The Roman goddess Venus is one of the most represented figures in all of Western art and literature. Adapted from the Greek Aphrodite, Venus’s realm includes love and desire, beauty, sexuality, charm, prosperity and good fortune. Along with these feminine qualities (described here as “essential to the generation and balance of life“), her role in Roman society as the patron of daily non-sacrificial wine, due to its seductive power, makes her the official goddess of Books and Vines! Therefore, I was thrilled to hear a couple years ago that Shanty Bay Press was planning a book with Venus as the centerpiece.
Long time readers of Books and Vines know that Shanty Bay Press is one of my favorites (see a review of the press and a look at most of their books here). I have had the good fortune to meet artist Walter Bachinski, who illustrates Shanty Bay publications, and Janis Butler, who does the type-setting, presswork and binding, on a couple occasions. They are wonderfully kind and extremely talented people! Their published books are represented in prestigious public collections throughout Canada (National Gallery, National Library and many more) and the United States (Library of Congress, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Stanford and many more), as well as in the United Kingdom (the British Library, Oxford, and more).
Mr. Bachinski’s art has always appealed to me. His work often has a serious depth of color exploration with pastels, as in this latest work. Mr. Bachinski explores classical themes while carrying forward many artistic elements of such, but also weaves modernistic interpretations into the overall structure of his creations. The result is visually stunning, thoughtful works that successfully blend classical themes and imagery with a modern vision. His work is in private and public collections across Canada, the U.S. and Europe and has been included in solo and group exhibition in galleries and museums across Canada and the world.
The inspiration for this new publication, Venus Poems, is discussed in the prospectus and in the Preface.
I have been obsessed for decades with representing the female form. I have used all the media at my disposal: drawing, painting, sculpture and now, with this project, the book. Two themes that lend themselves to this exploration are Venus, in all her manifestations, and the bathers motif….
…my interest in the bathers and the female form embraced another classical image, the Three Graces. I have done several pastels on this theme. The idea of depicting the ‘Birth of Venus’ began in 2002. Eventually I created three very large triptychs in pastel done over several years, the last one completed in 2013. These works reference the Three Graces….
For this publication of Venus Poems, Mr. Bachinski designed a pochoir triptych based loosely on the large format pastel painting on the birth of Venus mentioned above. This beautiful pochoir triptych for Venus Poems clearly shows the influences mentioned above through synergistic blending of thematics and imagery of Venus, the Three Graces and bathers paintings (such as those from Cezanne, Matisse & Renoir). The pochoir is matted and set within the cover of the large clamshell box (15.25″ x 22.5″) , designed in a fashion to allow the viewing of the triptych while reading the poems. Besides the pochoir, there are 5 other color linocuts in the book. These are not meant as specific illustrations to the text, but “rather as decorative elements having an emotional connection to the three poems.” The illustrations are wonderfully colorful and dreamily evocative of the theme.
The text of the book consists of three Venus related poems: ‘Sun and Flesh‘ by Arthur Rimbaud, which was written when he was a mere 16 years of age, described by Mr. Bachinski as an “exuberant, luscious read by a precocious teenager who would turn the world of poetry on its head in only a couple years“; ‘The Birth of Venus‘ by Rainer Maria Rilke, which “describes the sensuousness of the occasion with precision and invention“; and ‘Pervigilium Veneris‘ (‘The Vigil of Venus‘), often attributed to Tiberianus, which is “a description of a festival about the rebirth of spring under the protection of Venus.”
The translation used for ‘Sun and Flesh‘ is that of A.S. Kline. I find it quite excellent. Rimbaud mixes Romanticism with a modern flair. The youthful maturity and fervent passion of Rimbaud is clear in the opening lines.
The Sun, the hearth of life and tenderness,
Pours burning love on the delighted earth,
And when you rest in the valley you know,
How nubile earth is, how it overflows;
How, raised up by soul, its immense breast
Is love, as God is, and, like woman, flesh,
And big with sap and sunlight will enclose
The mighty seething of all embryos!
All burgeons, and all rises!
— O Venus, O goddess!
Much of the poem exudes a melancholy at the world Man has created due to our spiritual distance from Nature. He looks longingly back on a time when man and nature were intertwined.
I long for the ancient times of youthfulness,
–Strong, Man knew gentleness and chastity.
Misery! Now he says all things I know,
And goes about eyes shut and ears closed.
–Cries: No more gods, no more! Man is king,
Man is God! Love’s our Faith, the noblest thing!
I believe in you, I believe! Oh, divine mother,
Sea-borne Aphrodite! — Ah, the path is bitter
Since another God yoked us to his cross.
–And the Idol in whom you praised virginity,
In whom you made our clay divine, Woman,
So as to light the impoverished soul of Man
That he might arise, in love’s immensity,
from earthly prison to the day’s pure beauty,
No longer knows how to play the courtesan!
If those times would but return, times lost to us!
Yet, hope that Venus will once again emerge.
You will come bringing sacred Redemption!
–Splendid, radiant, from depths of vast seas,
You will arise, and grant Love’s infinities
O splendour of the flesh! O ideal splendour!
O love renewed, triumphant dawn aurora…
That morning when at least the dreadful night
all outcry, noise, unquietness, had passed
the seas broke open — cried out with one last cry.
And as that died away leaving behind
only a grey daybreak, a pale sky
subsiding to the fishes’ silent depths,
the waves gave birth.
Slowly the features of the downcast face
were gently raised up from their shaded plane
Her first breath came like the first winds at dawn
to fan the body further into life;
‘Pervigillium Veneris‘ (‘The Vigil of Venus‘) uses the excellent translation by scholar and poet Bruce Whiteman, done for a publication for Russell Maret in 2009. The poem describes a three night celebration in honor of Spring and its deity Venus. The initial line, repeated throughout the poem, is quite memorable:
Tomorrow there will be love alike for the much-loved and the loveless.
The poem itself is brilliant in its natural, carefree imagery.
Spring new, now spring
the world was born in spring.
The lovers are in harmony
in spring, in spring
the birds marry, and a
meadow lets down its hair
made wet by nuptial rain.
Pleasure makes the fields yield, they
feel Venus’s presence. It is said
that the boy Amor himself
was born to Venus in a rut. When the land there
was thick with new life,
she took him to her breast and reared him
with the delicate kisses of flowers.
Despite the celebratory setting, the poem closes with a sense of woe and despondency from the writer:
When will my spring come?
When shall I be as the swallow, and
desist from silence?
I have lost the Muse through silence,
and the God of poetry ignores me.
Silence itself destroyed the city of Amyclae.
The printing by by Janis Butler is marvelously done. The type is handset in 16 point Bembo and printed on substantial, yet soft, 200 gsm Arches Cover paper. The book itself is 14.5″ x 9″ with 40 pages. It is quarter bound in cloth with a 5 colour reduction linotype printed on Gambi paper on the cover. The edition is limited to only 35 copies and sells for $2000. Great illustrations, great poems, great presswork — not a bad combination! My only wish is even more poems as the images with the book really leave one craving more Venus! I look forward to whatever may be next from Shanty Bay. I am very appreciative of their focus on classical Roman works, an area woefully neglected these days.
About the Edition
- Designed by Walter Bachinski and Janis Butler
- Text and color printing by Janis Butler
- Illustrated by Walter Bachinski with a 3 part pochoir triptych and 5 colour linocuts
- Handset in 16 point Bembo
- Printed on 200 gsm Arches Cover
- Book quarter bound in cloth with a 5 colour reduction linotype printed on Gambi paper on the cover
- Book is 14.5″ x 9″, 40 pages
- Book housed in a large clamshell box (15.25″ x 22.5″) designed for viewing the matted triptych while reading the poems
- Limited to 35 copies, signed by Walter Bachinski and Janis Butler
Pictures of the Edition
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