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Joe Morse’s Illustrations Adorn “Beloved”

Posted on 07/07/15 by Sally

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The Folio Society has released a first-ever illustrated version of Toni Morrison's 1988 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, “Beloved,” with images by Joe Morse, who is represented by Heflinreps' UK partner, Kit Killington.

Already the accolades are rolling in. BBC journalist Audrey Brown (@BBC_AudreyB) tweeted to her 3,000 followers that this new edition of the book is “Captivating. Disturbing. Heartstopping,” adding, “I can’t wait to have a copy.”

This is not the first time Joe has interpreted Morrison's work; in January 1998, he illustrated a Washington Post review of her book “Paradise.” Folio Society Art Director Sheri Gee says that the process of connecting him with the prestigious “Beloved” project was "more intuitive than anything else.” She arranged for Joe to submit an audition painting to Morrison, who then specifically selected him to complete eight illustrations to be spread throughout the text. The audition painting is now the book's frontispiece.

“I spent the next four months working on my ideas, research, and my approach,” says Joe, who has won more than 200 international awards. “I decided to focus on the key aspect of the narrative that could be illustrated: the characters and dramatic events that propel the story forward. I was not transforming the story into a picture book, but rather transforming my images into a story that connects to the book.”

He concentrated on “the narrative thread of the writer and [responding] to how the reader engages with the narrative.” But, he adds, “there are narrative threads, and then there is 'Beloved.' This book is dense with meaning and story at the sentence level.”

In light of that richness, Joe says, the heart of his illustration process was about “finding the intersection between what you as an artist do best—your vision—and connecting that with the writer's voice.” At the same time, he also finds it appropriate that “many of the incredible visual and visceral passages in the book” are left to the reader to envision and “not be colored by my version.”

In an interview with Flavorwire, he delves further into his relationship with the text and discusses specific images. There is also more at Creative Review. (You’ll need to scroll down a little while to reach the Beloved section.)

Written by Eve Tolpa

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