Following in the footsteps of Byron and Shelley, Karrie Fransman, author of The House that Groaned, and four friends decided to take a week away from real life to tell each other stories and create a piece of collaborative work. They even had a theme. Pretentious as it sounds, that theme was the death of the artist. With a nod to the famous ‘Death of the Author’ theory of Roland Barthes, the group wanted their work to represent their own difficulties to continue creating art once the world of work and families reared its ugly head. They produced Death of the Artist, a single narrative formed from the work of five people, using watercolour, digital art, photography, collage, and illustration.
On a visual level, it is as interesting and original as it sounds. The five contributors are clearly extremely talented, and it is exciting to see a work that mixes so many mediums to tell its tale. Perhaps most striking is the photography section, from Helena Harvey-Pollena. It’s rare to see a story told through photographs in this way, as they are so often left to do the talking for themselves. But it works here, adding layers to the characters we have so far only seen in watercolour and digital art. Vincent Abiss’s section is also particularly arresting, and is probably the most successful in making the words as stimulating as the images.
But there are problems. Overall, unfortunately, the writing doesn’t hold a candle to the art. And it feels like this story of a group of friends who have known each other since university is at times a little too personal, a little too like the sharing of gossip and airing of secrets that maybe only they will be fascinated by.
More problematic is the fact that the story doesn’t do enough to grip the reader. It’s all well and good to produce such a pretty piece of work, but without a hook there is not always enough to hold us. A repeated hint in the blurb that the ‘death of the artist’ theme would become more relevant than expected is pretty much the only written element that keeps us reading, although it doesn’t take a genius to work out what or who that will apply to.
Any Cop?: It’s a hard one to measure. When a book gets one part of its composition so right, but fails slightly one another key element, should the whole thing be considered a success? I don’t know. I’d say that it looks completely stunning and that fact maybe makes up for the mediocre writing, but that will depend on the reader. A truly beautiful surface, but little hiding underneath.