Ewan Clayton on illustrating In Parenthesis

Ewan Clayton

Ewan Clayton. (© Geoffrey Morgan, with permission of the David Jones Estate)

When I began to work on my illustrations for David Jones’s In Parenthesis I was acutely aware that I was treading on hallowed ground. Jones’s reputation as a poet and a painter has grown throughout the last 50 years and he is now recognised as one of the principal British artists of the 20th century. He approached his work as a poet with an artist’s sensitivity; the visual arrangement of the text mattered to him.

It was for this reason that I wanted my intervention to be minimal. It was important that no painted imagery, other than his own original frontispiece, appeared alongside his words. So it was that the use of lettering seemed appropriate. Jones had himself been a maker of painted inscriptions, and in his later work, The Anathemata, he reached towards a new integration of text and lettered panels. I decided to follow this approach, working with the blank pages opposite the dedication page and part-title pages of the seven sections. I worked only with the text that appeared on those pages, and structured the illustrations as a set, working outwards from the central fourth section, creating, as Jones does with the imagery in the work itself, bracketed pairs around that point. So the illustrations for parts 3 and 5 echo each other, as do 2 and 6, 1 and 7.

I had been familiar with In Parenthesis for many years. In fact I had grown up with ‘Jones’ – both my grandparents knew him. By coincidence, during the year leading up to this project I had been living in the very house at Ditchling that Jones had once occupied. I had a five-foot long mural painted by him on my kitchen wall. The commission could not have been more timely.
The new Folio edition of David Jones's In Parenthesis

David Jones’s In Parenthesis is now published by The Folio Society,
read more about the edition here.

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