[Review] Surrealism In The Studio

I’m always up for something whacky to stretch my imagination and feed my thoughts. So when I discovered that in the studio next to me, four girls had started a small publishing company, Humtpy Dumpty Publishing, and were releasing their first title, Topsy Turvy Tales, by Charlotte Boulay-Goldsmith and Laura Hyde, a quirky, off-the-wall collection of surrealist tales, I thought I would give it a go, I managed to swap a copy for a t-shirt and headed back to the studio.

Pushing unopened mail aside, I examined the book. To touch it felt like canvas, with a bold screen printed title, a sort of art-work book, a really strong looking cover I thought, I very much liked the small detail of the Humpty Dumpty logo on the spine, made me think of Penguin, but a bit more fun.

I flipped through the pages. A collection of four tales, each personalized with a different aesthetic, typography, layout and style of illustration. As I like to approach things my own way, wink, wink, I started with the last tale.

What if? What if the story suggested, a man woke up one day only to realize his heart had run away? Left him behind. Abandoned him. Life losing all meaning, purpose, and direction without it, he is forced on a quest to find it. And when he does, he realizes his heart has eloped with another. Naughty heart! Leaving two heartless bodies to learn how to be with one another in order to be whole again. Sounds like oxford street on a Saturday night.

This unusual and imaginative take on the classic love story, gives it a new sense of wonder and perspective. Interestingly, it seems that it is the very surrealism of the tale that allows it to capture the essence of falling in love as something beyond us, which sort of takes us by surprise and sweeps us off our feet.

And then came the tale of Chester the Oyster. The letters wavy on the page as if underwater. Small blue bubbles popping around the text. I am deep at sea, where Oysters dance, write essays and play. The story works as a parable: Chester the Oyster keeping his shell constantly shut and letting life pass him by for fear of losing the pearl which may be inside him. A life crippled by the fear of not living up to his grand idea of himself. The possibility of failure imprisoning him. The tale is an inspiration to face the world and follow your dreams as over time you make your own pearls. And as Beckett said all you can do is: “Fail. Fail Again. Fail Better”.

The pages turn Victorian conjuring images of cobbled streets, lace frocks, spindly fingers and dusty tailcoats. Thin black and white ink drawings, pages adorned with cobwebs and creepy crawlies for this tale of the headless girl which makes me think of a cross between Sleepy Hollow and the Adams Family. Dark, funny, macabre and disturbing.

A deliciously ghoulish story playing with the teenage desire of always wanting to be someone else. In the story both Head and Body think they can do without each other. That they can find better. When one is younger one is very aware of one’s own imperfections. You want to change your teeth. Or have nicer hair. But ultimately our imperfections are what make us individuals so best to make peace with one’s head and get on with it.

And finally The Girl With Liquid Eyes about a girl whose emotional wound takes over her entire world, as the story develops she submerges the world in a sea of tears. A strong image that captures well how sorrow can sometimes become so all encompassing it contaminates everything around us and the only prism through which we come to see the world is that of our own pain. There is no way out but learning to let go and starting anew.

I peered up, outside the book, back at my busying studio where everything was the same, the mail still unopened, bills still unpaid, but just ever so slightly different. I checked my chest, my heart still seemed there. Phew! I could go on and face the 50’s housewife collection.

Topsy Turvy Tales. Humpty Dumpty Publishing. By Charlotte Boulay-Goldsmith, illustrated by Laura Hyde. £12.99. Available in any good bookshop. Text by Philip Colbert (Philip Colbert is the designer of London based fashion label The Rodnik Band).