*Reading is the dream through foreign hands* Fernando Pessoa
Im Land Der Bücher. In the Land of Books. As the title suggests, Im Land Der Bücher is a book about books; about the sometimes strange relationship we have with words, and the myriad states of being one assumes while lost in the pages of a good book. The illustrations in Im Land Der Bücher are not just extraordinarily evocative, they are also beautiful, and funny, and a little bit mournful; words that could describe virtually all paintings by Quint Buchholz, the German artist whose past subject matter includes elephants lumbering down the snowy streets of Canada, a quintet of musicians teetering on a rock, and a man playing a cello on a deserted field while a giant snail, his only audience, oozes by in the distance. In his newest book, Buchholz paints a woman in a bathtub, floating on the ocean. She is reading, and does not notice the beluga whale passing underneath. Where has this book taken her? Though not yet published in English (the author kindly provided a translation), Im Land Der Bücher is a fantastical journey worth taking in any language.
Typical of Buchholz’s style, the illustrations in Im Land Der Bücher are softly muted as if viewed through a fine mist, and yet are so visually playful, it is impossible to ignore the implicit invitation to impose additional details and narrative on these wondrous scenes. In translation, Buchholz’s simple phrases (one for each illustration) set the stage, but like the illustrations, provide just enough information to deepen the mystery. In one painting, ‘Eine fühlt ihr Herz gern heftig schlagen/Another enjoys the heavy beat of her heart’, a woman hides behind the cover of a book as a man slips into its pages, the prostrate legs of another man visible to the side. It is evident that a crime has been committed, perhaps a murder, but whether the words come first or the illustration, neither is a literal translation and no answers are given.
The great English author C.S. Lewis stated, “We read to know we are not alone.” These words speak to the essential loneliness of the human condition, as well as the deeply rooted need to connect, which for some, can only be achieved in the pages of a book. In ‘Eine is am Abend nie allein/Another is never alone in the night’, Buchholz movingly captures the dual sentiment of Lewis’ statement in his depiction of a girl embracing a book, her head resting gently on its pages. It is unclear if she is sleeping or in some other state of communion, but whatever the circumstance, she has found solace. In this melancholic illustration, and indeed all of Buchholz’s illustrations, the centre is very quiet. His painterly world is reflective and still, inspiring the same sense of thoughtfulness in the viewer.
Im Land Der Bücher. In the Land of Books. This is where I live, where I am nurtured. Words and images transport and transform my very being. In the age of e-books, one can argue endlessly about the changing nature of the book and what it means to those of us who value not just the experience of reading, but the book itself. A screen of text vs printed paper. Does it really matter? What’s the point of keeping books around if you never read them again? They are needless clutter. I’ve heard many arguments, but none convincing. Quint Buchholz embraces not just the joy of immersing oneself in a book (literally, in some cases), but the actual physicality of books. They are stacked and climbed, they fly above us and are wandered into, opened, read. One is blinded by a book, another uses it as binoculars. Im Land Der Büche is metaphorical and surreal, and yet in a very real way, Buchholz’s visionary paintings get to the heart of our relationship with books. Beyond this, with every painting Quint Buchholz reminds us that the world is strange and in the end yields few answers, but it can be a beautiful thing to ‘live in the question.’
Quint Buchholz was born 1957 in Stolberg, Germany, studying painting and graphic art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. Since 1979 he has worked as a painter, illustrator, and as of 1993, the creator of children’s picture books, posters, postcards, CD covers, calendars, and several hundred book covers. In 1997, he published the exquisite Collector of Moments, which went on to win many national and international awards and was on the New York Times list of the 10 best books of the year. Mr Buchholz lives with his family in Munich.
Im Land Der Bücher by Quint Buchholz, published by Hanser Verlag, 2013
Previously reviewed: The Collector of Moments (please click)
Please visit Quint Buchholz’s marvelous website for more incredible images.
In my collection (and soon to be reviewed): Quints Tierleben, Nero Corleone, Some Folk Think the South Pole’s Hot