[ Heebner, Mary ] Shakespeare, William. The Tragic History of Hamlet: An Artist’s Interpretation of the Classic Text by William Shakespeare. Santa Barbara: Simplemente Maria Press. 2008.
Begun as a series of collage paintings on paper, this book interprets the famous Shakespeare play Hamlet through an emotional lens. Artist Mary Heebner’s visual response to the play focuses on the female characters Ophelia and Gertrude. Heebner’s paintings are reminiscent of the complex work of William Blake which is generally recognized as being the precursor to the modern artist’s book and, importantly, a stylistic link to the much earlier world of illuminated manuscripts. While Heebner’s contemporary paintings capture Blake’s imaginative and other-worldly feel, they also have a strict and consistent aesthetic logic, featuring a triptych format with a light, often figurative section on the left, a dark, heavily textured section in the middle, and a more colorful section on the right. These palimpsest-like paintings also contain a printed text, from Shakespeare of course, that has been layered over and then scraped back, creating an atmosphere of dark mystery through the fragments of language and image.
In this book, the 20 paintings are presented as direct pigment prints on Somerset Velvet. Each print is housed in a folder of Mingei kozo paper, on which is printed a corresponding excerpt from the play. The prints and their folders are housed in a duo-tone gray and red chemise of handmade flax and abaca paper. Also included in the chemise are a title page of handmade abaca and cotton paper with pulp-painting and stenciling as well as an artist’s note of handmade abaca paper watermarked with the figure of Ophelia.
An ‘actor’s copy’ of the script reproduces the entire text of the play with markers that denote the location language which inspired each illustration. The book is sewn with red thread in textured amate paper with a debossed title. The play is housed in a black paper folder that also contains the colophon and an epigraph on handmade abaca paper watermarked with the title of the play.
All elements of the book are protected by a clamshell box with a red leather spine and gray paper-covered boards decorated with a debossed skull and flower motif. John Balkwill of Lumino Press executed the production of the box and the letterpress printing. The letterpress text is in Centaur and Trajan. The handmade paper elements of the book were created at the Dieu Donné Paper Mill in New York City. The cover paper for the box was made by Cave Paper in Minneapolis.
From an edition of 20 copies, this book is numbered 19 and signed by the artist at the colophon. Each print is labeled on the back in pencil with the folio number, act, and scene that the print illustrates. The inside of the chemise is also signed and numbered.
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