Bypassing North Pole red tape and that ridiculous "naughty-nice" codicil altogether, MOCAD and the Burton Theatre have joined together to bring us an early X-mas gift. Acclaimed actor Crispin Hellion Glover is showing up at the latter location 12/10-12/12, for a one-hour dramatic narration of eight illustrated books created by his own hand. In addition to that, the Burton will show Glover's two films What is it? and It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE! Throw in a post-screening discussion (plus a book signing) and you have a glorious package called Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show Part 1 and Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show Part 2. We contacted Glover in the Czech Republic and asked a few questions.
How long have you been engaged in book illustration?
I started making my books in 1982 for my own enjoyment without the concept of publishing them. I had always written and drawn and the books came as an accidental outgrowth of that. I was in an acting class in 1982 and down the block was an art gallery that had a book store upstairs. In the book store there was a book for sale that was an old binding taken from the 1800s and someone had put their art work inside the binding. I thought this was a good idea and set out to do the same thing. I worked a lot with India ink at the time and was using the India ink on the original pages to make various art. I had always liked words in art and left some of the words on one of the pages. I did this again a few pages later and then when I turned the pages I noticed that a story started to naturally form and so I continued with this. When I was finished with the book I was pleased with the results and kept making more of them.
Your method is to find antique bindings and fill them with images taken from a period in time as close as possible to the age of the binding itself. How long on average does it take to complete a book?
The books are actually quite varied. Some of the books utilize images from the 1800s; some are original illustrations; and some are photographs. They are not necessarily from the same time period as the binding. I made most of the books in the 1980s and very early 1990s. I am happy to say that I have just added a new book that will be performed in the December 12 show. It is the first book I ever made to specifically be performed live.
I would find older bindings from the 1800s and images from around the same time and rework them. I usually reworked the text with India ink and the photos and illustrations with graphite and India ink. I would use rubber cement to glue in the illustrations. Some of the books were made over a period of months, or even years, if they were put aside for a time and some of them were made more rapidly.
There is an interesting similarity between your books and those that the late photojournalist Dan Eldon created — the juxtaposing of imagery or text, and the uncommon degree of liberty allowed the reader in interpreting what he or she sees. Do you agree? Are there artists who have influenced you in this particular pursuit?
He was making his journals around the same time I was making most of my books. My books often have an inspiration from the original binding and tend towards being more narrative than his journals, and although there are many differences in what he was doing and what my books are like there is something I have noticed as I have traveled with my books. I have noticed that every once in a while someone will come to the show and either show me a book they have made from an existing binding or tell me that they have been doing something similar. The thing I have noticed about this particular art form is that everyone who has come up to me about it that does it themselves has somehow discovered doing it in their own unique way. I have not met someone who was aware of an art-book movement that they got excited by and then joined in to. It always is a unique discovery. I really do like making the books!
What pleases you most about appearing at places like The Burton Theatre and working with artspaces such as MOCAD? More importantly, what pleases you most in an audience gathered for a purpose such as this?
I love showing at museums, universities, cinematheques and vaudeville theaters. As I tour through the world, it is apparent that as much as multiplexes and home theater has become ubiquitous that the single screen cultural center is absolutely vital to a specific audience that is looking to have a thoughtful experience at the theater be it live or by film. Museums can attract particularly thoughtful crowds. The Q and A portion of the shows are extremely helpful with the films, particularly What is it? which can generate a particular amount of demand from the audience in forms of questions.
Spontaneous discussions and even arguments sometimes erupt amongst audience members with each other during the Q and A session for What is it? I consider this to be positive as it means people are having strong thoughtful reactions to the film.
Two of the films in your trilogy are completed and will be screened at the Burton. Would you describe them to us?
I am very careful to make it quite clear that What is it? is not a film about Down Syndrome but my psychological reaction to the corporate restraints that have happened in the last 20 to 30 years in film making. What is it? is a direct reaction to the contents this culture's media. Steven C. Stewart wrote and is the main actor in part two of the trilogy titled It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. Steve had been locked in a nursing home for about ten years when his mother died. He had been born with a severe case of cerebral palsy and he was very difficult to understand. hen he did get out he wrote his screenplay. Although it is written in the genre of a murder detective thriller truths, of his own existence come through much more clearly than if he had written it as a standard autobiography. feel It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. will probably be the best film I will have anything to do with in my entire career. | RDW
Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show Part 1 & 2 • 12/10-12/12, 8 p.m. • The Burton Theatre • 3420 Cass Ave., Detroit • burtontheatre.com • $20