Teasing the senses

New books delight the eye and the mind

December 12 1988

Teasing the senses

New books delight the eye and the mind

December 12 1988

Teasing the senses


New books delight the eye and the mind

The best gift books are like a holiday feast, beautiful to look at and a joy to devour. But long after the memory of a celebratory dinner has faded, good picture books continue to delight the eye and the mind. They may sit immobile on coffee tables but they can transport readers to worlds of wonder. This year’s selection of exquisite books includes everything from close-up portraits of remote communities to wide-angle views of Earth from outer space. They tease the senses, thrill the imagination and, with notable frequency, sound a warning about environmental devastation. A sampler:

The Art of David Blackwood (McGrawHill Ryerson, $50) is made for display on the coffee table. The first retrospective of etchings by Newfoundland-born Blackwood, 47, the sumptuous book contains 126 reproductions of his works from the past 25 years. They include many scenes of Newfoundland sealers at work, a series that first established him as a leading Canadian artist. Although the stark drawings need no elaboration, there is an accompanying text by novelist and TV producer William Gough. Unfortunately, the colors in the book often fail to do justice to the original art.

Stark drawings of a different sort first brought Henry Moore to public attention. In 1940-1941, the artist, best known for his huge, plaza-filling sculptures, produced sketches of Londoners sheltering in the city’s subway system from the Blitz. The famous shelter works are included in Henry Moore, Drawings (Rizzoli, $75) by British curator Ann Garrould. The book also features reproductions of about 300 other pieces, ranging from his early drawings as a 22-year-old art student to a 1983 sketch of the artist’s own arthritis-wracked hands executed three years before his death.

Like Moore, Pablo Picasso continues to attract attention. Of the many photographers who paid court to Picasso, who died in 1973, none was more openly admiring than LIFE magazine’s David Douglas Duncan. Picasso and Jacqueline (Penguin, $45), Duncan’s fifth book on the master, chronicles the artist’s final years with his last wife, Jacqueline Roque. The handsome photographs show Picasso living in an enchanted world of work and play. A more desperate reality emerges from Late Picasso (University of Washington Press, $45), an indispensable catalogue of Picasso’s work from 1953 to 1973. In one unforgettable self-portrait, he stares out in wide-eyed terror—apparently at the prospect of death.

Yale professor Robert L. Herbert’s Impres-

sionism, Art, Leisure and Parisian Society (Yale, $70) manages to bring a fresh view to well-trodden terrain. The author shows how the glittering social world of Second Empire Paris shaped the work of such painters as

Manet, Degas and Renoir. Herbert’s analyses of the paintings are subtle and persuasive, and the book is filled with reproductions not only of entire paintings but of illuminating details.

Hope in the face of adversity is the keynote of Art of the South African Townships (Douglas & McIntyre, $19.95). The book illustrates that, despite apartheid, black South Afri-

cans have produced a body of vibrant visual arts, in addition to theatre and music of resistance. Gavin Younge, a white South African arts journalist-lecturer, presents reproductions of a wide range of posters, paintings and sculptures. Tommy Motswai’s cartoon-like painting The Tea-party offers a grotesque view of a black maid serving tea to her self-satisfied white employer and his guests. But the most striking displays are photographs of the houses painted in the colorful style of the Ndebele tribe. They are the cultural expression of a people who refuse to be beaten.

Art and literature come together beautifully in Verve (Prentice-Hall, $130) by Michel Anthonioz. Between 1937 and 1960, a Greekborn art lover who called himself Tériade put together 26 issues of Verve, a Paris-based

magazine published in both French and English. The book provides a fascinating account of Tériade himself, as well as superb reproductions of works—many created for the magazine—by such artists as Picasso, Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall. The text also includes excerpts of pieces written for Verve by Ernest Hemingway and Jean-Paul Sartre. The result is a colorful evocation of an extraordinary time for art and literature. Architecture, like visual art, has its innovators and its traditionalists, and Vancouver-born architect Arthur Erickson has always been an iconoclast. “Design is nothing,” he has said, “if not a courageous adventure.” The designer of Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology and Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall writes about his own work in The Architecture of Arthur Erickson (Douglas & McIntyre, $65), a wonderfully photographed collection of more than 120 projects. Erickson’s work combines the boldness of Modernism with the diversity of architectural styles from around the world. Like his buildings, his prose is lucidly original and coolly self-confident. A more ephemeral art form is examined in Private View: Inside Baryshnikov’s American Ballet Theatre (Bantam, $34.95) by John Fraser, editor of Toronto-based Saturday Night magazine. When Soviet ballet superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov defected in Toronto in 1974, Fraser—then a dance critic—became a secret agent for a day, passing along a message from the planners of the elaborate escape to Baryshnikov. Later, the journalist and the dancer became friends. Fraser describes the charismatic Baryshnikov, now artistic director of New York City’s American Ballet Theatre, as “the shining sphere around which everyone and everything orbits.” Eve Arnold’s candid black-and-white photographs flesh out the behind-the-scenes narrative.

The art of photography is a gift-book mainstay, and leading Canadian photographer Sherman Hines has produced a radiant portfolio of 124 landscapes in Extraordinary Light (Summerhill, $50). Hines avoids predictability by exploiting the enormous possibilities that light offers to his art. He transforms such familiar images as the mist rising above Niagara Falls into a frenzied battleground of grey, green, blue and white. Another stunning photography book, Border Country: The Quetico-Superior Wilderness (NorthWord Press, $50), focuses on the wilderness along the Ontario-Minnesota border. Husband-andwife team Craig and Nadine Blacklock spent two years photographing cascading waterfalls, brooding skies and sparkling lakes. But Border Country also has an impassioned text by conservationist Tom Klein, who warns about destruction of the region as more and more people seek out its beauties.

On her first visit to the Lower North Shore—a remote area of Quebec south of Labrador—photographer-writer Louise Abbott met a friendly 11-year-old boy. He was carrying a radio blaring punk-rock music and turned out to be anglophone, but Abbott could not understand his dialect. That juxtaposition of timelessness and technological change recurs throughout The Coast Way (McGillQueen’s University Press, $50), a beautifully rendered portrait of a small but tenacious group of English-speaking fishing communities scattered along the treeless north shore of the St. Lawrence River. In 91 black-and-white plates, Abbott depicts the harsh loneliness of

rock, fog, sea and snow and balances it with the warmth of her subjects’ faces. Another testimony to the rugged beauty of a region and the indomitable spirit of its inhabitants is This Marvellous Terrible Place: Images of Newfoundland and Labrador (Firefly, $19.95). Yva Momatiuk and John Eastcott have taken color photographs of breathtaking coastlines and glacial lakes as well as the weathered faces of grass-weavers and squid-jiggers. But the book’s real strength lies in the wry observations of the people themselves. “My ancestors were rogues and murderers and pirates from Great Britain,” says fisherman-sealer Jack Troake. “We’re starting to get more civilized now... but I hates like hell to be used and dictated to.”

Another spectacular region is showcased in The Nahanni Portfolio (Stoddart, $65) by nature photographers Pat and Rosemarie Keough. For a year, the couple hiked, skied and canoed throughout the Nahanni River country, in the southwest corner of the Northwest Territories. Their startling photographs— which depict blossoming alpine meadows, windswept plateaus and ragged-edged mountains—are preceded by historical details and pictures of the native Dene people.

Handsomely illustrated and informative, biologist R. D. Lawrence’s The Natural History of Canada (Key Porter, $39.95) tracks the geological development of Canada from the last ice age up to the present. Lawrence zeros in on several scientific controversies, among them the theory originating in the 1970s with U.S. scientists—who found the fossilized remains of rhinos, alligators and tortoises in the Arctic— that some animal species associated with hot regions originated thousands of years ago in the Canadian North. Another survey of Canada’s regions, Canada: A Natural History (Penguin, $50), has a graceful text by John Livingston advocating the preservation of Canada’s remaining wild plants and animals. Photographer Tim Fitzharris bolsters the case with such memorable images as a tufted puffin in flight over the Queen Charlotte Islands.

Other gift books transport armchair travellers to foreign lands. And one of the most appetizing selections is Italy the Beautiful Cookbook (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, $55.95) by Lorenza de’ Medici. With its lush illustrations for each of the 240 recipes and its sunbathed images of rocky coastlines and high mountain villages, it appeals as much to the culinary voyeur as to the cook. De’ Medici, who traces her pedigree back to the famous Lorenzo de’ Medici, produces what she promises—an array of beautifully presented, authentic foods that reflect the variety, flavors and colors of the various regions of Italy.

Fat, glossy and exotic, Odyssey: The Art of Photography at National Geographic (Raincoast, $80) is everything a gift book should be. A companion to an exhibit at the ¡2 Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C., mark1 ing the centenary of the National Geographic I Society, the book contains 299 color and black| and-white photographs, half of them published 1/1 for the first time. There is a believe-it-or-not air of melodrama to some of the pictures: against a storm-black sky above the Faeroe Islands in the North Atlantic, white fishing boats sit in a cove of sunlit water turned crimson by the blood of slaughtered whales. The End of the Game (Raincoast, $24.95) is a disturbing account of an African tragedy: the widespread destruction of the elephant. Author Peter Beard, an American who moved to Kenya in 1961, documents how, from the turn of the century to the present, East Africa’s ecosystem has been rudely jolted by the march of civilization. The book begins with the arrival of such early white settlers as writer Karen Blixen (author Isak Dinesen of Out of Africa fame) and big-game hunters including U.S.

President Theodore Roosevelt. Faded black-and-white photographs capture the incongruities of colonialism: in one, a grinning bare-breasted white woman rides a motorcycle past two solemn Africans and their camel.

It is a long way from a Manhattan publishing office to an African campfire, but Bartle Bull, the 49-year-old former publisher of The Village Voice, has travelled it many times since his first African safari in 1959.

In Safari: Chronicle of Adventure (Penguin, $50), Bull’s experiences—he has not shot game since 1967—form only a modest chapter in his comprehensive, splendidly illustrated history of the African expeditions that began in 1836. His sources range from the diaries of such early-19th-century white hunters as Frederick Courtenay Selous, whose spectacular career was the basis for H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, to conversations with Tanzania-based Robin Hurt, one of the few remaining professional white hunters.

A very different kind of adventure is recalled in The Greenpeace Book of Antarctica (Macmillan,

$29.95). According to author John May, when the British explorer Robert Scott reached the South Pole in January, 1912—just a month later than Norwegian Roald Amundsen—

Scott despairingly wrote, “This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have labored to it without the reward of priority.” But the lavishly illustrated volume shows that the continent’s coastal ice cliffs and interior deserts have a majestic beauty. The author warns that exploitation of mineral-rich Antarctica could wreck its fragile environment.

Packed with color photographs, charts and diagrams, The Environment of Life (Oxford, $49.95), by British science writer Colin Tudge, depicts the wonder of earthly life in all its myriad forms—along with a wealth of sobering information on the ways that it is being threatened by human achievements. The book provides intriguing excursions into littleknown areas of natural science, including the

methods of navigation employed by migratory birds—some use the stars to find their way across oceans. But Tudge warns that the human race’s success at altering the environment could be its downfall.

Respect for Earth is also a dominant theme in The Home Planet (Addison Wesley, $49.95), edited by Kevin W. Kelley. Published jointly in the United States and the Soviet

Union, the book is a spectacular collection of photographs of the planet taken by astronauts and cosmonauts from 18 nations. The clean, almost spartan design of the book complements the phenomenal vistas. And the text reveals how astronauts from many cultures are bound into a common humanity. Writes Muhammad Ahmad Faris: “From space I saw Earth—indescribably beautiful with the scars of international boundaries gone.”

In addition to taking readers on a junket through space, gift books can also take them time-travelling. This year, the 25th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22,1963, generated a flood of new books about the charismatic 35th president of the

United States. The Way We Were: 1963, The Year Kennedy Was Shot (Book Center, $49.95) evokes—in words and pictures—the year in which the United States seemed to advance from national adolescence to adulthood. The editor, veteran Canadian-born journalist Robert MacNeil, observes that 1963 was the “time before”—before the computer revolution, women’s liberation and the Vietnam War. The Way We Were ends abruptly in November, 1963, when, MacNeil writes, an assassin’s bullet brought the “first intimations of vulnerability” to a whole generation.

In LIFE in Camelot: The Kennedy Years (Little, Brown, $50), authors Philip Kunhardt Jr. and Frank Kappler chronicle John F. Kennedy’s family and his rise to the White House. Lavishly illustrated with photographs culled from the pages of LIFE magazine, the book tells more about the news media’s love affair with America’s own royal family than it does about Kennedy’s complex and tragically short life. A more substantial offering is The Kennedy Legacy: A Generation Later (Penguin, $29.95), by novelist and essayist Wilfrid Sheed. Sheed’s text evaluates John F. Kennedy’s career and the legacy of idealism that he bequeathed to his brother Robert.

Falling somewhere in between a walk on the wild side and a hightoned stroll down memory lane is The Sixties: A Decade in Vogue (Stoddart, $39.95). It is at once a superficial and razor-sharp evocation of an era, concentrating on personalities rather than political and social issues. The photographs of miniskirted models and brooding young film stars are accompanied by a few strong excerpts from pieces by notable writers: Frances Fitzgerald provides a short eyewitness áccount from Vietnam, and Gloria Steinern writes about the masked ball that Truman Capote threw in 1967 for U 540 of his closest friends.

The Vogue History of 20th Century Fashion (Penguin, $60) is one book that can be judged by its cover: the contents are as meticulously elegant as its jacket art, which features a glamorous woman casting a long shadow on a vast white background. Spanning the past 70 years, the volume features hundreds of black-and-white photographs from Vogue magazine. British costume historian Jane Mulvagh has produced detailed documentation of fluctuating hemlines and waistlines. Her research has unearthed some strange moments in fashion history, including a Second World War-era British design for a “a waterproof white velvet gas maskcum-vanity case.” Sumptuous and comprehensive, the book is a fitting tribute to the art of style. And when it comes to gift books, style is everything. □