Marlborough Graphics is pleased to present How to Read, an online exhibition celebrating the influence of literature in the artworks of four artists known for their significant body of work in print: Francis Bacon, David Hockney, R.B. Kitaj and Paula Rego. Each artist employs their unique artistic vision through a variety of printmaking techniques to capture the resonance of the written word in the visual medium.  

Francis Bacon’s artwork was influenced by the writings of his close friend, the French anthropologist, poet, and art critic Michel Leiris. Miroir de la Tauromachie was written by Leiris in 1938 on the topic of bullfighting as an erotic spectacle. Bacon’s triptych of lithographs titled after Leiris’s book, emotively captures scenes of a bullfight, depicting the power struggle of nature versus man and the inherent need to suppress animalistic desires of sex, lust, and physical brutality. Bacon's violently expressive figures appear as fleshy, intertwined masses in anguish; these grotesque moments both repel and intrigue the viewer in equal and opposing measure. Also by Francis Bacon is Oedipus and the Sphinx after Ingres, 1984. In the original story, as depicted by Ingres, painted 1808, Oedipus answers the Sphinx’ riddle correctly and fulfil the Oracle’s prediction, becoming the king of Thebes and marrying his mother Jocasta. Bacon makes the winner a loser, Oedipus appears as an injured athlete, presenting his wounded foot to the Sphinx as an offering. In the background the bloodstained Fury heralds inexorable fate. In its construction, with the isolation of its figures and the contraction of time in the tragedy conveys, this print from this 1983 painting is one of the greatest he produced.  

David Hockney’s series of etchings Illustrations for Six Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm was created in 1969.  The six stories he based the series on are: The Little Sea Hare,  Fundevogel,  Rapunzel, The Boy who left Home to learn Fear,  Old Rink Rank, and  Rumpelstiltskin. Hockney was attracted to the simple and direct style of writing and approached this set of prints with a deep understanding of the tales. This resulted in an original interpretation of the narrative as the artist drew what the story suggested to him visually. In total he made over 80 etchings from which 39 were published by Petersburg Press in both book and loose-leaf portfolio editions in 1970. 

R.B. Kitaj, a self-confessed bibliophile, revered books for their talismanic-like power and viewed them as living objects, each with their own powerful presence. Kitaj’s major suite of screenprints  In our Time, 1969-70 was inspired by Walter Benjamin’s 1931 essay, Unpacking my Library, A Talk About Book Collecting, where Benjamin discusses the process of accumulation and how objects like books inhabit a space whilst having memories attached to them. Kitaj transcends this idea by pushing the physical bounds of the book, creating facsimiles of 50 covers from his personal library, selecting works for reasons including literary achievements, aesthetic appeal and reading experience. The series stands as a testament to Kitaj’s love of literature, capturing the ephemeral quality of books that live on in our minds and continue to shape us long after they are put back on the shelf. 

Paula Rego is a master storyteller, visually reinterpreting narrative through her own personal lens of experience. Rego’s series of lithographs Jane Eyre, 2002 vividly recreates the repressive nature of Victorian society that is present in Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece and recalls for Rego the strict Portuguese Catholic culture of her youth. She draws parallels between her own personal history and themes from Bronte’s novel including love, family, independence, stifling social expectations and strict gender roles. Rego captures in exquisite detail dream-like scenes portraying the psychological drama of the novel with jarring distortions of scale, cruel expressiveness of gesture and stark contrasts of light and dark. 

Explore the artworks online and enquire for sale enquires and questions.