Friday, 14 November 2014

Something pretty (special): 'Paper Dolls,' the Kerascoët art-book

As you may be aware, I have been (very) excitedly anticipating the release of Paper Dolls, the very first art-book by Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset, better known as artistic duo Kerascoët. In regards to availability, as far as I can tell, outside of France, the only way to get it  currently is via Amazon- and that too, through either Amazon UK or Amazon France. It cost me £37, but it is a large -27cm by 32cm- beautifully made book (I was unaware of the dimensions when I ordered it and was pleasantly surprised) and at 352 pages in length, a thoroughly comprehensive look at their work to date. Apart from a 6 page interview with Pommepuy and Cosset at the close, and a couple of introductory pages which are all in French, the rest is all images. I mention this, because as a non-French reader investing in the book, I was slightly worried as to how much of it would be accessible to me. But no fear- the total of written pages comes to roughly 8, so you're definitely getting your money's worth. 

As you can see from the images above, the book has a light turquoise/aqua cloth-wrapped cover, embossed with a beautiful, full floral design which features a tiny cat in the corner. There's a glossy inlay of a girl in a polka dot dress in the centre of the design- it appears to be paper, but is firmly attached. There's another inlay of a dog in a jumpsuit and scarf on the spine. The cover is very striking in a class sort of way, but will most likely need careful storage if you like to keep your books in a nice clean condition, as mine is already starting to bobble a little and the light shade and material picks up dirt quickly. It's a solid book; the paper's a nice heavy gloss that better shows off the colours (but not shiny), and it has a sewn binding, so it shouldn't come apart anytime soon.

The book itself is divided into 7 chapters, metaphorically named: Golden Buds, Elephant's Breath, Sweet Repeat, Cinder Rose, Spider's Stitch, Blackened Mizzle, and Charlotte's Locks. Each chapter has a wonderful, elaborate 3-page opening: on the left page, a small drawing with the chapter title written directly beneath, and on the right page a cut-out silhouette, given body by the full page artwork that lies on the page behind. When the cut-out page is turned to lay flat on the left, it outlines the tiny chapter illustration, and revealing the lushly painted background to be appreciated in its entirety. The chapter dividers are exactly the whimsical, cut-above touch one expects from Kerascoët's work, and elevate the book to another degree of special. These pictures may better explain what I'm jumbledly attempting to articulate: 

There's so much material in here: unseen paintings from Beautiful Darkness, cover process for Miss Don't Touch Me, a swathe of Beauty illustrations, lots of storyboards in various stages, sketches, roughs, full pages of patterns and motifs, concepts, character designs,  a textile section where embroidered designs are as finely picked out as drawn lines, felt and cloth creatures, t-shirts, so much more. It's hard to choose, but my favourite section is towards the end of the book where you get more of the character designs, some looser anthropomorphic beings, each one very different, a real attention paid to their clothes and accessories and in differentiation- making each character individual. It's great to see and pore over, and I like the liveliness and expression in the more fun animal beings. The work here is a combination of so many things: beauty, technique, a masterful use of colour, a sublime controlled line, fine detail- it's much more than the cute, pretty label they are sometimes ascribed. I was reading a conversation between Katsuhiro Otomo and Takehiko Inoue this morning, where they discuss reaching a point where the art softens and flows for you as an illustrator, and at its best Kerascoet's work feels like that to the viewer: natural in its composition and design and construction and what it's conveying; it doesn't seem to try: it is.

Something that was reinforced here: most of the illustrations and designs all feature women. All 3 of their major comic works which have been translated into English, Miss Don't Touch Me, Beauty, -and to a lesser extent, Beautiful Darkness- have  centered around the female experience and issues associated with being a woman. There are very few men or male characters, amidst a hearty smattering of animals, creatures and so forth. It's refreshing to see, and frankly, as much as it's obviously a deliberate conscious choice to write and draw about what you do, you can go through the whole book without noticing a lack or absence of anything. There's a magnificent sepia-toned painting of a party, where there's a woman attending wearing a hijab too, which was so cool for me to see.

Some of the double page spreads here are simply stunning, some more abstract, some of characters from their comics. There's one (shown below) in which a small girl sprite with long silver hair is stood amongast the foliage with a plethora of malevolent blue eyes peering out at her from the darkness. It delivers such a punch: the blue, green and white palette is so crisp, the colours unexpectedly connoting freshness and cool, at odds with the danger and the malicious, hostile intent of the gaze. Again, some of the Beautiful Darkness images are the most outstanding: a huge twisty, knarled tree rising up into the sky, its branches distended and groping, and at the very top, almost unnoticeable: a tiny Aurora in her mouse pelt looking down, surveying. There's too much goodness to go through here. But no-one really wants to hear me go on and on- have a plethora of  poorly taken pictures instead (I apologise for the quality of these- it's been so gloomy and with the days so short now, it's difficult to get any good lighting. Also, I'm legendarily bad at photography):

Some pattern and character drawings:

And some more cute cutouts to finish: