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Egyptian Green: Views from Egypt with the Writing of Amelia Edwards, Herodotus, Catullus, Ancient Coffin Texts & Various Other Descriptions
British artist Susan Allix says of Egyptian Green that “the idea of this book is to link past with present and to make a picture; a limited one when looking at the richness of Egypt, but a view that is seen and stitched together with a thread of green.” Green is not a color that one immediately associates with the desert landscape of Egypt, but nonetheless, says Allix, it exists there -- the Nile River Delta, as well as the significance of green in the Islamic tradition
In this way, the book begins to challenge our preconceived notions about the Egyptian landscape. Accounts of the color range from travelers visiting Egypt during bygone times, spells inscribed on sarcophagi, the Roman occupiers, a seventeenth-century explorer, and even found text from printing blocks in a Cairo marketplace.
Egyptian Green is letterpress printed, and hand bound. It features twenty-eight color etchings created from original drawings by the artist with additions of watercolor and pencil.
A variety of papers makes up the 129 pages, including Japanese Kozo as interleaving as well as Egyptian papyrus and Velin Arches for the text pages.
The text was handset and printed on fine art papers by Allix on her 1837 Albion iron hand-press. The book is bound in emerald green goatskin leather over boards with cutouts that expose orange paper and an intaglio print of the goddess Hathor. The book is housed in a green cloth clamshell box with green titling on a cream label on the spine.
Discovering the Nile
Allix discovered the Nile through written sources and travel. She first assembled the writings that she wanted to use, and then set about creating landscape drawings (eventually the intaglio plates) to suit the written text. The artist completed her research at the British Library and was also inspired by academic colleagues who were travelling with her as she visited Egypt and who frequently quoted ancient sources. Her literary sources include: A Thousand Miles Up the Nile by Amelia Edwards; a book about Gustave Flaubert’s letters;
the travelogue of the seventeenth-century explorer Leonhart Rauwolff, who noted that the water of the Nile was “perfectly green”; text of an incantation inscribed on an ancient Egyptian coffin; and descriptions by Greek and Roman writers such as Herodotus, Plutarch, and Catullus.
She was also inspired by the idea of continuity between past and present in Naquib Mahfouz’s book, Adrift on the Nile. Allix based her etchings for Egyptian Green on sketches of carvings, murals and vistas seen in Egypt as well as text in Kufic calligraphy from wood printer’s blocks that she bought in one of Cairo’s markets. She also brought back colors on artifacts from her travels, to aid in color-mixing the printing inks in her London studio.
Allix’s books are distinctive in that she handles every aspect from conception to production: printing, typography, layout, and binding or box making. She prints in limited editions using letterpress-printed text, illustrations printed as etchings, linoleum cuts, woodcuts, pochoir stenciling, and hand-painted additions; she also binds the books herself. The paper used for the books’ pages is usually collected from her travels or ordered with a specific purpose in mind and runs the gamut from commercially molded sheets, to decoratively patterned sheets, to handmade fine art papers.
Allix uses leather and book cloth to cover her books and the enclosures she constructs to house them.
She often chooses to focus her text on words that are written by others, spanning sources from the 1st-century BCE to her own present-day accounts of the places she has visited. She likes to focus on themes of space and time, and how descriptions of places or people can record the way those subjects change over time. She also pays close attention to the aesthetic aspects of the book: the rhythm and the movement of the book as it is being read, the effect of color in the work, as well as strong consideration of the typographic layout of the page.
About the Artist
Susan Allix studied painting at Guildford School of Art and earned an MA in printmaking at the Royal College of Art. Printmaking’s laborious and sometimes tedious processes appealed to her because they allowed her to pause and think about the artistic decisions that she was making in her artwork. She spent two years in Italy to study engraving on a Prix de Rome scholarship. While in Italy she made her first artist’s book, an edition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, which featured tactile, embossed etchings. Her travels to Egypt, Greece, India, Iran, Sicily, and Spain have inspired a series of travel-related books, such as Pyramids (1995), Palm Tree Sketchbook (2006), Colours of Persia (2011), and especially Egyptian Green.
Allix, Susan. “Artist’s Impressions.” In Matrix 15: A Review for Printers and Bibliophiles, edited by John Randle and others, pages 119-124. Lower Marston, Herefordshire: Whittington Press, 1995.
Allix, Susan. “Colours of Persia: The Making of a Book.” The Bonefolder: An E-journal for the Bookbinder and Book Artist 5 (1) (fall 2008): pages 19-21. http://www.philobiblon.com/bonefolder/vol5no1contents.htm
Susan Allix. cargocollective.com/susanallix
Worthy, Hugo. “God is in the Detail.” Rare Book Review (London) (July-August) 2004: pages 40-42.