Joyce in Art

Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes, Joyce in Art: Visual Art Inspired by James Joyce. Foreword by Fritz Senn, Envoy by James Elkins.

Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2004
ISBN: 1-84351-052-9; xii + 415 pp.; EUR 40.00

This is the splendid catalogue brought out on the occasion of the major exhibition held at the Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin, during the centenary James Joyce celebrations in 2004, and is well worth having for the book itself alone. It is lavishly illustrated and specially designed by Ecke Bonk, typography by the “typosophes sans frontières”, using two fonts (Caslon and a sans-seriff) and two colours, and has an intricate but useful marginal cross-reference system referring the reader to the illustrations (some 200 of them, mostly in colour, many of them full-page) and other sections of text related to the ones that are keyed. Thus, one is always reminded of the thematic links that bind the convoluted history of modern art. This is a very beautiful book at a remarkable price (in fact, it’s a bargain). Joyce in Art is also the first comprehensive account of visual art inspired by Joyce’s works, and brings together many artists and nearly every movement from Expressionism onward. The curator of the exhibition and author of the catalogue is a Joseph Beuys expert, which shows in that Beuys gets a lot of (fully deserved – he is known to have spelled Finnegans Wake) attention, but she also focuses on artists as diverse as Man Ray, Eisenstein, Matisse, Motherwell, Christo, Francis Bacon, Richard Hamilton, John Cage, and Louis le Brocquy.

The book, like the exhibition, is roughly chronological, starting with Joyce’s own (admittedly limited and somewhat curious) interest in visual art, his forays into the visual world of typography, his activities on behalf of his daughter Lucia’s “letterines”. It goes on by discussing the early responses to his work by artists like Frank Budgen (whom Joyce met in Zurich), Picasso, Wyndham Lewis, Brancusi, Duchamp, Max Ernst, Kirchner, Otto Dix; and that is only the beginning of a dazzling array of very diverse reactions to Ulysses and especially Finnegans Wake, covering a century in which Joyce, in the words of Nathan Halper, became “a sort of patron saint” to modernists and postmodernists alike. His face, of course, also became a kind of icon (much in the way in which Virginia Woolf’s famous profile did), and it is fitting that the book’s frontispiece is a portrait of Joyce by Man Ray.

A relatively short chapter on illustrated editions and illustrations to specific passages, and on portraits of Joyce closes the introductory part of the book, which then zooms in on the many ways in which twentieth-century artists identified with Joyce and used his work as an inspiration for their own experiments with form, space, and the very materials of their art. There is a thematic bibliography, and a detailed index (which, however, only partially covers the extensive 53 page section of endnotes).

Dr Hayes is an art-historian as well as a dedicated Joycean, and it is with a confidence borne out by the work which she has brought together in the exhibition that she can say that (post) modern art has indeed approached the realm of Joyce and has over the years been increasingly characterized by a Joycean kind of wordplay, “translations” of materials and images into new designs, and dislocutions of all kinds.

Obviously, a survey of this kind poses more questions than it can answer, and at times one feels that an “influence” or appropriation is scarcely quite obvious enough to merit much attention, but now that so much of the possible material has been gathered, more detailed study can commence. Joyce in Art is an absolute must for all Joyceans, and of immense interest to anyone working in Word and Image studies. 

Peter de Voogd (Universiteit Utrecht)
Review posted: 2005-01-26