When the right artist meets the right writer, the combination of words and pictures is like a good lyric strung on a fine melody.
The lastest local example is the collaboration between Terry Tempest Williams and Doug Himes ("Earthly Messengers," discussed here), but the traditions of mixing fine painting with prose and poetry began even before "The Book of Kells. "Part of the intrigue of such collaborations is that books work on two levels. They can be a means to an end--an efficient way to get the word out--or the book can become an artifact in its own right.
"The Two Penny Press" in California goes the former route, selling its volumes for 2 cents each. Salvador Dali's million-dollar calf-skin volume with original paintings opts for the latter.
Get it wrong and you end up, like Ricardo Sanchez, with a luxurious over-priced collection of populist writing that nobody wants, or like Garcia Marquez, author of a literary masterpiece printed on cheap paper with bad ink.
When the magic works, however, it's the best of both worlds. In the case of Himes and Williams the magic is working.
**** Two heads are better than one. And five heads are better than two - if all individuals involved catch the vision of a project, know how to give and take, and have respect for each other's talents and philosophies.
And that is definitely what happened in the creation of a fascinating book titled "Earthly Messengers."
The project was spearheaded by publisher Dolores Chase. She's the matchmaker who got artist Hal Doug Himes and writer Terry Tempest Williams together.
"I knew they both enjoyed the mystical and whimsical," Chase said. "I showed Terry some of Doug's work, and she responded favorably."
When Doug Himes was introduced to Terry Tempest Williams and her writings, he immediately sensed that both of them had a very strong common interest in the environment.
Later, two more people were added to the project - printer Jana Pullman and binder Rebecca Wetzel.
Brainstorming sessions were an essential part of the collaboration. The group decided that the book would be small, handmade and hand-bound; type would be handset; and paper would be off-white. Later, a buff-colored German paper called Nideggen was chosen for the text and a Roma paper was selected for the visual images that fill two of the pages.
They also focused their attention on the tactile side of the book. It would have a soft cover of natural fiber. And it would be bound in long-stitch construction with no adhesive.
Keeping the construction of the book as natural as possible parallels the message found in both text and art.
In explaining this message, Himes said, "We live in different worlds - the sacred and the profane."
He said part of the profane is the chaotic business world, and the sacred is the world of nature filled with order. Most people, he said, spend too much time in the first and too little in the second.
"We live in a world that is fragmented," he said. "We have lost the power of dream and myth. And people are destitute without it."
He added that today more than ever before, people need a quiet communion with nature. It's not only therapeutic, but places life in its proper perspective. Himes' paintings are filled with symbolic images. But their symbolism is illusive.
"I want to seal the meaning," Himes said. "Then, if the viewer is thoughtful, he will ask himself some of the same questions I asked myself while I worked on the piece."
And he says it has surprised him how perceptive some people are. After careful study of the work, they often pinpoint the interpretation.
Himes likens his collection of images to the dream bundles Indians used to carry. This assortment of small objects was highly meaningful to an Indian; he felt that if his dream bundle were stolen, he would be vulnerable to the enemy.
When creating his art, Himes reaches into his "dream bundle" and pulls out the images that most effectively convey his message. Some of these motifs are birds, snakes, goblets, checkerboards, grids and calligraphy.
"I am intrigued with the bird image, because birds can fly above it all and observe the world below," he said.
The grids, made up of black-and-white rods, are placed in the work to establish a standard.
"You don't ever know where you are on the earth without a standard," he said. "Even to find your position on the earth, you have to look at a very distant object - a star."
The calligraphy is not meant to be read, but is merely a design device.
When asked what artists have had the greatest influence on his work, Himes said, "It's a hard thing to identify what artists have influenced my work. Probably Paul Klee and Tamayo. But the most influential have been several instructors at BYU - Barsch, Bigney and Darais."
Himes received his bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University in 1983 and his master's of fine arts degree from the same institution in 1987. He currently teaches printmaking there and says "a tremendous amount of energy comes from associating with art students and faculty members."