Mitsou by Balthus. Preface by Rainer Maria Rilke (English translation by Richard Miller). Small first edition hardback published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1984. Design credited to Peter Oldenburg; the cover illustration is by Balthus. Mitsou is Balthus’s story of loving (and losing) his titular pet cat. He was thirteen when he composed the story in 40 ink drawings (the drawings resemble woodblock prints, but aren’t). He gave the illustrations to his mother’s lover, Rainer Maria Rilke, who got them published. My wife gave me this book as a gift before we were married, and I love it. It’s sad.
Moses, Man of the Mountain by Zora Neale Hurston. First edition hardback by J.B. Lippincott, 1939. No illustrator or designer credited, by my edition is missing the original jacket. A retelling of the Exodus story.
Man after Man by Dougal Dixon with illustrations by Philip Hood. First edition hardback from St. Martin’s Press, 1990. Book design by Ben Cracknell; cover art by Philip Hood. It’s Hood’s illustrations that make Dixon’s “future anthropology” of the human race so fascinating. A discursive sci-fi novel of sorts, posing as a textbook.
…the artist must not become a storyteller. The anecdote should not exist in painting. A picture or subject imposes itself, and it alone knows how profound and vertiginous it is. Nothing happens in a picture, it simply is; it exists by essence or does not exist at all. Baudelaire said a poem is there before it is there. Otherwise, it would be akin to something narrative, something inflected, willed into being by the artist. A picture or poem escapes these contingencies, with terrifying freedom and fiercely self-sufficient violence. In this sense, the artists is a mere link in a chain that began long ago. At Lascaux, for example, and even before Lascaux. There is no hierarchy, and Chardin is not better than Lascaux. All these creative connections belong to the same earthly song, from the ancient source of the world that I know nothing about, but which sends me a few messages by flashes of sun—or starlight. The artist constantly seeks to rediscover the illuminating fire, the hearth where sparks are made.
From Balthus’ memoir Vanished Splendors.