I am delighted to present ILLUMINATION – “Portraits of Canadian Authors & Literature” – a multi-disciplined project that has been a labour of love for the past two and a half years.
Throughout my life, I have been a reader, losing myself in the pages of books. I have marvelled at the worlds that novelists can create and at the information non-fiction writers gather and elucidate. Poetry, too, has been part of my life. Words on a page have such power to educate, entertain and console. For me, literature is one of the ways that I understand the world and myself. And so when I was invited a year and a half ago to present a new collection of hand-engraved crystal sculpture at Toronto’s Gardiner Museum in fall 2015, the idea of ILLUMINATION came to me. The publishing industry faces challenges in our technological world, and I wanted to celebrate the breadth of writing talent in the country and the evocative beauty of authors’ words.
A year earlier, I had had the opportunity to work as a freelance photographer on a series about authors at home during a short work stint in England. When I returned to Canada, I continued to photograph authors as an independent project. My interest in their diverse personalities had been piqued. I wanted to meet them not only to understand their process but also to discuss art, beauty and the creative life. Much like a writer, I am looking for truth as an artist. I want to create something that is meaningful and important to me and which brings pleasure to others. It is what we are driven to do. And much of it is done in silence, in solitude, with only our creative impulse pushing us forward. The sense of community I encountered through the photographic component of my ILLUMINATION project and the shared belief in the importance of creativity – not to mention the determination to pursue that artistic life – were very gratifying. I was overwhelmed by the generosity people showed me.
The idea to combine the two projects – the new hand-engraved crystal works, that are inspired by passages about light from some Canadian literature, and the black-and-white portraits of Canadian authors that I had been taking – seemed to me to be a wonderful opportunity to bring attention to authors and their work. Through the camera lens, I could capture the personality of authors. And through the prism of optical crystal, a medium I have been working in for over 30 years, I could explore how words inspire me as a visual artist. The crystal pieces are not meant to be about the works of literature from which the passages are drawn. They stand alone as pieces of art, an artistic echo, if you will, a response in another medium; visions inspired by the power of words.
The goal of photographing 150 authors came as part of a discussion with The Writers Trust of Canada. I had been in contact with them as I embarked on this project to solicit their opinion about passages I might choose from Canadian literature for inspiration for the crystal sculptures. For several years, I have created the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Award for Non-Fiction, and so I had some involvement in the industry. I had also met some authors through the foundation’s annual prize-giving celebration. When I described my independent ILLUMINATION project, Mary Osborne, Executive Director of the Writers’ Trust of Canada, suggested that I might want to set a goal of photographing 150 authors to coincide with Canada’s 150th Anniversary celebration in 2017. The country’s national identity is bound up in our literature. And of course, there has been enormous growth in the range of literary voices since the early days of CanLit. I was inspired to meet this goal, even though it would be a challenge.
I have endeavoured to create a body of photographic work which is as inclusive as possible and representative of the vast diversity of authors across the country. My goal was not to create a “best of” collection of portraits, but rather to include emerging and established writers. I wanted to photograph them either in their home environments or in their places of inspiration.
I would like to thank all the people – writers, editors, publishers, publicists and agents in the literary community – who suggested names of authors and, in some cases, helped me connect with them. For many reasons, including ill health, geographic distance, scheduling issues or a simple aversion to being photographed, many are not part of this current collection, which now had a deadline due to my desire to make it part of the Gardiner exhibition of my crystal sculptures. Surprisingly, I still managed to travel over 20,000 kms and to take over 22,500 photographs.
I hope you will join me in celebrating the Canadian imagination through this project of author portraits and crystal sculptures inspired by the written word. We have much to be thankful for in the rich literary community of people who make it their work to express meaning and beauty and enthral us by the power of a story.
Mark Raynes Roberts
Founder & Creator
I L L U M I N A T I O N – Portraits of Canadian Authors + Literature
Craft is in short supply these days. The investment of time it requires – and the need to continually perfect the skills of that craftsmanship – can be daunting. In celebration of the passion for craftsmanship and the important value it has in a fast-paced, technological world, Canadian crystal artist Mark Raynes Roberts illuminates the imagination and personalities of Canadian authors in three-venue exhibitions in Fall 2015: the Gardiner Museum, International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront Centre and Toronto Reference Library.
At the Gardiner Museum, (Oct 26 – Nov 11, 2015) Raynes Roberts, who is best known for his intricate, hand-engraved crystal art that draws upon ancient techniques of old-world craftsmanship, will present 12 new engraved crystal art pieces. The ILLUMINATION: “Portraits of Canadian Literature” are hand-engraved crystal sculptures which have been inspired by short passages or sentences from Canadian literature that describe light. The passages, which have been chosen with the help of the Writers’ Trust of Canada Advisory Board, represent the work of authors Margaret Atwood, Joseph Boyden, Leonard Cohen, Emma Donoghue, Lawrence Hill, Yann Martel, Anne Michaels, Rohinton Mistry, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, Miriam Toews and Jane Urquhart.
Raynes Roberts’ one-of-a-kind crystal art pieces require a mastery of skills that are a lost art. His ILLUMINATION crystal art pieces use a rare combination of both delicate stippling – a time-consuming technique from the 18th century – and deep intaglio diamond wheel-engraving dating back to 3000 BC. The artist wanted to explore the power of words on his own artistic sensibility, to let them inspire him into creating what he calls “dreamscapes” in his crystal work. He chose passages from Canadian literature which described light not only to support the title of the project – ILLUMINATION – but also because the reflection and refraction of light and the play of positive and negative space are integral to the design of his hand-engraved crystal sculptures.
In celebration of Canada’s 150th Anniversary in 2017, Raynes Roberts has created a body of work comprised of 150 black-and-white photographic portraits in honour of the great treasury of Canadian writers. The 150 authors photographed present a diversity in terms of geography, age and ethnicity. The ILLUMINATION – “Portraits of Canadian Authors” – will be exhibited at the Gardiner Museum, International Festival of Authors, Harbourfront Centre, (Oct 22 – Nov 1, 2015) and at the Toronto Reference Library, (Oct 11 – Nov 1, 2015) as a projected art installation.
As creator of the prestigious Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Award for Non-Fiction, Raynes Roberts was interested in investigating the authors’ creative process, determination and contribution to cultural life in Canada and the world. Interaction with authors provided the inspiration for this important body of work, which celebrates the Canadian literary community at a time when authors and publishers face the challenge of redefining their industry due to technological changes. He also understood the parallel between the time required for the craft of their work with that of his own. And he wanted to draw attention to the importance of this dedication and passion in a world that is increasingly automated and divorced from the touch and nuance of human craftsmanship – the very thing that helps define us as a species.
Throughout the 32 years of Raynes Roberts’ career, photography has played an integral role as both informer and catalyst for his crystal interpretations. To complement his crystal exhibition at the Gardiner Museum, ILLUMINATION – “Portraits of Canadian Authors” – will provide an intriguing glimpse through his artistic eye into the personalities of Canada’s literary community.
“Literature is an art of illumination. Every author wants to shed light on some truth no matter
what form the writing takes: fiction or non-fiction. Writing is a pursuit of knowledge and
understanding; the desire to bring attention to a story that needs to be told, whether it be
about a person, an imagined life, an issue, a part of our history or the human condition.
This is why literature is important. We’re not only enriched by it; we’re connected to it.”
Mark Raynes Roberts
Born in Sutton Coldfield, England, in 1961, Mark Raynes Roberts trained at the Birmingham City University, Institute of Art and Design, where he specialized in silversmithing and hand engraving. During this time, Raynes Roberts won several awards from the British Jewellers Association and graduated with honours before immigrating to Canada in 1982. Based in Toronto, Canada, for the past 33 years, he has built an international reputation as a crystal artist, engraver and sculptor, whose work has been presented to royalty, heads of state and distinguished leaders; and resides in many private and corporate art collections around the world. Recipients of his crystal art include, among others, Dr. Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, HRH The Duchess of Kent and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
His largest architectural installation to date is a stunning 53-ft engraved glass mural at McMaster University, Health Sciences Library, which has been designated a cultural property of Canada. In 2013, “Visions of Light,” a 30-year retrospective of the artist’s work was held in Toronto, with subsequent exhibitions in Johanfors, Sweden, London, England, and New York, U.S.A..
“Crystal continues to intrigue me. It’s a man-made material – one that has changed the world technologically. But for me as an artist, it is a canvas that provides limitless properties for narrative landscapes, both spiritual and natural, real and surreal. It is my blank page. It can reflect and distort, and the signature techniques of ancient engraving which I use – a combination of diamond-wheel and stipple – convey a message that is at once ethereal and complex. My work has evolved naturally in style over the years as I have constantly tried to push boundaries to find new interpretations.
As Canada prepares to celebrate its 150th Anniversary in 2017, ILLUMINATION is an opportunity for us as a nation to herald the treasury of Canadian authors whose words are read by people from around the world. ILLUMINATION is about bringing into focus portraits of those who write the words in silence and in solitude, and who help us better understand the Canadian identity and the world in which we live.”
Mark Raynes Roberts