Tess Jaray made these screenprints in 2001 in response to The Rings of Saturn and Vertigo, two books by WG Sebald (published in 1998 and 1999 respectively). Her images do not illustrate the accompanying passages of text, but instead, they use Sebald’s prose as a springboard to explore ideas of space and time. The brilliant turquoise and white dots of Jaray’s screenprint evoke images of a blue sky on a summer’s day, spotted with birds. Sebald’s text reads:
... I was watching the sand martins darting to and fro over the sea. Ceaselessly emitting their tiny cries, they sped along their flight-paths faster than my eyes could follow them. At earlier times, in the summer evenings during my childhood when I had watched from the valley as swallows circled in the last light, still in great numbers in those days, I would imagine that the world was held together by the courses they flew through the air.
Jaray's paintings and prints, inspired by architecture, often incorporate three- dimensional forms and spatial ambiguities. She has described how she aims to: ‘.. wake the surface, move it and fill it ... every part of the painting should be active’. This sense of movement, transition and exploration is also found in Sebald’s writing. In The Rings of Saturn, he takes a contemplative walk along a stretch of East Anglian coast, documenting his journey with photographs and sketches. He makes thoughtful descriptions of the people he encounters – some friends and some strangers. As he follows a winding pathway he analyses the rich history and geography of the landscape, at times using abstract reasoning to interpret what he finds.
Jaray first met Sebald in December 1999, having been profoundly moved by his books, The Emigrants and The Rings of Saturn. The idea of collaborating on a piece of work arose as a result of this meeting. Published in 2001, the same year Jaray created these screenprints, For Years Now contains 23 short poems by Sebald, each of them paired with an image by Jaray. The oblique nature of his poems is seamlessly matched with the tension and weightlessness of her works.
W. G. Sebald (1944–2001) was born in Wertach im Allgäu, in southwest Germany. Until his sudden death in a car crash in 2001, he was Professor of Modern German Literature at the University of East Anglia. He was a highly respected author whose work inspired both literary and visual artists. From January to June 2007, Waterlog, an ambitious art project which commissioned contemporary artists to make work in response to The Rings of Saturn, took place across Norwich.
Born in Vienna, Tess Jaray studied at St Martin’s School of Art and the Slade School of Art in London. She has exhibited internationally and her work is held in many public collections including in London at Tate, and the Victoria and Albert Museum; and at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. In 1995, won the Jerwood Art for Architecture Award.
Jaray has completed numerous public commissions, including works for Centenary Square in Birmingham (1988–1992); the forecourt of the new British Embassy in Moscow (1995–2000); and the Outpatients Area, University Hospitals, Coventry and Warwick (2005–06). In 2010, she was elected a Royal Academician, one of the few women RAs; then elected a Senior RA in 2013. In 2016, Jaray curated a group exhibition, 'The Edge of Printing' at the Royal Academy; and in 2018, a solo show of her work was held at Exile, Berlin.
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