Saturday, 4 October 2008

Graham Rawle and the Wizard of Oz

I went to Foyles bookshop on 24 September to see the fantastic collage artist Graham Rawle talk about his latest project, a gorgeous new illustrated edition of L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz.

I've been a big fan of Graham Rawle's since Jon bought his novel Woman's World (indeed, I used a quote from the text for a poem) and I promptly purloined it. It's frankly incredible: a sizeable novel composed entirely of collaged text from women's lifestyle magazines and narrated by the wonderfully deluded devotee of such magazines, Norma Fontaine. Worth checking out.

But to the matter in hand. In this edition of Wizard of Oz, Rawle has provided over 100 weird and wonderful collaged images to accompany and enhance the original story, and also to encourage people to read or re-read Baum's tale, instead of simply watching a certain iconic film, which is almost a different story altogether.

One of the best things about the talk, other than hearing about the trials and errors involved (the slideshow of dolls 'auditioning' for the part of Dorothy springs to mind) was the amount of thought the artist had put into breaking away from the film's aesthetic. Take Dorothy's shoes, for example. Most people would demand ruby slippers, but, as Rawle pointed out, when the film came out, many people would have been frustrated not to see Baum's original silver slippers.

With this need to create a fresh frame of reference outside a cinematic classic, Rawle says he deliberately went for images that were 'a bit clunky' and roughly composed. After all, what's the point in competing for slickness against the movie, with its huge budget, legendary status and different format to begin with? You might as well recreate the surreal, sometimes frightening world as it would have been seen by a young girl from Kansas.

The results are enchanting. Toto, whom Rawle sees as a representation of Dorothy's judgement in the film, is portrayed as fairly useless in the original text. Hence him being transformed into a toy dog on wheels. The lion, a second-hand shop find, had the perfect expression but no back legs, so Photoshop replicated his front ones, giving him a slightly wonky, completely endearing look. Other characters, such as the Tin Man, were made from scratch, but using salt shakers and various bits and bobs, to create a collage within a collage.

It struck a chord with what FuseLit aims to do. From fairly early on, we were aware that a) we were never going to look as professional and sleek as many other magazines of this ilk and b) we didn't want to. I hardly look twice at glossies. They leave me a bit cold and they don't suggest much hands-on involvement by the creators, however brilliant the content may be. Hence the stitched up binding that began with CABARET, the masking-taped rough brown envelope and guillotined rusty paper (hand painted - yes, Jon did every one with his own fair paws) used in FOX and the fun and games of machine-stitching the gauze 'lingerie' for NUDE.

Rawle seems to throw himself completely into his work, and yet have immense fun with it. He built, destroyed and rebuilt an entire Emerald City because it wasn't right, but you get the feeling he enjoyed making each version because he got to experiment, interpreting an already vastly imaginative text in his own kooky way.

Even if you think you know the story backwards, this edition is a gorgeous tribute to the original narrative that adds an entirely fresh layer of enjoyment. And frankly, it's chunky, it's hardback and it's outright beautiful.

Further reading: Woman's World

To see more of Graham Rawle's creations and for sneak peaks inside Wizard of Oz, sally forth to

No comments: