 pages, illustrated in color throughout ISBN: 978-1-938221-06-4 Pub date: November 2014