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Enchanted World: The Art Of Anne Sudworth
text by John Grant
Paper Tiger hardcover £14.99 / $21.95

review by Steve Sneyd

I had just heard an item on the morning news about transferring the gene of a luminous jellyfish into plants to cause them to glow in the dark, when this book arrived in the mail. I opened it at random, and was immediately struck by a stunning picture of a great tree self-lit against the night. Here was a suitably strange coincidence to begin my acquaintance with Anne Sudworth's magically fantastic world.
   My previous ignorance of her work was soon explained in the text of this, the first published collection of her art. It seems that she does very few book covers, finding them both creatively limiting and far less remunerative thin original paintings. (Among the few covers she has done, which are included, are those for personal friend Storm Constantine).    At first, as a professional artist, she painted portraits and particularly horseracing scenes; the examples included are mainly of interest to show what the artist broke away from into her own imaginative worlds. Once past these beginnings, the meat of the book is a feast of illustrations of her fantasy work, much of it full page or even double-page spreads, all excellently reproduced, and often accompanied by a preliminary sketch. In one case, indeed, with the aid of reproductions of a series of developing stages, the artist talks the reader right through a particular picture's almost organic growth.
   This is just one of the ways those who seek to understand her methods, inspirations, and general approach, including this artist's unusual choice of pastels as her medium, will find here what they seek. But no amount of extensive quotes from the artist would matter if the illustrations themselves failed to grip and compel.
   One of my own very crude tests of a picture is - would I want to live with it on the wall (not, I imagine, that there is the slightest chance I could afford a Sudworth original, but then this is a thought experiment!) By that test, there are a number here that pass with flying colours. To my taste, that is the more so where the paintings are fantasy in mood rather than overtly fantasy, the implicit rather than the explicit - the ones that do not directly show the viewer the otherworldly Other, but cause it to be half-sensed at the eye's corner.
   To return to where this review began, this is particularly so for the extraordinary pictures of night trees. Sudworth herself believes that she 'sees' an 'Earth-light' projected by the trees' own inner entities. For me, they have another kind of magic, that sensation from childhood when a car headlight suddenly catches some great oak, frightening and yet protective at once, ambiguous as some Victorian tower lit from below.
   There are stunning landscapes, too, of her native Cumbria, "Fleetwith Pike" with the sun drawing water in particular, and some wonderful cloudscapes. As a castle enthusiast, I found her views of those structures less convincing, and her humans (and extra-humans, dragons and so on) in general for me lacked, paradoxically, the compellingly unpredictable, even dangerous, energy and life of her trees and landscapes, although a giant black dragon, two Turn Of The Screw-ish children, an oddly scrubber-ish sorceress, and the uneasily male figure of her first Constantine cover are triumphant exceptions.
   Overall, there is more than enough memorable work here to justify a purchase, and her more fanatical followers will doubtless want to buy two copies, and remove their favourites from one for framing: the quality of reproduction is certainly good enough for that purpose!
Enchanted World

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